Gardeners, we are living in the halcyon days of container glory! There are so many great options in colors, materials, and designs, the fun of gardening has doubled! Now, picking what you want to grow is just part of your garden design process.
By Robert Weaver
(This article was first published in The Gateway Gardener May 2014 issue.)
Gardeners, we are living in the halcyon days of container glory! There are so many great options in colors, materials, and designs, the fun of gardening has doubled! Now, picking what you want to grow is just part of your garden design process. Picking what you’re going to grow them in is almost as much fun! Before you buy, though, consider what you’re going to be growing, where you’ll be placing the container, and whether the material and size is suitable.
I include in this category all containers that are derived from stone or clay, including
concrete, ceramic, and terra cotta. Benefits to these containers are many. Most importantly in our hot summers, they tend to keep roots cooler, especially larger containers. Unpainted or unglazed, they are porous so roots and soil breathe easier. And they come in a great variety of styles to complement your gardening style, whether it’s contemporary or traditional.
On the downside, they are heavier than most other options; in many cases they are not weather-proof, so need to be brought inside over winter. Because of the porosity, many will leach salts from fertilizers, leaving unsightly stains to be dealt with, and may need to be watered more frequently than non-porous options.
Glazed ceramic pots are hot now, and many eliminate some of these concerns. Ann Lapides of Sugar Creek Garden raves about the new glazed containers coming from Asia, particularly Vietnam. These pots come in endless colors, shapes and glaze styles, from solid color to spackled, dripped and splashed designs. Plus they’re frost-proof, and because of the glaze, don’t leach salts.
Metal pots also come in a variety of shapes and colors. Since metal is non-porous, it holds water more efficiently, which can be a benefit or drawback. Drainage holes are a must. Also, metal can get hotter than other materials, so it’s best to consider lighter finishes that reflect sun, and place smaller containers, especially, in sites that get protection from afternoon sun.
One unique entry in this category is the Gutter Garden®, manufactured locally. These containers are created from recycled aluminum guttering material, and are designed for use as window boxes, deck rails and other similar uses. They come in multiple lengths and colors, and there’s even an indoor version for growing herbs or cat grass!
Metal wire baskets, lined with moss, are another option in this category, and eliminate any heat and drainage concerns. (See the beautiful example on our cover provided by Sugar Creek Gardens.)
Jamie Granger of Lake St. Louis Garden Center also recommends cast iron pottery in this category for its traditional styles and durability.
The plastic category includes the endless variety of resin-formed containers that have
come upon the market in recent years. These containers often mimic designs of the stone pots like concrete and terra cotta, and the best do so elegantly! Yet they are much lighter in weight and more capable of withstanding winter stresses. They are also non-porous, with the advantages and disadvantages pursuant: no-leaching, better water retention (worse aeration). They don’t heat up as much as metal, but aren’t as cool as stone.
There are a number of plastic self-watering planters on the market intended for growing vegetables on decks or indoors. We found several different forms at OK Hatchery in Kirkwood, including EarthBox and Tomato Barrel. They also have a Flexit Planter that is designed in two half-cylinders, and can be attached to encircle a tree or post.
There are at least two gardening scenarios that often foil successful gardening efforts—particularly vegetable gardening: poor soil and lack of sufficient sunlight. A relatively new class of gardening container can provide solutions to both. New container products made from a felt-like fabric are configured in a variety of sizes and shapes to meet different gardening needs. Smart Pots® are soft, fabric containers shaped as cylinders in various sizes, and can be used on decks (with a wood-protecting mat beneath) patios or in gardens as raised beds. Victory8 Garden Cubes, as seen at both Lake St. Louis Garden Center and OK Hatchery, use a similar fabric material configured in squares and rectangles from 1 ft. sq. up to 4×8 ft. These containers can go anywhere to follow the sun, and the fabric allows for excellent aeration and drainage. And best of all, when the season is over, they fold away, taking up very little storage space.
These are just a few choices in gardening in containers. Use your imagination and you can go container crazy with just about anything!
Robert Weaver is editor/owner of The Gateway Gardener magazine. He has an associate’s degree in horticulture and advanced certification from the St. Louis Master Gardeners.