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Container Gardening: Pots Galore!: Home

Courtesy of Flicker CC/Helen Olney
Courtesy of Flickr cc/Helen Olney

Container gardens are a great way to create a garden when you don't have a yard. They are easy to use, versatile and come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes


  • Use containers with holes in the bottom for drainage.
  • Larger containers require less frequent watering.
  • Add Styrofoam peanuts, old plastic pots (overturned), or any light material to the base of large containers so that they do not become too heavy to move.
  • Use potting soil, not garden soil, to plant your containers. Garden soil is too heavy and will not be free from pests and diseases.
  • Space the plants much closer together than in the garden--you can grow twice as many plants in the same amount of space.
  • Don't fill the container to the top with soil and mulch. Leave 1-2 inches of space at the top of the pot. This space will allow for easier and more effective watering, and will keep soil and mulch from spilling out.
  • Fertilize your container. Nutrients will leach out with frequent watering. Use a slow-release fertilizer in spring and supplement it with liquid fertilizer starting in mid-July. You can use half the amount of fertilizer recommended on the label and still get good results. Over-fertilizing weakens plants and promotes leafy growth with few flowers.
  • Use mulch to retain moisture if gardening in an exposed area.
  • Deadhead your flowers regularly to keep them blooming. Cut back or prune any plants that become too large.
  • Check containers daily to see if they need to be watered.



Foliage is an extremely important and often underrated component of any design, whether in a container or in the garden. Long after flowers are gone, foliage continues to provide wonderful contrasts and textures.

Fine Textures:

Fine textures are feathery and delicate; they enhance foliage and colors in neighboring plants.

Bold Textures:

Bold textures create an impact. They add stability to a design and create focal points.


Container designers often organize plants into three categories: accent plants, fillers, and trailing plants. Although all three categories are frequently used when designing a container, this is not a rule.

  • Accent Plants - These are plants with striking features that create a focal point for the composition. Vertical plants that give the container height can be accents. Tropical plants, with their broad leaves and exotic feel, are highly effective accent plants.
  • Fillers - These plants add mass and color to an arrangement. Mounding plants are wonderful fillers. They cover up bare spaces while adding depth and fullness to a composition.
  • Trailing Plants - These plants spill over the edge of the pot or basket. They are important features of many arrangements, particularly hanging baskets, trailing plants blur the lines between the container and the plants.


Designing with color is fun. Everyone should be encouraged to experiment with it. Some colors are hot (reds, orange and yellow), while others are cool (blues, purple and pinks). White often brings out the intensity in another color, looking very classy when paired with green and pastel and pretty when paired with pale yellow. Beautiful arrangements can be made by combining varying shades or hues of the same color.


Repetition is as important for container design as it is for garden design. When there is too much variety, the eye does not have a resting point. Repetition creates continuity in an arrangement and ties the composition together. Repetition does not necessarily mean using  the same plant repeatedly in one container; plants can be repeated throughout a grouping of containers. Using plants with the same color or shape can be a form of repetition. Conversely, using the same plant in different colors effectively creates a sense of continuity.

Container arrangement at NYBG; photo by Marlon Co
Container Arrangement at NYBG; photo by Marlon Co

Scale and Proportion:

Understanding scale and proportion is important when planting a container. Containers are most effective when plants of contrasting heights are layered in tiers from tall to small.  Large accent plants, such as cannas, can dwarf the other plants in a container unless there are transitional, medium-height plants to draw the eye to the under-planting. Layering also covers up the bare undergrowth of taller plants. Try to envision what the plants will look like when they are fully grown.  All containers will need some pruning or formative training, but it is important to get the scale right from the start. Tall plants look best in pots with wide bases (they look out of balance in containers with narrow bases), and small, rounded containers look their best when planted with mounding plants that mimic the shape of the container.

Creating Miniature Landscapes:

Rather than trying to fit all of your good ideas into one large pot, group a number of containers together to create a tableau or miniature landscape. Plants with contrasting shapes or textures can be placed side by side very effectively. Many plants thrive when planted separately, rather than competing for space in a crowded container. Grasses, for instance, look wonderful when given center stage in a pot all by themselves.

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