While many people’s leisure time and lawn space continue to shrink, the art of container gardening grows at a rapid pace. And it’s easy to see why. Good container plantings require little maintenance aside from watering and can enhance your home through the spring, summer, and fall. Container gardening also allows you to experiment with exotic and tropical plants that would not survive winter in the ground.

To create a great container garden, start with a great planter. The only essential requirement is a hole at the bottom for drainage. If the drainage holes are large, cover with a piece of landscape fabric or a shard from a broken clay pot-this prevents soil from washing out the drainage hole but still lets water escape.  From simple terracotta flower pots to elegant Italian pottery to antique bathroom fixtures to old wheelbarrows, the only limits are your imagination and budget. Keep in mind that smaller containers need more frequent watering, especially during the hottest summer months. If you choose a larger container, you won’t need to water as often.

Next, you should purchase a commercially bagged soil mix, one that’s preferably formulated for containers. (We have tested Ocean Forest potting soil and the results are amazing.) Soil dug from your garden will likely be too heavy and may hamper root growth, and may also be full of weed seeds, bugs, and diseases-yuk! You can further improve your mix by blending in good quality compost, if you have it, with the commercial soil. If your soil mix doesn’t already contain them, you may also want to add a slow-release fertilizer and a water-retaining polymer like SoilMoist, following the package directions. (A note on water-retaining polymers:  they lessen the need to water enough to come home late from work, not necessarily go away for a week!)

Now it’s time to select your plants. Fortunately, many breeders have developed plants especially for containers. Proven Winners®, for example, perform exceptionally well in pots and make a great choice for novice and experienced gardeners alike. Put plants with similar needs for sun exposure and water in the same pot and then place the container accordingly. If you’re not sure about plant requirements, check the plant tags, or ask the staff here at New Garden.

To create an attractive combination, choose plants of three different heights: tall, medium, and ones that trail over the edge. The “recipe” is often called “Thriller, Filler, and Spiller”. Be sure to include foliage plants for contrast and texture. A safe rule of thumb is to use three non-flowering foliage plants for every two flowering plants. Theme pots using herbs, or color combinations using variations of just one color are an easy way to start. Adventuresome planters may want to try contrasting colors, like blue and orange, or purple and yellow. (For some attractive combination ideas see the Proven Winners® website.) You can customize your results by sun exposure, planter type, color scheme and more. It’s easy to pick one you like and customize it further by changing colors or plants.

To keep your masterpiece looking good, add Osmocote slow release fertilizer to your finished planting if you didn’t mix it into the planting soil, or remember to fertilize regularly.  And yes, you probably will need to water containers just about every sunny day in the summer—a small price to pay for three season’s worth of beauty.