Container Gardens

In the Desert Southwest


    Star-Tip 1009

Gardening Tips for successful and beautiful Landscapes and Gardens


What is Container Gardening?

Container gardening is usually limited only by the imagination, but here in the Desert we need to take a few other things into consideration.. It can be the simple potted plant on a windowsill or an elaborate balcony garden. It can be an enjoyable and creative way to maintain and experiment with a garden

Imagination is the key to container gardens. Imagine what kind of plants you want to grow and then imagine the type of containers and before long you will be enjoying the harvest from your garden.



What are the benefits of Container Gardening

r  Portable r  Flexible r  Beauty in a drab location r  Landscape soil doesn’t matter r  Convenience of location r  Ease of Pest control


Portability - Plants in containers can be moved easily. Whether it’s shifting your pots of gardenias from your front porch to your backdoor during the rainy or cold season or transporting them to a new home, your plants can go with you.
Do you have heavy pots? Then garden dollies can transport those containers indoors during an early frost.

Flexibility - Containers allow you to enjoy plants in areas where a traditional garden is awkward or impossible. Even with limited space in an urban apartment, you can grow fruits, vegetables, flowers and shrubs just about anywhere.


Beauty in a drab location. – Container plants can quickly change the overall impression of an entranceway or a patio. Too much concrete or block walls, can quickly fade from focus by adding an eye appealing flowering pot.


Bad Soil in your yard? – No problem when you start and keep your plants in a container. Make sure you select quality potting soil, and your off to a good start.


Location versatility. – Because you have more freedom of where to put your container, you can choose a spot or area that allows you easy access.


Ease of Pest Control - If pests infect your calendula, you can easily move and treat those containers with appropriate sprays without disturbing other plants.





What things do I need to do Container Gardening?


A) Make and Complete your plan.

Budget. How much do you want to spend on your garden?

This is a good place to star planning. It’s no fun to get half way through your project and discover you can’t finish.


Location - Sunlight – Afternoon sun? Afternoon shade?

Here in the Desert this is the most critical issue in deciding the type of plant and container. If the plant will receive more than 2 hours of direct sun in the afternoon, the soil in the pot can become excessively hot, and can kill even the most sun-hardy plant.

The Plant Information signs at Star Nursery will give you a heads-up on the plants ability to withstand afternoon sun.  Read these signs, and do not rely on the care instruction information that the growers label provides, as these instructions are generally for other climates than ours.

Most container gardens will need at least four hours of direct sunlight each day, and some plants will benefit from even more. The amount of sunlight needed by vegetables and flowers varies depending on the varieties grown. Always check for specific sunlight requirements when selecting the plants for your garden. If the spot you choose is completely shaded, there are plants for those areas too.


Questions to ask, and answer in order to develop your plan:

1) How much do I care to spend?

2) Where am I planning this Garden?

3) What is the sun-climate in this location?

          - afternoon sun?

          - how many hours?

4) What type of pot, or container will work in this location?

5) Do you plan to water by hand, or with your irrigation system?

6) Combinations or Specimen pots?

7) What type of plants do you want?

          - flowers?  Annual or perennial?

                   Do you want winter color?  Warm season only?

          - Shrubs, surrounded by flowers?

          - Patio Trees

          - vegetables?  Fruit?

8) What type of soil do I need for the desired plant(s)



B) Gather the materials


Growing Mixture – potting soil, compost, perlite/vermiculite, rocks for drainage

The planting medium needs to drain quickly but retain enough moisture to keep the roots evenly moist. A good quality potting soil will have the right mix of organic material and water retention media to support a healthy potted plant. It will also be free of weed seeds and fertilizer. Compost can make a good potting soil if mixed with moisture retention media. Generally, too high a percent of organic material will not be beneficial to your new plant. If your new plant will be a succulent or cacti, you will want to add some sand to the potting soil, or use a soil designated for this type of plant.

Many container gardeners have found that a soil-less potting mix works best. It drains rapidly and is lightweight and free from soil-borne diseases and weed seeds. Dr. Q’s Filthy Rich is just such a mix.

When adding soil to your container, leave a 2 inch space between the top of the soil and the top of the container. You will be able to add 1/2 inch or so of mulch later.


Fertilizer – You will feed often, but do not over-fertilize!

Potting mixes drain water rapidly so fertilizer is washed out of the container as you water. Lighter growing mixtures require more frequent fertilizing than heavier mixes.

Use a dilute liquid fertilizer with every other watering. Dr. Q’s fertilizers contain a balance of nutrients to keep your plants healthy. Liquid fish emulsion or Earthworm Castings are great plant boosters, but remember that plants need a variety of nutrients. Check the labels on the products in your garden center to be sure that they contain a complete, balanced fertilizer that includes trace elements. Dr. Q’s Plant Tonic will provide all the micronutrients your plant needs, if the fertilizer you use might lack this.


The Pot or Container

If your location is in afternoon sun, this choice is critical! At Star Nursery we carry a variety of “Lite” pottery. This type of container insulates the roots of the plant from the radiation of the afternoon sun. If exposed to extended afternoon sun, root temperature can exceed 140 degrees!

Lite Pottery


Don’t forget to use a saucer to keep the drainage water off your concrete. There will be iron and other minerals in the soil of your pot, and these stain.


Even the smallest patio or porch can boast a crop of vegetables or a garden of flowers in containers. Planter boxes, wooden barrels, hanging baskets and large flowerpots are just some of the containers that can be used. The container gardener is limited only by his imagination, and some requirements of the desired location of the plant. Consider the following guidelines when choosing your container.

·         Avoid containers with narrow openings.

·         Cheap plastic pots may deteriorate in UV sunlight and terracotta pots dry out rapidly. Glazed ceramic pots are good choices but require several drainage holes, and shelter from extended afternoon sun.

·         Wooden containers are susceptible to rot. Redwood and cedar are relatively rot resistant and can be used without staining or painting. Avoid wood treated with creosote, or other toxic compounds since the vapors can damage the plants. One advantage of wooden containers is that they can be built to sizes and shapes that suit the location, and they keep the roots cool if exposed to extended afternoon sunlight.

·         Use containers between 15 and 120 quarts capacity. Small pots restrict the root area and dry out very quickly. The size and number of plants to be grown will determine the size of the container used. Deep rooted vegetables require deep pots.

·         Make sure your pot has adequate drainage. Holes should be 1/2 inch across.

·         In hot climates use light-colored containers to lessen heat absorption and discourage uneven root growth.

·         Set containers on bricks or blocks, or quality saucers to allow free drainage.

·         Line hanging baskets with sphagnum moss for water retention. Keep baskets away from afternoon sun.

·         If you choose clay pots, remember that clay is porous and water is lost from the sides of the container. Plants in clay pots should be monitored closely for loss of moisture.


C) Purchase your plants

This is step # 4 for a reason. If you do not yet know where you intend your plant(s) to go, or you haven’t selected the pot(s), you need to do this before you buy the plant.

If you have a large pot, and the plant you want is small, you can surround it with complimentary colorful accent plants. If later this makes the pot too “busy” or crowded, you can remove some of the accents plants. 

Purchase healthy plants!  Examine the leaves and roots. At Star Nursery our commitment is to your success, and this type of examination is welcomed.






D) Proper planting. A good start makes all the difference.

Do not traumatize the root system when removing it from the nursery container. Minimize the amount of transplant shock by carefully and gently removing and transplanting your new plant.


Start off by assuring good drainage. Use only pots that have drain holes on the bottom. Place about ¾ inch of rocks on the bottom to assure that the soil does not plug the drain hole, and that drainage is even throughout the pot.


Measure the depth of the pot after you have put in your rocks, so that you know if you need to add soil before you put your plant into the pot. If the new plant sits too deep in the pot, you might be tempted to put soil over the top of the roots to make it look better; DO NOT DO THIS! Soil placed over the top of the root system inhibits vital oxygen intake by the plant, and it may have a slow growth rate or even die.


Transplanting a cactus can be a tricky job. A good idea is to use an old cloth or rag as a “sling” to hold the top of the cactus. Cut away the nursery container, and lift the plant from the roots with one hand, while the other is holding the sling.


After your new plant is safely placed into it’s new home, you want to give it some starter fertilizer and a good soaking. Often you will notice that the soil will settle a bit around the plant, and you may need to add more potting soil.  As a final touch for looks and plant health, you can dress the surface with some bark, or in the case of a cactus some rocks.



E) Proper care, after you plant

Watering – Over-water is the number one killer.

In an exposed setting, container plants loose moisture quickly. During hot, dry weather most plants will need to be watered daily. Star Nursery carries “Moisture Meters” that if used properly will tell you if you are about to over water your plant. Insert the meter about 3 inches into the soil, just before watering, if the meter reads “7” or higher, the plant has not yet begun to breathe. If this is the case, and you add more water, the plant can die of suffocation.

Check the root ball of all your potted plants routinely. After watering the entire root system should read “10” or very wet. Dry spots will cause part of the root system to die, and your plant will soon show signs of stress. Periodic use of the moisture meter will aerate the soil in the pot, and maintain even distribution of water.

For the most part, our tap water is too alkaline and salty for many plants. Periodically flush the soil with good quality bottled water, or water from an R.O. (reverse osmosis) filter. This will add years to the enjoyment of your plant.

© 2006, Star Nursery, Inc.                                        Copy Provided courtesy of Star Nursery