Container gardening 1- Nature in a nutshell

By Laxmi Natarajan
Summer is here and is a good time to start sprucing up the decks and yards, add color and fun to your living environment, both outdoors and indoors.  Container gardening is an easy way to get an instant garden and provides immense gratification for very little effort. Container gardens are to a landscape what paintings are to a home. They add to the character, personality and the pizzazz in your garden or home. They are portable, flexible, easy to change and experiment with and very rewarding.
In the landscape design world, container gardens are used as beautiful additions to the homes and yards, sometimes to add accents and sometimes to solve problems in a design challenge.  For example, when there is a lot of clay and hard soil, containers or planter boxes can be filled with organic fertile mixes to grow some splendorous colors and are more cost efficient than trying to fix the soil in the ground.  Small spaces like balcony, patios, decks (you can create vertical space with stacked containers) lend themselves to growing attractive containers/planter boxes.  And most of all, you can avoid spending hours de-weeding and taking care of an entire yard when you could be outdoors enjoying the beautiful weather!

Success with containers can be a perfect way to start out gardening for the novice gardener.  Containers can also be useful for easy vegetable gardening, creating focal points in the garden and even hiding things that you do not want to see.

Here are the steps that can help you get started towards having fabulous container gardens around your home.

Select the Site
Determine the site that you will place the containers.  Figure whether it is sunny or shade or partial shade.

Choose the containers
Containers come in all shapes and sizes and in different materials. Choose the pots and containers that relate to the home architecture, style and works for the theme that you want.  These days you can purchase lightweight pots made of sturdy modern materials like resin, fiberglass, polyethylene etc. that have the look and finish of traditional materials like clay, terracotta, stone and others. This is a good option to consider as these are more weather resistant and reliable.  Depending on the site you can figure out how big the size of the containers can be. This is a good time to consider if you want a single pot or a group of pots. It should be in scale with its surroundings (a large pot can overwhelm a small entryway), and in a style and color that go with your house's architecture. Be sure to choose one that will look attractive with the existing plants that grow nearby.  This step will ensure that the pot size is not too small or too big for the site you are considering.  Typically it is a good idea to have at least a 12 to 16” wide and deep pot.  Choose the biggest pot you can accommodate in your site. Make sure it has drain holes

Group the containers
Make sure that when you group containers, you keep the proportions in mind.  Use the color of the pots to harmonize an arrangement.  Group them in 3 or 5 pots.  If you have containers in different shapes it will still work as long as you use the same colors.

Get the best potting mix
Use the best high quality potting mix you can buy at the garden store.   Since it is going to be a contained environment for the plants, the roots have only the soil within the pot to get their nutrients from. Blend in a controlled-release fertilizer according to package directions. Where water supplies are limited, consider adding soil polymers (such as Broadleaf P4) to the mix. These tiny granules absorb water that would otherwise drain away. They release moisture to the roots longer than potting mix alone, allowing more time between watering. (Follow package directions carefully; many polymers can turn the soil too soggy for most plants.) Stay away from planting soil.  You have to get potting mix and not planting mix.

In the next segment we talk about picking the right plants for your containers and looking after them through the growing season.

Laxmi Natarajan runs Bagicha , a landscape design company.

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