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Choosing a container

Container gardening with terracotta pots
A Terracotta Pott

The first step in turning your container gardening ideas into reality is choosing the garden pots and containers you want to use. You should choose the pot before buying the plant, unless you are replacing an existing pot or repotting an existing pot plant. There is a wide variety of containers available from nurseries, garden centers and department stores. These containers range from straightforward plastic pots, clay pots and fiber-cement pots to ornamental pots and sculptured terracotta pots, glazed pots and bowls.

Terracotta Pots

Terracotta clay pots are porous and are to the advantage of plants. However it also means that the potting soil in the container will dry out faster than in other types of containers. In time terracotta garden pots will acquire a natural patina due to the mosses and lichens that might grow on the outside and the white salts that will appear on the surface. You can always scrub off the salts if you dislike it. When making use of homemade clay pots you should line the inside with plastic sheeting so as to protect the pot from constant moisture. These clay pots are handmade and unlike their commercially manufactured counterparts, they might not be fired at very high temperatures and might crack or break easily when exposed to all weather types.

Glazed Pots

Glazed pots, unlike the terracotta pots will keep the potting soil moist longer. On the other hand glazed pots will craze when exposed to weather conditions outside the house. (Crazing is the formation of a web of fine cracks.) You can protect the glaze by painting the glazed surface with a tile or even silicone wax. (Tip: Use a plastic pot inside the glazed pot. It will prevent salts from the potting soil or potting mix seeping under the glaze and damaging it).

Wooden Containers

Wooden containers, including pots and baskets, will have to be treated against decay and ants before planting in them. The most popular wooden container is the oak vat. (Tip: Line the wooden container with a plastic sheet and ensure that the plastic has sufficient holes for drainage at the bottom).

There are a few basic principles that you need to be aware of when selecting the containers to achieve a successful display in your patio garden or your home garden.

  • Container size: – the container must suit the growth habit of the pot plants that will be planted in them. Ensure that your container suits the growth habit of the plant or plants that you intend to use. The container or pot should be large enough for the chosen plant. For instance do not attempt to plant that grow larger than annuals, bulbs, perennials, or even a floribunda rose bush in a container that measures less than 45 cm in diameter.
  • Container scale: – scale refers to the position of the pot in its surroundings as well as the proportion of the pot plant to the pot. The plant must be in proportion to the size of the container. This proportion is one-third of the overall height and diameter of the plant and container together. Do take into consideration the size of the wall, the room, or the patio garden where the garden pots will be placed when formulating your container gardening ideas.
  • Container color: – the container should blend in with the surroundings. Choose a natural color that blends in with the surroundings. After all the function of the container is to set the pot plant off to maximum effect and not to compete with the potted plant. Do take into consideration the natural unglazed look of terracotta pots or choose a high quality exterior paint in earthy colors for fiber-cement pots and containers. Again, these considerations should be made when you formulate your container gardening ideas.
  • Container quantity: – do not attempt to cram in as many containers as possible into a certain area. You would do better to space them well apart so as to allow each container plant to make a statement by itself. Group the plants according to color and shape and also try not to mix too many different shapes, materials and colors.
  • Container style and shape: – you should choose a container that suits the general style of your home or garden or the area where the container will be positioned. Choosing the right size of sculptured containers poses a challenge on its own. Take for instance the classic urn that is also supposed to serve as a focal point. You might need to pile up some bricks in the spot where the urn is needed and scale it up or down until the correct proportion for the site is attained. Take care to avoid choosing impractical pots with narrow necks as this makes repotting very difficult.
  • Container drainage: – you need to make sure that the container that you choose has decent sized holes in the bottom for drainage. If you're handy, you can also add holes in the bottom of the container if there are too few.
  • Drip tray size: – the correct size of drip tray or pot feet is used indoors or on special patio tiles outdoors. Garden pots, especially terracotta pots and cement pots, tend to look much better without drip trays because some drip trays that are too large looks unsightly, retain water during and after rain and thus cause the plants to become waterlogged.
  • Container grouping: – containers should be grouped according to the pot plants' mature size, with taller pot plants towards the back or middle and the shortest pot plants in front or towards the sides.
  • Container material: – the material that the container is made of will influence the way in which certain plants grow. Garden pots such as terracotta pots, clay pots or cement pots with porous material will dry out quickly while garden pots with materials such as plastic, metal or resin may heat up very quickly.

Whatever choice you make regarding container for your container garden, just bear in mind that anything that will hold enough potting soil or potting mix and has a drainage hole can serve as a suitable container for a plant to grow in. One can laugh about it, but I have seen gardeners getting inspired by an old hiking boot, an old bath tub, sink, tins, old tree stumps and even an old wheelbarrow. This is perfectly okay to use as long as it blends in with the surrounding garden.