GARDEN SENSE: Container garden

If you don’t have space for a vegetable garden or if your outdoor space doesn’t produce the flower garden you want, try container gardening. It requires less time and is practical for apartment dwellers, busy professionals, children and seniors.

Container gardening makes growing plants possible for almost anyone in any location.

If you don’t have space for a vegetable garden or if your outdoor space doesn’t produce the flower garden you want, try container gardening. It requires less time and is practical for apartment dwellers, busy professionals, children and seniors.

Another benefit of planting a container garden is mobility. If your plants are getting too little sun or too much, move the container to a different location. Have instant color when and where you want it.

To begin, select a location for the container on or near a patio or porch. If there is a spot that can also be seen from inside, that’s even better. A patio, deck, balcony or doorstep is enough space. Next, find acontainer.


Pots for growing plants come in all sizes, shapes and materials from ceramic pots to baskets, to marble or faux stone urns. There are even specialized containers for mounting on fences, straddling porch rails or attaching to windowsills.

Almost anything can be turned into a vessel to grow plants. Wine barrels, buckets, sinks and watering troughs can be re-purposed, simply use your imagination. No matter what vessel you choose, it must have holes for drainage so that plant roots do not sit in water.

But, keep in mind that clay pots are porous and can dry out quickly, as do small containers. Ideally, the capacity should be 2 gallons or more.


A “soilless” potting mix is recommended for container gardening. In addition to draining readily, these products are lightweight as well as disease and weed free. Soil taken from your yard typically does not work as well. Then, if you use a mix with fertilizer included, plants should have enough nutrients for 90-120 days.


The location and size of a container dictates plant selection. Vegetables, like tomatoes, as well as many flowering plants grow best in 6 to 8 hours of sunlight a day. Other plants, like lettuce and some herbs need less light and then some plants grow best in shade.

To begin, line the bottom of the container with a coffee filter or a used fabric softener sheet to keep the potting mix from washing out. For large containers, you might first add a layer of coarse gravel, cover it with landscape cloth, then fill with potting mix. Next add the plants and top off with potting mix which should be 1 to 3 inches below the top of the pot depending on container size. Set containers on blocks or loose gravel so that water drains freely. Large containers may be placed on plant dollies for ease of movement.


Frequency of watering varies depending on the plants and container size, but generally soil should feel damp to the touch, but never soggy. Typically, apply water until it runs out the drainage holes. On an upstairs balcony this can create problems for downstairs neighbors, so place pots on gravel lined, trays to catch overflow water.

The fun part — what to grow?

There is a succulent that without a doubt is one of the easiest, most carefree plants one can grow and they are back in fashion. Ghost plant aka hens and chicks stands up to its formidable scientific name of Graptopetalum paraguayense. It can endure the relentless heat of a Texas summer and the coldest days of our winters. Take a two-week vacation, no problem, hens and chicks will be just fine. A powdery coating covers the plant’s leaves, giving them their ghostly look.

Profusion zinnias are a new version of old-fashioned zinnias. They are a wonderful hybrid mix of the old cut flower-type zinnias and the narrowleaf zinnias. Also, a Texas Superstar plant, they are not too tall and just right for pots placed in full sun.

For single specimen containers miniature roses, ornamental grasses, dwarf citrus and many herbs are good choices. In the heat of the summer, enjoy containers planted with coleus, caladiums, vinca, moss rose, celosia, angelonia or sweet potato vine.

If you want to combine different plants in the same container, select ones with similar light and water requirements. For the best results, use plants that you like and that are suited to our growing conditions.

Charla Anthony is the horticulturist for Brazos County at Texas A&M AgriLife Extension, 2619 Texas 21 W., Bryan, Texas 77803. For gardening information, visit Gardening question? Call 823-0129 or email

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