There’s nothing like the warm weather to bring on a serious case of garden envy. If you find yourself gazing longingly at other people’s expansive gardens and wishing you had more space to dedicate to beautiful flowers and bountiful vegetables, we have the solution.
Even if you have a small patio or balcony, you can still turn it into a delightful garden retreat with the help of containers. Using pots, hanging baskets and window boxes offers a surprising number of options for adding a splash of color and flourish of style to your outdoor living space. Here’s how to get started with potted plants so you can create the container garden of your dreams.
Understanding Your Location
Before you can choose the right plants for your spot, observe the area carefully to see how much sunlight it gets. To do this, check hourly to note whether your patio or balcony is in sun or shade. If your area receives at least six hours of sunlight over the course of the day, you can choose plants that require full sun. If it gets between four to six hours or the sunlight is dappled, consider plants that do well in partial sun. Less than four hours of sunlight — typical if your balcony is covered — requires plants that thrive in shade. Bear in mind that parts of your patio or balcony may be sunnier than others, and you can choose your plants according to the microclimate of one corner. For example, if you have just one sunny spot, place your favorite full sun plant right there.
Choosing The Right Plants
Since you can easily control the amount of water your plant receives, the major considerations when choosing plants is the the container that will be used and the amount of light it will receive. In general, drought-tolerant plants are good for containers because they’ll survive if you forget to water them once in a while. Container plants also don’t tend to have massive root systems. From begonias to veronicas, here’s a list of the top plants, flowers and herbs that thrive in containers:
- Cape Daisies
In spots with full sun, you can also try your hand at growing fruits and vegetables. Good choices for containers are lettuces, cherry tomatoes (when supported on a trellis), peppers, strawberries and specially-bred blueberry varieties like “Top Hat.” Drought-tolerant herbs will also thrive in full sun. Try rosemary, sage, basil, oregano and lavender.
- Coral Bells
- Lady’s Mantle
Though most fruits and vegetables require full sun, many herbs will do fine in partly-sunny situations. Good choices for containers include cilantro, parsley, dill and mint. Mint is an especially good choice for containers as planting it in the open ground will allow it to spread to invasive levels.
You can also bring your indoor herb garden outside for the summer, as long as you introduce them to the elements gradually. To do this, bring them out for only an hour for the first day. Each successive day you can double the amount of time spent outside until the plants are out full-time. Just be careful to bring them back indoors if you expect a frost.
- English Ivy
You’ll notice that most flowers need at least some sun to thrive. If you have your heart set on flowers and don’t have much sun, keep your favorite flowers in the sunniest spot of your yard and fill in the rest of the areas with the colorful leaves provided by hosta and coleus plants.
Best Practices For Planting Containers
Whether you choose a traditional planter, window box or hanging baskets, container plants require a bit of special care to look their best.
Choose containers with adequate drainage. Any container you choose should have drainage holes in the bottom to allow excess water to escape — otherwise, you’re looking at the potential for bacterial and fungal diseases to build up and kill your plants. It’s also a good idea to add a layer of lava rocks to the bottom of your containers for airflow and drainage. For hanging planters, a coir liner serves the same purpose.
Choose the right potting mix. Choose a potting soil specifically designed for container plants. A good mix will contain vermiculite or perlite for additional drainage and airflow. An organic potting mix will also contain things like peat, shredded bark or compost to add body and nutrients to the soil.
Water and fertilize regularly. Containers dry out faster than the ground does, so it’s best to water every day or two. If your plants are wilting, it’s a sure sign they need to be watered. Because of the limited space in pots, your plants will also need a continual supply of nutrients. Choose a balanced fertilizer and apply every two weeks for best results.
Tips For Hanging Baskets
Hanging baskets are a wonderful way to add a pop of color to a covered porch or balcony, and if you place your hanging planters along the railing, they’ll get more sun than containers closer to the house.
To hang your planters safely, it’s important to weigh them immediately after watering. This will allow you to choose a hanging kit or eye bolt rated for the weight it will bear. Be sure to choose a spot directly on a beam or joist and drill a pilot hole first to make screwing the bolt into the wood easier. Once your bolt is in place, thread the chain or rope of the hanging basket through the bolt and secure. For best results, hang the basket just above eye level and fill with trailing petunias or lobelia for a stunning show.
Window Boxes Vs. Plant Stands
Both window boxes and plant stands will allow you to create interesting effects by varying the heights of your plants, but each has its pros and cons.
Window boxes allow you to enjoy flowers and plants indoors as well and provide a classic look to your home — just be sure that you don’t place them beneath a pitched roof that doesn’t have a gutter, or the rain will crush your plants.
If you plan to use plant stands for height, make sure they are sturdy enough to hold a full, watered pot and are sheltered from the wind to avoid tipping. Very large, heavy pots should be kept on rolling plant stands for ease of movement. For all potted plants, a matching tray to catch excess water will keep your patio or balcony neat all season long.
The beauty of container planting is that you can start small and gradually add to your collection as your gardening skill grows. Choosing containers in similar materials or colors will help unify your overall look, but the selection of pots is an extra opportunity to be creative. Let your personality shine through and create the garden of your dreams!