“How to” Plant a Container Garden

by C.J. Crockett

There are few things in life that bring me as much joy as a beautiful container with thoughtfully arranged planting material. Hmmm, well maybe a good bottle of red wine or a vodka martini, oh, sorry, never mind.


Start with a clean container. If you’re re-using a pot, wash it well, inside and out, use a water and bleach solution. New containers should also be wiped down. Allow them to completely air dry before planting. I like to leave them in the sun for a day or two. This washing step also gives you a chance to see if the drainage is sufficient. If its not, now is the time to add a hole or two.

Few people really think about it, but healthy containers start at the bottom, with proper drainage & drainage material.

I prefer hard cell foam balls, in 1-2” size, depending upon the overall size of the container. These balls are lightweight, and impervious to water. Some landscapers prefer gravel, as it’s less expensive. Also in windy areas gravel can be beneficial, since it provides weight, which can add stability to the base of a container. If you’re the recycling type you might like to use crushed water bottles (with the cap on), as your drainage material.

No matter what material you use, be sure you allow enough space for the proper amount of soil for your plant material.



Next I add in a layer or two of weed fabric. This acts as a barrier between the drainage material and the potting soil. I’ve heard of people using coffee filters, which would probably be fine, but maybe not cost effective. Costco for 5,000 coffee filters anyone?


The next layer is where I never ever scrimp and that is the potting soil layer. My two current favs are EB Stone’s “Edna’s Best” available at H&H Nursery (in Lakewood, on Lakewood) or

Dr Earth’s “Pot of Gold” at Armstrong’s (they’re all over).

Measure the interior width and depth of your container, after you have added the drainage, to calculate volume. Sorry, don’t ask me how I know how to do this, I’ve done it for so many years it’s like autopilot. Google how to measure a cylinder or a square, depending upon your container for a simple formula.

Many brands of potting soil will be marked on the bag, them how many cubic feet or how many containers, of various sizes, they will fill. Smart marketing!

Never use soil from your garden or bagged “garden soil” in a container. Potting mix is specially structured to be lighter mixture, allowing for increased air and water movement, thus keeping the soil a more balanced ecosystem for your container plants.


And finally, we get to the part of container planting that people notice, the Plants! There are as many ways to plant a container as there are types of plants. But the “standards” are the standards because they do work. Use the “Thrill, Fill & Spill” method in a circular or square container. And in rectangular or trough like container, use a zig zag layout.

Add some starter fertilizer to the soil just before the plant material goes in. Another pro trick, is to put all the plants in the container, before you take them out of their pots. This gives you a chance to move things around while you decide on your final placement and it’s a great time to check that your potting soil level is not to low or too high.



Toss in a bit of slow release fertilizer and finish your containers look with decorative gravel or small bark.

Water well and regularly while the plants adjust to their new home (where’s that water meter!!).

Remember to fertilize your containers every other month. Container plantings need regular fertilization to stay looking their best. Enjoy!



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