• Pots for container gardening.Public domain image
    Pots for container gardening.Public domain image
Your Show-Me Garden: MU Extension brings you gardening tips from experts around the state.

COLUMBIA, Mo. – Container gardening can be a great option if time and space are in short supply.

“Perhaps we want a garden but a patio or stoop is all we have. You can grow your garden in containers,” said David Trinklein, horticulture specialist for University of Missouri Extension.

It’s also easier to care for a container garden, Trinklein said.

“As I get older, I find my back doesn’t bend as easily as it used to,” he said. “The baby boomers are aging to the point they don’t want to stoop anymore, and container gardens are a bit more user-friendly, especially for people who have physical limitations.”

Plants grown in containers tend to perform better and have fewer diseases and insect problems, Trinklein said. However, there are a few limitations on what can be grown in a container. The trick is making sure the plant and container are a good match.

“We want a nice ratio between the height of the plant and the height of the container, so you’re not going to want to plant a large-statured plant in a short container,” he said. “Additionally, containers that are too small tend to need watering more often. Ideally, a container should be at least 2 1/2 quarts in volume.”

Container color is important too, Trinklein said. Dark containers can cause root damage by absorbing excessive summer heat. Secondly, light colors tend to be neutral and blend more easily into the color scheme of the flowers used in the container.

“Additionally, the container should never overshadow the plants in it,” he said. “If you have an electric-orange container, then people will notice the container first and its plants later.”

Trinklein says containers planted with decorative ornamentals needs three things: a thriller, a filler and a spiller.

“The thriller is something tall or vertical,” he said. “It’s usually planted in the center of the container. The spiller would be something that would gracefully trail over the edge and down the sides of the container, and the filler would be something in between that would give mass.”

A tall tropical hibiscus is an example of a plant that serves well as a thriller, Trinklein said. Vinca vine, English ivy and ornamental sweet potato all make excellent spillers, and something like baby’s breath euphorbia could serve as a filler.

When choosing plants for your container garden, it’s important to put good neighbors together, Trinklein said.

“For example, vinca is a heat-loving plant that’s ideal for Missouri, but it doesn’t like to have wet feet,” he said. “Although attractive, heliotrope doesn’t like warm temperatures and is a glutton for water. So if you interplant vinca and heliotrope, you’re going to overwater one and underwater the other, and give one too much sun and one too little sun.”

You can grow some varieties of tomatoes, zucchini, squash and peppers in containers, Trinklein said. Concentrate on growing species high in both nutritional and economic value.

Good drainage is extremely important in container gardening, so make sure there are drainage holes at the bottom of the container, he said.

Also, don’t forget to fertilize container gardens.

“Because soilless mixes are recommended for containers, we have to be more mindful to feed our plants, Trinklein said. “Soilless container mixes do not contain the nutrient reserve common in good garden soils. Therefore, select a water-soluble fertilizer and feed according to label directions.”

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