Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Top 7 Plants for Container Gardens

Classic Container Plant, courtesy

Plus 3 Container No-nos

Container gardens are all the rage right now, according to popular garden periodicals from budget-conscious Better Homes and Gardens to spare-no-expense Sunset Magazine. Containers come in all shapes and sizes, and more container-friendly plants are hybridized every year. Containers can provide inexpensive patio d├ęcor, and can be moved around during the growing season as temperature and light exposure changes. Container gardens require less soil and less manual labor to get started than larger beds, but they also require more frequent watering and fertilizing during the growing season. Be prepared to check the soil moisture and plant wiltiness every day when it’s hot out. Some plants will need daily watering when the weather is especially toasty.

Here are a few easy-to-grow plants that adapt well to containers, plus a few that I wouldn’t recommend under most circumstances. For other ideas, check your local garden store for new container-friendly varieties. Try chatting up workers and shoppers, if the opportunity presents itself.

Top 7 Container Garden Plants

Pots of Thyme, Oregano, Marjoram, and Winter Savory
Fave Four Perennial Container Herbs
Herbs: Marjoram, winter savory, and several varieties of oregano and thyme are container-friendly. In mild Bay Area climates they’ll even overwinter, if protected on the coldest nights with shade cloth. It’s possible to raise these from seeds, but faster and more reliable to start with small plants and pot them into 10-inch diameter pots. If plants are small, protect them from marauding squirrels with strawberry baskets or inverted gopher baskets.

Two Pots of Basil on Porch Steps
2013's Basil So Far: Thai and Lime
Basil: I know, technically this is an herb, but I separated it because basil is a tender annual that requires special handling. All varieties including Thai basil can be grown in containers. A favorite of slugs and snails, container-grown basil is easier to protect than garden-grown. Simply wrap the containers with self-stick copper foil tape near the top. Be sure that no other plants can contact the container above the foil if a snail-size weight is attached to them. This includes branches from above, adjacent plants, and weeds that are taller than the container. Snails are surprisingly resourceful. I prefer seedlings to seeds, because they produce more basil quicker. Trim off flower spikes as they appear to produce larger and more numerous leaves.

2 Tomato Varieties in 2 Different Size Pots
Beefsteak (left) & Super Bush
Tomatoes: There are plenty of tomatoes designed for containers these days, but according to the UCSC Farm (as well as my own experience), any variety including heirloom slicers can be grown in containers, provided that you do three things: use a big enough container, water frequently, and fertilize at least once every six weeks. Fertilizer in particular will affect the size of your yield. For the heirloom slicers, use a pot that’s about 16 inches in diameter. Container-friendly varieties like Super bush and prolific cherry tomatoes such as Sungold and Isis Candy (both recommended) can take smaller containers, about 12 inches. Most tomatoes need plenty of sun and warmth to produce. If these are in short supply where you live, try the classic Early Girl (requires fewer sunny days), or ask at your garden store about fog-friendly varieties.

Sweet peppers: OK, I have never tried these, until this week. The same farmer at the UCSC Farm who recommended planting tomatoes in containers says that peppers do well if given plenty of water and fertilized frequently. Like tomatoes, peppers prefer a sunny, warm climate. Look for fog-friendly varieties if you’re on the coast, and/or place them in the hottest, sunniest spot in the yard. I don’t recommend growing either peppers or tomatoes from seed, especially in cooler climates. To make the most of the growing season, start with already-established plants.

Persian Mint Thriving in Container
Persian Mint courtesy
Mint: Decorative as well as culinary, mints grow equally well in containers and the ground. Be sure to place them in a mostly-shady area. I’ve grown spearmint, Persian mint, peppermint, lemon mint, orange mint, chocolate mint, and Himalayan mint in containers (the latter is fuzzy and decidedly not culinary). Lemon verbena, also a mint, botanically speaking, also grows well in containers. During winter mint dies back, but typically re-emerges early in spring, especially if protected under shrubbery or near the house covered with shade cloth.

Culinary Poppy with Two Bees
Poppies Also Attract Bees to the Garden
Poppies: Both culinary poppies and wild poppies (California poppy cultivars) sprout readily from seed and look beautiful in containers. These are best started in cool weather. Stick to seeds rather than plants, poppies don’t transplant well. I like using large containers, like oak half-barrels, so that poppies can reseed and come up again every spring. You could plant mid-to-late summer bulbs like dahlias in the same container to fill in the season with color after the poppies have bloomed.

See for More Varieties
Fuchsia: This is a classic container plant, often seen in hanging baskets. Many shades and combinations of pink, purple, red, and white are available, with single and double blooms of all sizes. Fuchsias require shade. They bloom throughout summer into fall. Fertilizing makes blooms even more prolific, as does pinching off the old, spent blossoms. Water when soil starts to feel dry. Most winters they will die back, and if left semi-protected under shrubbery or shade cloth will come back the following spring. Fuchsias are named after Leonhard Fuchs, a 16th century German botanist. Remember this and you’ll not contribute to the epidemic of misspelling of this flower name.

3 (Mostly) Not Container-Friendly Plants

Parsley: Yes, it seems like it would take to pots like most other herbs, but this has not been true in my experience. Grown in a bed, however, it tends to reseed easily and come up the following years in rather inconvenient semi-shady spots, such as the cracks in the patio below the picnic table.

Most Squash: Typically squash likes to be planted on top of a mound and trail down on the soil. Usually two plants (or 3 seeds) are planted and trailed down opposite sides of the mound. I’ve not been successful at fooling squash into thinking that it will “trail down” from a pot. So I’m planting my butternut on a classic squash mound. Renee Shepherd introduced a container-friendly bush-like zucchini plant that I’m planting in a pot this year, though. Given the success of Renee’s Super-bush tomatoes in small containers last year, I’m optimistic.

Artichoke: In the Bay Area, artichokes are extremely happy in the garden and will overwinter and produce throughout the years. They need more space than a container provides, and will spread out to 4-5 feet in diameter. Where winters are mild they essentially produce forever, so it’s best to locate your artichokes in a spot where you’ll enjoy seeing them for many years.

Do you have other favorite container garden plants? If so, please share in a comment!

No comments:

Post a Comment