Tips to container gardening in the Carolinas
by Ellen Goff
If you're like most gardeners, you love your outdoor space no matter how large or small and you want it to look its best, even if you don't have a lot of free time.
"Containers are the biggest thing going," says Jesse Campbell, owner of Campbell's Greenhouses and Nursery in Charlotte. "Customers like the control containers allow them over light exposure and pests."
Here are some new ideas for employing a container classic — the hanging basket.
Throw out your old notions about hanging containers. These days, it's all about using the best attributes of container gardening to put flowers — and vegetables — where you really want them: off the ground or deck and safe from marauding pests and errant soccer balls.
Start with a location near a sitting area or doorway. Consider the size and shape of the "basket" — a classic wire basket or pot you already own or one of the new long, cone-shaped containers. Then, decide how it will hang. Choose from traditional hooks, brackets or shepherd hooks, which are commonly available for bird feeders as either a free-standing unit or with a forked base to stick into the ground. You can also buy one with an adjustable bracket that will attach to a deck railing.
Four things to consider
Design a look and style for your container, taking the following into account:
Balance: A symmetrical appearance or an asymmetrical design that isn't uniformly identical but holds similar visual weight.
Proportion: The tallest plant should be no more than one to two times the container's height.
Texture: A mix of coarse, medium and fine foliage and flowers.
Form: Plant shapes, from tall and narrow to broad and clumping to low and cascading.
Making your plant choices is probably the toughest decision. Let your imagination run wild — be bold in your color combinations and mix flowers and vegetables — you're only limited by your creativity. Ahead of time, determine how much sun, if any, the container might receive in that spot and select plants that will thrive. Remember, containers placed in direct sun locations will dry out faster and need more frequent watering.
Estimate the quantity of plants you'll need by selecting up to five plant types, then at least three of each type to put in each container. Arrange them in the container so their leaves barely touch. Use the same spacing estimate if you plan on planting on the sides of a wire basket so that plants grow outward and downward. Most plants need a soil depth of 6 inches for healthy roots.
Use lightweight potting soil formulated specifically for containers, or make your own soilless mix using equal parts peat moss, perlite and vermiculite. If your containers are prone to drying out quickly, mix in water-retaining crystals. To feed container plants, sprinkle slow-release fertilizer pellets on the soil surface or use water-soluble fertilizer at one-half strength during every watering.
When the flowers have faded and you've harvested the vegetables, change out the tired plants for something new and fresh. Imagine that your container is an arrangement of fresh flowers and foliage, to be groomed and renewed from time to time.
Ellen Goff is a master gardener and environmental advocate. Aside from writing about and photographing plants, Ellen tends to a 3-acre landscape she shares with her husband, cat and border collie on the shores of Lake Wylie, S.C.