Contain Yourself

Gardening can be easy when done in pots that allow for blending plant types, simple seasonal changeouts and control of the microenvironment.

Container gardening is an easy way to get into growing plants, flowers and veggies. If you’ve ever had a houseplant, then you’re already a container gardener.

Belea T. Keeney
Illustration by Jordan Shapot

Containers are great for folks who are restricted to a balcony or patio space, or just want a simple garden to manage. If you’re looking forward to getting your hands ( just a little) dirty and want some near-instant gratification, all you need is a pot, potting mix/soil and the plants you choose.

There are many advantages to container gardens.

“They’re a way to have fun and experiment with plant colors, textures and sizes,” says Laura Perdomo, owner of The Peacock Cottage, a local plant store. “You can do plant combinations that wouldn’t necessarily work in the ground.”

Greg Vandeventer, City of Ocala Downtown Parks Operations Supervisor, agrees.

“You can add a combination of foliage and color to any space. In the home setting, you can give a warm welcome to guests, enhance a patio or even showcase a driveway. Landscape containers come in all shapes, sizes and designs, leaving it up to you to create the atmosphere you are trying to achieve.”

Advantage 1- You have complete control of the soil content and any amendments. A commercial, bagged potting mix will be sterilized, have bits of helpful compost mixed in and may include fertilizer. As tempting as it is, you can’t just shovel up some dirt from your yard. In the Ocala area, it can be too sandy or contain too much clay.

Advantage 2 – You’ll be able to rotate the containers for sun exposure. I had been keeping some potted caladiums on my front porch but, when the morning sun shift ed in late May, becoming way too harsh for the tender tropicals, I moved the pots to my screened porch. Plus, moving pots around can give you variety in your garden spaces.

Advantage 3 – By having control over the soil and location with your containers, you’ll often have fewer pests and diseases, and the plants will grow well.

There are some disadvantages to using containers. You’ll have to watch moisture levels more carefully as pots may dry out quickly in the wind and sun. (You may have to water smaller pots twice a day.) They might get knocked over by the wind or critters digging around in them. If you choose the wrong plants, they may outgrow the pot quickly or just croak on you.

You also can plant in nontraditional containers. We’ve all seen some Instagram silliness (like using old boots) that won’t work well in real life. Remember, containers need to breathe a bit and they definitely need a hole for drainage at the bottom. Not to say you can’t use canvas bags or boots or whatever the latest trend on social media might be, but keep in mind the actual requirements of the plants you’re working with. (Plus, how long before those cutesy canvas bags get stained with soil and water? Um, about a week.)

The basic planting concept behind a gorgeous mixed container is a tall thriller, a mounded filler and a vinelike spiller. Choose plants with similar water and sun requirements—you don’t want a delicate fern that needs shade mixed in with marigolds that need full sun to flower.

My favorite combination this time of year is a tall variety of white caladium like Aaron or Florida Moonlight, a shortish bird’s nest fern and draping Purple Queen to make a pretty tropical mix. Another option is tall, spiky African flax, a mound of Indian Summer or ColorBlaze Keystone Kopper coleus, with asparagus fern as the spiller.

Vandeventer often does a seasonal theme for his home hanging baskets.

“My favorite combo at home is a hanging basket with Red Mandeville, Blue Daze (Blue My Mind) and Snow Princess Alyssum,” he shares. “This great combination of red, white and blue flowers brings some patriotism to the back patio.”

For summer, Perdomo suggests, “Try a hibiscus with yellow or orange flowers, a couple of day lilies for filler and tradescantia (wandering Jew) in one of the purple varieties as a filler.”

For fall, she suggests an upright camellia variety and some ornamental cabbage or kale combined with sweet potato vine, which will give a nice contrast of dark greens and deep purples.

You can grow veggies in pots, too, and some varieties have been hybridized to do well in containers. Many varieties of peppers, tomatoes and squash come in “patio” varieties that will perform well in a pot. Herbs have long been nurtured in pots and it’s so delectable to have a sprig of fresh rosemary or basil at your fingertips.

So, get thee to a garden center, have fun choosing plants and enjoy the instant gratification of a mixed container garden. It will bring a smile to your face whenever you see it.  OS

A native Floridian and lifelong gardener, Belea spends her time off fostering cats and collecting caladiums. You can send gardening questions or column suggestions to her at belea@magnoliamediaco.com

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