Outdoor container gardening is one of life’s sweet and simple pleasures.
Outside gardens may be small, not taking up much space so they’re easy to manage, yet yield plants and flowers to enjoy, vegetables and fruits that taste better than anything you’ll ever find in a supermarket, and add a small oasis to your balcony, deck or patio.
Your outdoor garden doesn’t have to cost much, either.
Outdoor container gardening is an affordable pleasure. You can create an outside garden and spend less than you would on dinner for two at your favorite restaurant or a new pair of running shoes (trainers) or a week of morning lattes and (fast food) lunches.
Container gardening virgin?
- Start small with just 2 or 3 containers – perhaps one at either side of your door or close to your chair (where you can enjoy them up close) plus a hanging basket. Or a group of 3 (one big, two medium-sized) at the corner of the deck or shielding your balcony from neighbors or the street.
- Plant annuals. Very easy to grow and you get fast and colorful results.
- Find you don’t really like a plant or its flowers? Or, something in your container isn’t doing that well, and you don’t want to keep trying to get it to look as good as everything else in your container? Pull it out. The other plants will soon fill in the gap.
- Want something that creates a privacy screen or blocks out an eyesore? Plant shrubs or vines.
- For something that gets a slow start, but will come back next year (and perhaps for several years to come), plant perennials.
- Want something with lots of color and interest, but not necessarily flowers? Go for foliage plants.
- Plan before you buy. First, take a look at the space and the amount of sunlight your garden space gets. Generally, plants like about 6 to 8 hours a day of sunlight (on plant labels this is what “full sun” means), but with some protection from the really harsh, direct sun of mid-day.
Part-sun or that little symbol that looks like a sun half blocked out, means a mix of sun and shade. Sun only all morning, for example, or only in late afternoon and evening. Full-sun plants might flower, but they will struggle along in only part-sun and do nothing at all, or just die in mostly-shady places. The ones that like partial sun will quickly dry out and die in full sun and will soon look like wilted lettuce in full shade.
- You also need to consider the temperature and climate where you live. Generally, garden centers stock only the plants that can grow in your gardening zone. But I have found out-of-zone plants in the big box stores and the garden centers at hardware stores, so always check the label.
It is possible to grow out-of-your-zone plants (pushing-the-zone is a challenge some gardeners gleefully tackle), but that isn’t a game most gardeners want to play.
- Now you know the amount of light your space has and have considered the climate, think about what you like. This isn’t a garden that needs to be designed, it’s just a few pots of things you happen to want to spend some time with. My advice is to ignore the flock of garden design people and just choose some plants that make you smile every time you glance in their direction.
Outdoor container gardening supplies
Here’s everything you need:
- Something to plant in. You can purchase containers, or recycle, or use found objects. All your container requires is the ability to hold soil and water, and holes in the bottom for drainage. On decks and balconies, your container will need a saucer.
- Use a quality outdoor container gardening soil or soiless mix. Cheap and widely available. I usually buy it at the discount store.
- Something to plant. Annuals for fast color, perennials for containers for longer-term garden stars (annuals are the comets), herbs for cooking and summer salads, bright foliage plants to contrast with and showcase the flowers, and flowers that are scented such as marigolds, sweet William, garden phlox, some geraniums, heliotrope, jasmine, lilac and lavender; or attract butterflies and birds. You can start from seeds, bulbs or corms, or (the easiest option) buy young plants.
- Pebbles or shards of broken plates or Styrofoam popcorn for the bottom of the pot, to aid in drainage.
- Plant food.
- Outdoor container gardening supplies you might want are garden gloves to protect your hands, a spade and a claw tool (you do need these for raised bed gardens), a small shovel (only for raised bed gardens), a watering can or more fancy watering system, a hose (if you’ve got the luxury of an outside tap – most balconies don’t) and something for pest control and, as needed, to confront plant diseases.
Outdoor container gardening care
Planning, choosing and buying plants and planting your containers will take some time but then you get to enjoy your container garden with minimal time/effort and maximal smelling the roses and taking in the view.
Outdoor container gardening care means regular:
- You need to water as needed, keeping the soil moist but not wet. Maybe not at all if it rains once a week or so, more in hot weather. Water either early in the morning or late in the evening.
- There’s a choice of methods, all quick and easy, but the very easiest no-brainer option costs a bit more and the cheapest method takes a bit more time.
- Deadheading, which means pinching off spent flowers to keep plants blooming. Since containers are seen close-up, you’ll also want to do more tidying up (picking off dead leaves, for example) than you might do with an in-ground garden.
- Pots in motion. Move them around for better light (or a bit of shade relief) or just to get a better effect.
One big advantage of container gardens is that (like your living room furniture) you can re-arrange to your heart’s content (and it is surprising how different and better a changed arrangement can look. Give it a try, if you notice container boredom looming).