All of us at Savvy Gardening enjoy putting together multiple container gardens each year. Some are full of veggies or berries, some show off interesting flower and foliage combos, and others feature both edibles and ornamentals—or, as we like to call them, garden BFFs. However, once our containers are planted up, we cannot let our green thumbs rest beside our bay laurels. In order for your plants to thrive throughout the hot summer months, you do need to schedule in some container garden maintenance.
We’ve teamed up with Acti-Sol, a company that specializes in organic fertilizers made from hen manure, to provide an easy-to-follow list of container garden maintenance tips. Read on for our advice on helping those pots of whatever you’ve planted flourish!
Water your container gardens regularly
Jessica, our horticulturist, says:
Designing and planting are, for many gardeners, the most fun aspects of growing in containers. But, if you want to get the most from your potted flowers and vegetables, it’s important to care for them properly. When it comes to container garden maintenance, there’s no more essential chore than watering. Since the roots of your plants are in a restricted area they can only access water from a limited space. If you don’t irrigate consistently, the plants become stressed, which puts out the welcome mat for pests and diseases.
Improper watering can also lead to reduced growth, flowering, and vegetable yields. During warm weather, water pots on a daily basis, making sure at least 20% of the water that enters the top of the pot exits out the bottom drainage hole to flush out excess fertilizer salts. In cooler weather, you won’t have to water as often, but do not let your containers dry out completely between waterings. To determine irrigation needs, just stick your index finger into the soil up to the knuckle; if the soil is dry, it’s time to water. If not, wait another day and check again.
Fertilizing container gardens
One big challenge with growing plants in containers is ensuring they are getting the proper nutrients they need to grow their best. As the plants grow and mature, they use up the nutrients in the soil. Containers can also lose nutrients faster because they get washed out of the pot when we water. So, it’s important to fertilize your container gardens to replenish the nutrients lost. Use a granular fertilizer when you plant your container gardens to give them a healthy start. Then, be sure to water your containers with liquid fertilizer weekly throughout the growing season.
Managing pests in your container garden
It’s important to check your container garden for evidence of pests once or twice a week. Depending on what you’re growing in your containers, you may discover nibbled blossoms, skeletonized foliage, missing flower buds, or pock-marked leaves. You’ll want to properly identify any possible pests before taking any action so you don’t do more harm than good. As part of your regular container garden maintenance chores, consult a good pest ID guide (such as Good Bug Bad Bug) to figure out who is nibbling on your plants. In many cases, simply hand-picking the pests off the plants is the most effective method of controlling insects in container gardens, but occasionally an organic pest control product is called for.
Caring for container plants in partial shade
Niki, our edibles expert, says:
I have a large raised bed food garden in my sunny backyard, but I also grow a lot of vegetables and herbs in pots and window-boxes on my partially shaded front deck. Why shade? Most experts will tell you that food crops grow best in full sun. That’s true, especially for fruiting crops, like tomatoes and peppers, but many leafy vegetables and herbs are cool-season vegetables and don’t grow well in the hot summer sun. They grow great in spring and autumn gardens, but tend to bolt or taste bitter when the weather is hot. Therefore, I use my semi-shaded space to grow looseleaf lettuce, spinach, arugula, Asian greens, kale, cilantro, mint, and chervil all summer long in containers. Low-light crops will still need regular water and fertilizing, and I like to work composted manure into the potting soil before I tuck in my seeds or seedlings. Healthy soil will help these shady superstars maintain healthy growth. For added fun, don’t be afraid to include some pretty blooms amongst your veggie pots, like lobelia or torenia. Here are a few of my tips for growing crops in pots.
Deadheading, pinching, and pruning potted plants
Tara, our ornamentals and raised bed aficionado says:
Deadheading is such a weird term, but essentially it means lopping the dead blooms off a plant. You know how petunias just sort of shrivel up all of a sudden? Removing those spent blooms is deadheading. (Though on a side note, many newer varieties are self cleaning!) Some blooms, like petunias, are easy to just pull from the stem, others, such as marigolds, you can pinch, and some, like coneflowers, require a trim with pruners or scissors. You can simply snip the stem that’s holding up the bloom above the first set of leaves. This is all considered deadheading.
If your container grown plants start to look a bit overgrown during the summer, it’s time to get out your pruning shears. Pruning is a container garden maintenance task that keeps your containers looking tidy, encourages healthy new growth, and keeps the plants growing bushier and more compact. To keep your containers looking their best, start by pruning out any dead or weak growth, flower spikes that are done blooming, and any leggy growth. Then trim back the rest of the plant to the desired size, and keep pinching it throughout the summer to keep it in check.
Give herbs a regular haircut. At a certain point in the season, some herbs, like basil and cilantro, will form flowers. This affects the leaves and ultimately the taste of the herb. Flowering basil can get quite bitter. I tuck lots of herbs in with my ornamental combinations for color and texture. And I do like to go out and snip some of those for meals. If you want to use your herbs for cooking, it’s a good idea to give them a regular trim—even if you’re not going to be using the leaves right away. (You could hang them to dry out or freeze into ice cubes for later.) A haircut also makes for a fuller, bushier plant. Some herbs, like mint, look quite pretty when they’re flowering, so if you have multiple plants, you may want to leave some for ornamental value—and for the pollinators to enjoy.
Our don’t-be-afraid-to-toss-a-plant container garden maintenance tip
Plants past their prime? If one of the plants in your container is looking a little worse for wear, don’t be afraid to gently remove it and replace it with something else.
We wish you lots of luck with your container garden maintenance—and some time to rest your green thumb and enjoy your garden. A big thank you to Acti-Sol for sponsoring this post. Click here to find an Acti-Sol retailer near you.
I use granulated hen manure to keep the chipmunks from digging in my pots.
Hilary McLeod says
One of my favourite combinations in a large ceramic pot for Kale includes petunias, marigold, and a nasturtium or sweet potato vine. Lovely foliage contrasts and colours to attract pollinators ps The leaves and flowers of the nasturtium and the sweet potato tubers are edible too!
Hilary McLeod says
Here is a photo one of my container gardens last summer.
I use watering bulbs in my containers, it s a easy way to ensure water is delivered to the roots. You can add a water soluble fertilizer to feed your plants as you water.
Please enter me in your contest
Candice Maclean says
We use a variety of store buckets and pots for our container garden. We love adding marigolds to our veggies to add a pop of colour and to help keep pests away.
Elaine G-S says
This year, to get my 8 year daughter more involved in gardening, I let her design all the ornamental containers. She really likes bright yellow Pompom marigolds! We also planted peas, lettuce, and ever-bearing strawberries in a container. Just walk on by and pop one in your mouth!
This year I’m trying DIY sub-irrigated planters in my balcony, and the plants in them are doing amazing!
Dave Chapman says
I plant celosia with spiderwort (inchplant) in containers for our semi-shaded deck. They bloom all summer. In the fall when
I empty the containers, I take inchplant cuttings and overwinter them as a houseplant. In the spring, I take cuttings of that plant to spill out of the containers. I have kept this up for years!
Elaine M says
What is your position on self-irrigated container gardens? (see albopeppers.com) Do they do as well as watering from the top? I am new to container gardening and I’m considering this method, but it seems a lot of work and material if there is a better way. Please advise.
Jessica Walliser says
Sub-irrigated/self-watering planters can be quite useful, especially for gardeners with limited time. I’ve used many of them over the years and find they work great. You can build your own or purchase commercial brands (such as EarthBox). There’s plans for an inexpensive DIY self-watering planter in the book “Container Gardening Complete” from Cool Springs Press.