Tips For Gardening In Containers

Find out how to get started on container gardening projects that will brighten up your garden and external doors and windows.

If you love gardening but hate digging and weeding, then growing plants in containers may be the answer. Container gardening is a fascinating alternative to the traditional garden bed system and has the potential to transform dull and uninteresting areas of your house and garden into eye-catching colourful displays. What's more if you don't like a particular arrangement or colour combination then you can rearrange your containers to create a more pleasing effect.

If money is no object then a visit to any garden centre will reveal a vast array of containers, from large ornate Grecian urns to small plastic pots. And if you want instant results then you can choose a selection of flowering annuals that are well on their way to maturity.

However, with a little imagination you can achieve quite dramatic effects at surprisingly little cost. Garage sales and junk shops are a rich source of containers: old metal baths, discarded birdcages, leaking saucepans and watering cans are just a few examples. Cuttings from suitable established plants can supplement the seedlings or bulbs you buy. After your first season many of your bulbs will have divided and quite a number of annuals will have self-seeded providing you with a plenty of material for the following year.

As an example of what you can achieve, consider how a plain wall can be transformed on three levels by using pots, tubs or troughs on the ground, fixing flower boxes at the base of any windows and framing doors and windows with hanging baskets.

To create a vibrant and colourful spring display start off with two tubs either side of a doorway, and plant them with spring flowering bulbs such as tulips, hyacinths, daffodils and snowdrops. A 16 inch (40 cm) diameter tub will be sufficiently large to plant about 30 bulbs.

Make sure that the base of each tub has sufficient drainage holes and place it on some bricks or broken paving stones. This will enable surplus water to drain away and will also deter slugs and snails. Now fill with about 2 inches (5 cm) of pebbles or clean rubble. If this material is not readily available then broken pieces of polystyrene make a suitable substitute. Daffodil bulbs can be planted in two layers, whist tulips, hyacinths and snowdrops are more suited to a single layer.

For a double layer, add and pack down a layer of compost to about 8 inches (20 cm) below the rim of the tub. Place your daffodil bulbs about 3 inches (7.5 cm) apart and then cover the bulbs with compost until only their tips can be seen. Now place the remaining bulbs evenly in the spaces around the original layer. Fill the tub to within 1 inch (2.5 cm) of the rim, firming down the compost. To create a colour contrast plant some grape hyacinth round the rim, pushing the bulbs to about a depth of about 1 inch. Sprinkle about a tablespoon of plant food granules on to the surface and water well. If planting a single layer, bulbs should be at a depth of about 4-5 inches (10-13 cm).

As an alternative to using tubs consider creating a container made from old tyres. Choose four tyres that are the same size (not too large), clean them, stack them on top of each other and then wire them together. Paint them with a light coloured paint (it may take a number of applications to cover the black rubber). Place some bricks in the base and then put a large plastic bucket or pot on top of the bricks, making sure there are sufficient drainage holes in the base. Fill and plant as for tubs.

And if you like a touch of whimsy in your garden, then surround your tubs with a series of old boots. Make sure you cut drainage holes in the base, then add a layer of pebbles or broken polystyrene pieces and fill with compost. Summer flowering annuals such as lobelias, pansies and alyssum can be planted in the top of the boot and also in holes cut out of the toe area.

Making your own window box is not difficult, but there are some safety rules that should be observed. As a general rule never build a box longer than 3 feet (90 cm) as the combined weight of the inner container, moist compost and plants could cause the box to break. Strong brackets and wall fixings are essential and where you have outward opening windows add the depth of the box plus the height of the plants together and secure the brackets for the box that distance below the window sill.

Constructing your window box:

Take a plastic trough up to 3 feet in length and no wider or deeper than 9 inches (22 cm). Use ¨Ãº-1 inch (18-25 cm) thick timber to construct the wooden box. Measure the length and width of the plastic trough (if your trough slopes outwards from the base to the top you will need to do your measurements on the top) and then cut the base of the box 2 inches (5 cm) longer and wider than the trough. For the two long sides of the box make them 2 inches deeper than the trough and twice the thickness of the wood longer than the base. The two ends of the box should be cut to the width of the base and the depth of the sides.

Before going any further place your plastic trough on the base and stand the sides and ends against the base to check whether any adjustments need to be made. You need sufficient space to be able to easily lift your trough in and out of the box. Once you are satisfied that the pieces of timber are all the correct length you can proceed to assemble the box.

First drill three drainage holes in the base.

To assemble your window box you will need:

¡¤ 8 stainless steel angle brackets [2 inch x 2 inch (5 cm x 5 cm) is a good size]

¡¤ 32 ¨Ã¼ inch (1 cm) flat-head screws

¡¤ screw driver

¡¤ bradawl

Use two angle brackets for each side and end. Each angle bracket is attached to the base and to a side or an end. Measure and mark where you are going to place the brackets, then make the necessary holes with the bradawl and fix the brackets to the wood with the screws. For additional strength tap four flat headed nails into each corner at the top of the box. To finish off your box coat it with a wood stain or clear varnish, and add some stencilled designs for extra effect. Fix two wall brackets underneath the window sill, using a spirit level to make sure they are level, and you are ready to begin planting.

Place a layer of pebbles or polystyrene in the base of your plastic trough, fill with compost and plant with an assortment of bulbs and dwarf spring flowering annuals, and place in the window box. If you buy three troughs the same size, and plant them for the different seasons, you can ensure that you always have a fresh display to enhance your window.

Two hanging baskets on either side of your window or doorway will provide a vibrant summer display and it can be done at very little cost using home grown seedlings and cuttings. Sow some petunias and lobelias into a seed try in early spring. The seedlings will be ready to transplant when they are about 2 inches (5 cm) tall. You can take cuttings from fuchsias, pelargonium, verbenas and busy lizzies and place them in a glass of water until you see white roots begin to form.

Line a wire basket (about 14 inches in diameter) with black plastic and half fill with compost, firming it down with your fingers. With a sharp knife make slits in the plastic at regular intervals round the basket and then push the roots of some verbenas and lobelias through the holes so that their roots lay on top of the compost. Next place a larger feature plant (a fuchsia is a good choice) in the middle of the basket, making sure that the roots of the plant are at least half an inch below the top of the basket. Now fill the basket with more compost round the roots and then plant busy lizzies, pelargoniums and petunias round the rim of the basket.

Once you have created your container gardens, be they tubs, window boxes or hanging baskets you must be conscientious about watering, feeding and maintaining your plants. Add some water-retaining granules to the compost to increase its water-holding capacity as well as some slow release fertiliser granules. When the weather is dry, sunny or windy, check the compost daily to ensure it does not dry out. Watering should be done in the morning or evening as this reduces the amount of evaporation. Always use a fine rose or nozzle to provide a gentle sprinkling of water.

Plants like fuchsias, pelargoniums and petunias should have shoots pinched back on a regular basis to help them bush out. Deadheading plants such as pansies, petunias, nasturtiums, dahlias and marigolds helps maintain their visual appeal and prolongs their flowering time.

None of these tasks are very arduous. Ten to fifteen minutes a day should be sufficient keep your containers in first class condition. It will hardly seem to be a chore as you carry out your daily inspections and maintenance and watch your plants grow and bloom throughout the seasons.

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