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Posted by Faye Green

15 steps to a beautiful container of your own creation.

The beauty of container gardening is that containers adapt to whatever room you have available. A balcony? No problem. A porch? Get a container. You can, of course, buy those lovely, hefty, garden-ready containers that every plant store offers—at an equally hefty price.

Fight back. Build, reuse, or adapt your own containers, keeping in mind the following suggestions:

1. Choose sturdy vessels.

Try to get containers that will last. Unfortunately, many of these are often costly. Sometimes you might find bargains that you can paint or stain to compliment the colors in your garden. I don’t usually buy clay pots because they tend to crack after repeated freezes and thaws.

I opt instead for fiberglass, plastic, or cement. Thereafter, my paint brush becomes my best friend. With some creative painting, you can make cheap pots look like expensive ones.

It’s a good idea to set cement pots on stones or bricks to prevent their contact with the moist ground. If you opt for cement, plan to have on hand a large man, a two-wheeler, or a truss.

2. Don’t mix sun plants with shade plants.

Choose a collection of plants that require the same growing conditions. I am often appalled by containers in big box stores that pair shade plants with sun lovers—a rookie move.

3. Be sure outdoor pots have drain holes.

If they don’t, break out the drill and a large bit. Make sure that you have adequate drainage before adding stones to the bottom to prevent plugging the drain holes. Those broken shards from your old clay pots are perfect for this purpose.

4. Add your favorite potting mix to about 4-6 inches from the top.

Don’t use dirt from the yard in your containers. It’s usually too dense and compacted. You want loose soil. If you’re planting a lot of containers, one less expensive alternative is to mix in some bulk peat and manure with your potting soil.

5. Choose plants that compliment each other.

Choose a variety of plants that compliment each other (not necessary replicated colors but coordinated ones). Vary the textures, colors, and foliage. Choose whites or pastels for the shade. Darker colors tend to disappear in the shade. Consider including both blooming and foliage plants.

6. Begin with a focal point.

This should be tall, maybe a red pennisetum, a gorgeous coleus, or a spike plant (Dracaena)—or two—or three. These go in the center or in the back if the container has a backdrop.

7. Plant in odd numbers.

In larger containers, one rule of thumb is to plant in odd groups—three to five. For some reason, the odd-number configuration is more pleasing to the eye.

8. Place smaller plants in front or around the outside of the focal plant.

Next come shorter blooming or foliage plants, alternating them in an eye-appealing way. It’s not a good idea to have one of everything. Instead, choose a few that you repeat.

9. Add something that cascades.

End with a trailing plant such as a potato vine. These not only soften the hard edges of the pot but provide a dramatic finish and make the pot look larger than it is.

10. Fill in with potting soil as needed and tamp down.

Be sure there are no air holes in the pot, but don’t compact the soil too hard.

11. Let truly spectacular plants fly solo.

Some plants are so beautiful that you may choose to fill a container with one mass of gorgeousness. Anything added would be just gilding the lily. I often use two contrasting plants that seem to be a happy marriage.

12. Vary sizes and heights of containers.

I like to put containers in plant stands of varying heights for better display and impact.

Creative paint job

13. Consider color—not only of plants, but of the containers themselves.

Colorful containers can add punch to a bed that seems somewhat blah near the end of the season. I often go for a color theme—lots of containers in shades of red, say. These also add interest to the winter garden.

14. You can plant perennials in containers, too.

Don’t forget that large containers can display dwarf trees and perennials as well as annuals. I love planting dwarf Japanese maples and hostas in pots—especially together.

15. Pay attention to care and feeding.

Because pots dry out and lose nutrients more quickly than garden beds, they need more frequent care. Refresh your containers with replacement plants, deadheading, and the occasional haircut. Water often and well.

Do these things and voila! You will end up with containers that perfectly suit your taste, and are equally suitable for replanting next season. Weather permitting, you can even enjoy your lush container garden until well into mid-autumn.