By Lynn Barber, Florida-Friendly Landscaping™ Agent, and Sonya Rose, Urban Horticulture/4H Program Coordinator, UF/IFAS Extension Hillsborough County

Container gardens are quite popular today and an attractive alternative to in-ground plantings. Portability is a key feature for container gardening. Containers can be moved to a different location for sun, shade, water, protection from weather and seasonal changes. If you place larger containers on wheeled plant stands, it’s even easier to move inside your garage, lanai, front porch or indoors. Containers help you control irrigation according to the needs of the plants and encourage experimenting where you can try a wide variety of plant materials and controlled climates.

Selecting the container itself is an important decision. Porous containers, such as unglazed clay pots, terra cotta and wood, dry out faster than nonporous containers. Nonporous pots, like glazed, plastic and metal, retain moisture better than porous pots, which can be a good or bad thing depending on your watering habits. Most plants die from over versus under-watering. Make sure there is a drainage hole in the bottom of the pot. If there isn’t one, you can use Styrofoam packing peanuts in the bottom to elevate the plant roots above the excess moisture in the bottom. Using those ‘peanuts’ versus soil will also make the pot lighter and easier to move.

Plastic containers can be less expensive, lighter and easier to clean than porous pots. Many plastic pots on the market today have been manufactured to look like terra cotta, so they are more attractive than in the past. Metal containers, like brass, copper or aluminum, generally provide drainage holes in the bottom so the soil drains properly. Wire baskets are another container alternative and require a liner to hold the soil in place. Liners can be Sphagnum moss and coco-fiber.

The nine principles of the Florida-Friendly Landscaping™ Program hold as true for container planting as they do for landscape beds. One of the best aspects of container gardening is the flexibility it offers. You can achieve Right Plant, Right Place, the first and foremost of the nine principles, with a container even when the conditions of your landscape do not match the plant’s needs. For instance, if a plant is acid-loving, but your soil pH is alkaline, a container could be an easy solution. Add a soil amendment that acidifies the container soil, and you have the right plant in the right place.

Locate sun-loving plants in the sun. If the soil is moist, don’t water. Use slow-release fertilizers that do not leach through the soil after irrigation or rain. After proper identification, manage pests responsibly by using environmentally friendly products and spot treat as needed. Select plants that attract wildlife so you can enjoy butterflies, bees and hummingbirds.

Consider grouping several plants with the same requirements together to create attractive combinations. These requirements include light, water, soil texture and pH. Also, consider the mature size so you are not over or under-planting. Plants can be combined with an eye for color schemes, contrasting textures and different forms. Be sure to consider proportions when creating plant combinations. Try to have at least one plant that is as tall as the container. You can group several containers together to create a visual impact.

In Hillsborough County, we offer Container Gardening Microirrigation workshops. For additional information on container garden designs and plants for visual impacts, go to Ask IFAS and search for Container Gardens. You can reach us at 813-744-5519 or visit us at 5339 County Rd. 579 in Seffner. Remember to reduce, reuse, recycle and repeat.

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