It took flying half way across this country to the great state of Minnesota to cause me to take a fresh look at container gardens. Sometimes you just have to get out of town!

Superb sidewalk plantings at Tangletown Gardens, Minneapolis, Minnesota

I recently attended the 75th anniversary conference of GardenComm in Minneapolis along with a feisty and friendly group of devoted garden writers, growers, gardeners, marketers and business professionals. During a packed four days, we perused and paraded through public and private gardens, garden centers and large production nurseries.

My fellow self-described Plant Geeks (I prefer the term Plant Lady) geeked out on plants in cities, suburbia, and parks and I’m here to say that gardening in containers is here to stay.

Overhearing their conversations about gardening all across North America and “Across the Pond”, my ears perked up when one garden writer commented “my pots never really work for me.”

Perhaps a refresher on some basics of growing in pots would be useful. And, because I’m always looking for new designs for the container gardens at The North Carolina Arboretum, I like to include some twists on the tried and true.

Container Garden Basics from a Plant Lady

Houseplants grow happily on a covered porch where they are shaded and their watering can be carefully controlled.

Choose the right container and the largest one that your space, and pocketbook, will afford.

A large container will allow the most space for the plant roots to grow and ultimately support the top growth of that plant. In selecting the type of container, consider longevity, weight, storage and the design or style of container. Your container must have a drainage hole.

Purchase a good container media mix.

Purchase a container media mix or mix your own to achieve a media (not soil) mix that will drain well yet hold some water for roots to grab. The Arboretum’s plant production manager, Beth Ross, shared with me recently, “Schultz has been incredibly kind to donate hundreds of bags of potting media to us here at The Arboretum over the years.  The media has a balanced blend of ingredients that allows our plants to not only grow, but thrive. Their mixes provide a strong foundation for the plants in all of our containers which is necessary to carry them throughout the entire season.”

Scent Seeker stations are on display throughout the gardens.

Select plants that will grow well together.

Seems simple, yet, there’s quite a bit to that statement. Considerations like water needs, space to grow together, location and exposure all are critical to think through as you combine plants.

Be artistic – Copy someone’s design as a fine form of flattery!

Choose plants that appeal to you, your design for a space and that complement the garden setting. This is the fun part! Choose a plant that is the standout plant – it can be large, tall or full of interesting flowers or have an intriguing form. Next choose the plant that will fill the middle ground or space of the container and finally. Choose a plant that will soften the container’s edge by growing over the edge like a cascading waterfall. Think about color, texture and fragrance in choosing your plant combo.

Plant and Water Well!

Once all the plants are situated and the media is snugged in around them – don’t plant too deep – a good watering in so that the water funs out the bottom drainage hole.

Fertilize and groom throughout the growing season.

Plants in containers need weekly feeding to maintain good growth and flowering. As the plants grow and mature, remove spent flowers and yellowing leaves.

Container Garden at Tangletown Gardens, Minneapolis, Minnesota featuring Geranium ‘Prince Rupert’.

Fun twists to try

  • Install a trellis of correct proportion in the container and grow a vine up it.
  • Add sticks and twigs – they can be natural or spray painted as an accent.
  • Add collected stones on the media surface. These prevent soil splashing and are just pretty!
  • Add a found object of interest – mirrored ball, glass ornament, shepherd’s crook with a wind chime -you get the idea.
  • Add cut wooden logs banded together in the center of the container for the height your design craves.
  • Use indoor plants in shady locations – they love our summer covered porches!
  • Use grasses if you can’t grow them in your garden – they love containers and are drought tolerant too.
  • Grow flowering shrubs in pots for long season interest! You can commit them to the ground in early fall.

Have you visited the Arboretum this summer to see Making Scents: The Art and Passion of Fragrance? This signature exhibit created and curated by the Arboretum and the International Perfume Bottle Association includes an indoor exhibit and ten outdoor Scent Seeker interactives alongside container gardens filled with fragrant plants and flowers!


Thank you to our Community Partner, Schultz Potting Soil, for their generous support of our Seasonal Landscape Exhibits Program!