Much Ado About Pots

A Guide to Container Planting

Container planting is not just for small spaces. Utilizing pots can be a three-dimensional artistic display, customized to your character and offering a form of expression that exudes beauty of design. Being able to splash color and greenery on spaces where there’s no dirt to dig offers a variety of opportunities for functional creativity. Container planting is low-maintenance but high-reward. Detail-oriented for the nuance-hungry eye, pots can take on whatever personality fits the creator- from whimsical to austere. Here’s a nuts and bolts guide for maximizing your pots’ potential.

1. Natural Selection - Choosing a Pot

Ever design an entire room around a paint color? Bedroom décor around a carefully chosen bedspread? The same idea works with pots. Pick a pot that speaks to you and chose the rest accordingly. Classic urns like fiber clay can compliment the craftsman-style homes in the historic area of Norfolk or Yorktown, whereas a modern ceramic pot with geometric elements enhance a contemporary balcony at an oceanfront condominium in Virginia Beach.

Larger pots are easier to construct. Not only do you have more room to create, smaller pots have trouble keeping the soil moist enough to sustain a flourishing root system. Annuals need 8 inches of soil depth. Grasses and shrubs need an average of 1.5’-2’ of space.

Remember, once packed full of soil, large pots can be extremely heavy. Keep this in mind when choosing a pot that may need to be moved. Go for lightweight materials (nice ones are metal or composite). Like some glazed pots, they are also porous and keep the soil moist. Fiber clay pots are lightweight and available in many sizes and shapes. Go with a quality brand as thin, poorly-constructed ones, can break in cold weather. Even though they are fragile, terracotta and clay pots are extremely popular. They are exquisite but must be stored in a frost-free location.

2. The Choice is Yours - Selecting Your Plant Material

Choosing the right plants is the main event. Mix it up! Use dramatic annuals with grasses and shrubs that change color in the fall. Be brave; don’t be afraid to play with textures, colors, and foliage. Bill Kidd, McDonald Garden Center Vice President of Purchasing and experienced horticulturalist advises,

“Having the right pot/plant combination can really elevate the aesthetic value of that exceptional plant you want to showcase. Think about the particular characteristics of your plant and how they can play off of each other. ”

Try to avoid using too many species of plants. A full planter is beautiful, but too many types of plants can look chaotic. Select those you really want to focus on and add fillers to occupy the remaining space. Choose small and let them fill out. This will lead to a healthier, more productive planter with longevity.

It’s better to select plants that have similar needs. You don’t want to plant a pot full of shade plants with one full sun needing flower. Same goes for water. There are some plants, like tomatoes and basil, which grow well together. Using this method is called companion planting and is quite effective. Ask a McDonald Garden Center expert how you can use companion planting to supercharge your garden goals.

3. Dig It - Planting & Maintenance

Choosing the right soil is critical to the success of your container garden (and really anywhere you plant.) Ordinary garden soil is heavy and can disease your plants. McDonald Garden Center can provide you with high quality McDonald Garden Soil, specially formulated for this area, to protect your investment.

Plant your tallest plants in the center and work outward. Fill soil to about 1-2 inches below the lip of the pot. Water generously, let sit, and repeat until soil has retained moisture. Fertilizing really makes a difference in how well and fast your planter will fill out. Greenleaf fertilizer was specially formulated by McDonald Garden Center owner, Eddie Anderson, to meet the needs of the Hampton Roads gardener and has great success on working with plant product that is native to the Tidewater area.

Roots will get waterlogged without drainage so make sure to check your pot for proper drainage holes. Cover with pottery shards, stones, or screens to keep soil intact.

If you leave your pot on a deck, be careful of excess water that can lead to wood rot. Even consider a plant stand or pot feet.

A standing display of garden mastery, fully-bloomed planted pots are conversation piece that are sure to be a hot topic on those afternoon outdoor BBQs with friends and family. But it’s those quiet evenings, when you’re enjoying your outdoor space alone with a warm breeze and breath of fresh air, that you can truly relish the satisfying admiration of your personality in colored efflorescence.