Container Garden – How to Guide


Adding beauty to a patio, garden, or apartment with a container garden is one of the top pics for a gardener with a black thumb. Traditionally container gardening is used by people with little or no space for gardens, but it also have large advantages for novice gardeners because we use annuals and not more expensive perennials. These potted garden are wonderful way to bring bold color to often naturally toned patios, entryways, and decks. Even though container gardens take some maintenance such as watering and feeding they are very easily maintained when compared to standard gardens.


Long gone are the days of our parents and being regulated to using the standard terra cotta pots and formal urns. Today there is a huge market of custom pots that include wild ceramic glazes an exotic materials with beautiful finishes. If you are interested in some of these I suggest looking at these great options from Amazon.


  1. Style – What style is your home and what style is your garden. A craftsman style home with a garden that has clean geometric lines wouldn’t look right with the same stone planter box that looks right at 3 story Victorian home in New England.
  2. Size – You probably have an idea of where you want to add your planter, maybe its on your back patio or along the front walkway. Lets use a back patio to express this idea. If you back patio is only 100 square feet  and just big enough for to Adirondack chairs then a four-foot tall glazed ceramic planter wouldn’t fit at all.
  3. Material – Part of what material you choose is included in the style part and the size decision, but you want to think of the material when you consider the elements your pot will be exposed to. If you’re in a norther climate you would probably want to store your pots indoors during the winter months. Gardeners in southern climates will want to watch out for materials that might bleach due to sun exposure or heat up and fry the roots of the plants inside them.

You can find containers that where never meant to hold plants and some of the best pots I have were never meant to be. The most important thing to remember when choosing your vessel though is that it must have holes in the bottom for drainage. If you’re considering planting a small bush or tree in your planter you will want to make sure that the container has enough weight to make sure the entire garden isn’t top-heavy and susceptible to tipping over.


The first thing you need to decide is how many containers you think you’ll use. One container can make a statement and several can create a flowing wall of color. If you’re considering more than one planter in near to others you will always want to use odd numbers. We could get into the psychology behind why people find odd numbers more appealing but for now just take my word for it.

When you begin to select plants you will want to think about a color scheme and think three dimensional about your choices. If you go with several containers bunched together you may want repeat a plant through all the containers or even use the colors from each pot to set off the other pots.


When you begin to select plants for your garden you will want to make sure that you’re choosing plants that are going to thrive in your climate zone. If you don’t know what climate zone you are in you can take a look at our climate zone map found here. Will you leave your containers outside over winter or will you bring them indoors. If your going to leave them out then you will want to go with annuals. Annuals are great for many reasons, you get access to exuberant colors your might not be able to use with perennials and the cost can be lower than perennials as well.

Herb gardening in containers is a great option as well. I love having a couple of pots with herbs in them right on my back patio. My container setup allows me to just walk out back any time I’m cooking and get fresh herbs. Rosemary, thyme, oregano, and basil have been used in this type of gardening for 100′s of years. You will want to avoid herbs like tarragon and dill though as they don’t like being grown in container gardens.


Any time I meet with someone about a new garden design I make sure to ask how much maintenance they are ready to take on. With these gardens the time caring for them is low but some care is needed. If you live in a warmer climate that doesn’t experience frost then you can use tropical plants that will last over a longer period and add a big punch of color. In northern climates perennials offer a good return on investment year after year if you bring the plants in over winter. If you’re lacking on indoor storage space and really want to save your perennials you can dig a whole deep enough that the when you place your container in them the plants sit flush with the ground and then back fill the hole. You will need to check water conditions at least once a month. If you’re not the kind of person who will remember to check the water or doesn’t want to break out the hose then you may want to consider succulents. Succulent plants include cacti and sedum and can a great option for dry arid climates as well.


Taking advantage of climbing vines is a technique that is often ignored by most gardeners design for plots. Bringing in a small trellis allows you to add tropical plants like bougainvillea, mandevillia, or jasmine. These tropical plants can add some serious flower power. Just like other tropical plants you will want to bring these in during the winter, but they can add some beauty to your home during the cold winter months. If you’re not crazy about bring you plants in to your home during the winter you may want to take a look at hardier plants like clematis or boston ivy which can be taken into a garage or shed during the winter months.

Still intimidated? I’ve Got The Plants For You!

Ornamental grasses are incredible hardy plants. Their tolerance to low water quantities is great for the gardener that might not remember to water that often. Close your eyes (that will make it hard to read this) and think of a wheat field blowing in the wind. Ornamental grasses can add that same visual appeal to your outdoor space. Finding the right grass is going to be really easy, I guarantee if you take a trip down to your local garden center they will have at least half a dozen choices of ornamental grasses to choose from.


Once you’ve gone out and picked up your plants and several bags of potting soil we will begin to assemble the container gardens. Before we begin to put this together you will want to make sure that any large pots are all ready in their last place as they will be heavy and hard to move soon enough. Lets use a 12″ tall as an example to express some quantities for filling a pot. First add a 3 inch layer of rocks to the bottom of the container. The stones should be smaller pebbles like pea gravel. Using smaller stones helps prevent our soil from escaping through the hole when water passes through.

Choosing the right potting soil is important to make sure your plants thrive in their new homes. I like this espoma organic potting soil for my plants. A time release  fertilizer may be necessary if you buy poor quality potting soil but if you use the Espoma then you’ll be fine with out it generally. With your potting soil fill up your container to the point where your plant roots will sit. Begin to take your plant out of their containers paying attention to the soil to make sure you don’t break it up. Take your plants and start placing them in your containers, don’t be afraid to rearrange them several time to find out what looks best. Once you have a layout that looks best to you begin to back fill the cavities with the rest of your potting soil to about 1 inch of the top of your container. Water the pot thoroughly and add soil if there is any settling.


This is where the beauty really comes through for us black thumb gardeners, because beyond watering there isn’t any maintenance. With a standard garden you have to deal with pruning and weeding but because we are dealing with annuals and perennials we will avoid all of this headache. We can even remove some of the stress of water by adding some bark mulch. Adding mulch will help keep water that the plants can use later when conditions are drier. When you do water you will want to water early in the morning before the day heats up. I avoid watering at night because having wet plants with cooler temperature is just inviting molds and infections to hit your plants. If your plants are in their containers for 5 to 6 months you may want to apply a plant fertilizer.

The Black Thumb Gardener is here to help you learn the joys of container gardening. We will also try to squash some of your fears when it comes to starting a garden inside of a pot. Check back often to see the latest articles or sign up to the right and get alerts to your email when ever we add a new post.


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I'm no master gardener, but I'm always trying to learn new things. I'm always trying new gardening projects and I love to share them with our readers. I'm a landscaper designer by trade, but enjoy farmers markets and spending time with my family on the weekends.