Lee Valley Tools Gardening Newsletter
Vol. 2, Issue 3
June 2007
Container Gardening Made Simple

The soil doesn't have to be replenished if you begin with the correct ingredients. After drilling the drainage holes, cover the bottom of the pot with pebbles or broken potshards to a depth of 1". I use generic black soil, as I find that commercial container soil compacts quickly, which results in poor moisture retention.

You should add bulk to the soil to help retain moisture and render the mixture coarse. Peat moss is perfect for this purpose. However, never add dry peat moss - it won't absorb moisture or improve texture. Place the peat in a pail, cover it with boiling water, drain, and then incorporate the moss into the soil. (Incidentally, peat moss is invaluable if you are planting an azalea or any other acid-loving plant.)

To provide drainage and aerate the soil, add perlite or vermiculite. Not only will they provide appropriate density, these two ingredients create air space in the soil and improve drainage. At the same time, you can work fertilizer into the earth before the plants are established. I fertilize only once in the season, but if you are more dedicated, the common rules apply: nitrogen for foliage, phosphorus for blooms and potassium for stems and hardiness. I find both granular and soluble fertilizers to be equally effective. In climates that experience four seasons, avoid fertilizing container plants toward the end of the growing season; if the plants develop young, fragile shoots, they will freeze and die as cold weather approaches.

Containers as camouflage.
The author used containers to distract the eye from the fence.


After preparing the soil, you're ready to select the plants. There is an enormous variety of possible combinations, depending on the location and size of your container. Generally, I try to maintain perennials in at least half of my planters, which is more cost-effective.

I love evergreens because they're hardy and provide color during the long winter months. Mine have thrived through many seasons in large containers with lots of protection around the roots. Avoid pots with narrow bases, which will jeopardize root structure during sub-zero temperatures. In the summer, color can be added to the conifer pots by planting various annuals.


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