Container Gardening: Pots, Window Boxes and More!
Written by: Patricia Stern

Even if you have an acre of garden space (and especially if you don’t!) there are a myriad of reasons to grow in containers.  First, if you have limited space or prefer not to dig up your lawn to preserve play space for your kids (and peace with your special loved one), containers will allow you the joy of outdoor gardening.  Second, you can place them near your back door for easy access and daily viewing pleasure (front door containers are great to dress up the space too).  Third, even if you have an in-ground garden, there are invasive but valuable plants you might want but don’t want to over-run your yard (specifics on this in a bit).  Last, they are simply beautiful!

Container gardens are simple if you keep a few things in mind.  Those are: location, maintenance, duration (perennial vs. annual), and cultural requirements of the plants.  But first things first.  What do you want to plant and what kind of containers do you want to use?  Containers are limited only by your imagination.  Almost any vessel with a drainage hole will work.  After trying almost everything (really) I have mostly come back to loving plain, sturdy terra cotta pots and large glazed pots in the standard flower pot shape, (wider at the top and narrower at the bottom).  It’s fun to have a few smaller and medium sized pots also to make groupings.

Okay, now, where will you put the pots and what is your watering strategy?  Plan to put them as close to a water source as possible and where you will see them everyday.  Most pots will need daily water in the hottest part of the summer (another reason to go big, you might be able to get by with every other day watering).  Recruit a friendly neighbor to be your backup watering assistant if you plan to travel during the summer.  This is important!  The single biggest reason container gardens fail is lack of water.  Treat them like the family dog.  You wouldn’t just leave the dog to fend for itself for a week, would you?  No!  And you should not leave your plants unattended either! 

You can get inexpensive terra cotta pots at Home Depot or Lowe’s.  For a dressier pot and a fun shopping experience, Aw Pottery in Chamblee ( has a wide selection of gorgeous pots, and you will be supporting a local family business, so check them out!  My motto with pots is bigger is better and, also, if you are going to get into container gardening, more is better, since you will be more likely to remember to water. I like to group 3 or more of varying sizes and shapes together.  Purchase a slightly coarse-textured outdoor potting mix (which drains well) to fill your container. You could also mix in a slow-release fertilizer (Osmocote) to continuously feed your heavy bloomers.

Pot “feet” to elevate the container slightly are a good idea for drainage, especially if the containers will stay outside in use through the winter.  If the containers will sit on a balcony or wooden porch purchase shallow trays to sit under the pots to catch runoff water.

Now what will you plant?  Sky’s the limit here subject only to your shade and sun situation and energy level.  My favorite approach is to combine long-flowering upright annuals like pentas or New Guinea impatiens with trailers like petunias (look for heat-tolerant Wave or Surfinia), Profusion zinnias, trailing lantana, etc. and throw in some herbs for color, texture, and fragrance.  I also keep several herb-only pots around for cooking.  Favorites are basil (a tender annual), mint, oregano, rosemary, and thyme; except for basil, all are evergreen perennials and will last for years.  Parsley is great too but is mostly a cool weather grower.  Mint and oregano are invasive growers and should not be planted in ground unless you want a whole yard full!  Eggplant and peppers do very well in pots and I especially like having a Serrano and jalapeno plant or two around for cooking.  Tomatoes are doable but you will need a large pot, a dwarf (patio) variety, and some type of staking methodology plus super attentive watering.

Okay, go have fun (don’t forget to water!)!!