In Gardening Sometimes It’s All About The Container

By Steven V. Philips –

Risking getting planted myself, here’s the skinny from the world of flower-show judging. It’s the container that sometimes makes the difference and produces a winner and not the plant itself. Take a simple pteridophyta, (a fern to you). Plop it in a Trudy-Von-Snooty pot. Cover the soil with selected north-slope Mount Rushmore pea-gravel. Bingo, a high-level contender and possibly a show winner!

In the real world of gardening where we mortals live and plant, it turns out the container actually is important but meant to please you and not Judge Fussie-Bloom. Just try not to mix plastic, clay and then six heights and shapes and three colors of glazed stoneware in the same geographic area. Also match the style of container to the style of your patio, pool deck, terrace, etc. If your style is classical, look at urns. Ultra modern? select a geometric container with clean simple lines and no surface ornamentation.

Wherever you’re placing your containers – on your screened porch, on the pool deck, on your open terrace, or inside the house here’s some free advice on containers.

The most common container material, clay, will eventually grow moss and algae on the outside of the pot. Clay ages over time producing a patina that many gardeners just adore. Some gardeners speed the process by liberally brushing buttermilk all over the clay pot. Clay moderates the plant’s moisture content better than any other material. However if you’re a neat-o-neurotic and the greenish-gray patina makes you feel moldy, place your utilitarian clay pot inside a decorative stoneware piece. We linguists who use French to terrorize peasants, will then praise your use of a cache-pot. Tres chic. If there is no drainage in your cache-pot, be sure there is a hole in the bottom of your clay pot. Remove clay pot from decorative cache-pot when watering so there is never any standing water in the cache-pot, because this in time will result in root rot for your plant. Not tres chic.

Stoneware. Sold in thirty-seven zillion colors, shapes and heights and manufactured in thirty-seven countries. These are the most exciting pots because there is one for every taste. Just don’t let the pot’s dazzle overwhelm the content. A glamorous stoneware pot needs a fairly showy and assertive plant. And remember if you use more than one, try for a little variety in colors and shapes and sizes. And you might want to set the biggest ones on a platform with casters, because some of these beauties, when planted, weigh more than a 1952 Buick.

Poly. If you use “plastic” or propylene, buy the thick-walled model not the cheapie thin-wall version. Yeah, their price will give you pause but they do last for years, sorta “age” to not-such-plastic hues and those “thicker’ walls give the roots a chance at not totally toasting if your containers are full sun.

Fiberglas. This material is in the same category of lasting forever. They do have thinner walls than poly, so I’d keep them out of direct (frying) sun. Plus, when planted, they are much lighter. In hurricane/tornado/high water country, when you have to move your pots out of the weather, you’ll really appreciate this.

And so totally off-the-traditional, are chimney-flue planters. These architecturally spectacular and exciting vertical pieces are permanently post-holed into the ground, never to move. Love them. Tough to find the flue pipes but soooo worth it. Can you tell they’re my favorite container?

Now, finally, planting the plant. Except for your cactus collection that gets watered every millennium, you should leave/make a drain hole/holes in the bottom in avoid root rot. You have to have drain holes!

For big and deep containers, I start by filling the lower ¼ of the container with aluminum soda cans or plastic water bottles – after you’ve punched holes in them. Fill around them with ¼ gravel. This makes up a reservoir/drainage system that will catch and retain some moisture for those overly wet/dry periods. Or when someone over or under-waters. Especially important when containers are outside and susceptible to rain. Also this keeps the container from being immensely heavy.

Next fill with compost soil, Home-made is best, but some lazy people in this very F&M office buy soil at a Lowdepot store. (Imagine, buying dirt? Yes I actually know non-composters). The finished top level of the soil should leave at least an inch to the top for allowing ample watering. Use 10/10/10 time-release fertilizer every 60 days.

If you’ve gotten this far without dozing, here’s secret information. These tips are highly technical so you may want to take notes.

  • Secret #1: The old switcheroo. Keep a container(s) hidden away but planted with the same stuff you have out in public. When the dog, (visiting kid, giant bug, over/under watering) or whatever, croaks the one in view, you’ve got an instant replacement. Even easier if you use cache-pots.
  • Secret #2: Move pots around so your view doesn’t get boring.
  • Secret #3: Since these containers are probably staring you in the face, you will remember to water them and fertilize them. Properly!
  • Plants pots inside the glass/screen with same specimens as the plants on other side of glass/screen outside. Brings outside inside. Duh.
  • Due to heat/evaporation, plastic/poly containers need more watering if in the sun. In the shade, use less water as they retain moisture longer.
  • Using cache-pots, you multilingual devil, you will keep the clay pot inside cooler in the sun and lower its’ evaporation.
  • Probably obvious, but where Winter = Freezing, containers have to come inside. Put your prized container plants in a spot where they get maximum light because they will miss the sunshine.



8 thoughts on “In Gardening Sometimes It’s All About The Container”

  1. As always I enjoyed this month’s issue of Flavors and More. I have to admit that Steven Phillips is my favorite read and looked at his topic and thought boring. However, his writing style and humor made it fun reading while I really learned some interesting practical hints like varying the plants, placing the same plants inside and outside the patio glass door/or window. I really liked learning about placing cans or water battles with holes in them and gravel at the bottom of very large containers for drainage as well as watering. Can’t wait for hos next article.

  2. Great tips! Who knew there were so many options for pots? They can be so pretty and make plants look so good. Love the ones in your garden especially!

  3. Chimney-flues! What a fun idea. I also use those clay containers to “contain” some plants that I don’t want to spread all over my yard. Underground and out of sight but doing the job.
    As always I am inspired by Mr P to get out and play in the yard. Thanks for making me smile 🙂

  4. We don’t use any pots outside, everything is planted in the ground. Now I think if we use some potted plants outside, it could add a nice new look…thanks for the tips.

  5. Loved this article. I handle most of the plants and now I have some new ideas and helpful hints. Looking forward to putting some of Mr. P’s ides into action.

  6. Those of us who are not the greatest gardeners, can sure learn a lot from Mr. Phillips. I love a variety of potted plants on a patio and now I’m going to get busy improving the ones I have and adding new ones. Thanks for the helpful info.

  7. Goodness me, I still thought that painted tractor tires, old dinghys,inverted wheel, painted coffee cans,wheels from large trucks and assorted old bathroom fixtures were still in vogue. The old fox, Mr Phillips has done it again!!! I usually get most of the pots at the landfill swapshop, but I can see this year is going to be different. Wonderful ideas.

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