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Cheat Sheet

Container Gardening For Dummies

From Container Gardening For Dummies, 2nd Edition by Bill Marken, Suzanne DeJohn, The Editors of the National Gardening Association

You can create beautiful container gardens with a little planning and some ongoing attention. It all starts with picking the right plants and arranging them in an attractive container. Then, after you’ve got things growing, you’ll want to keep the plants pest-free to keep them looking their best.

Ideas for Inspired Container Plantings

Combining the right plants with the right container can make for a traffic-stopping display. Follow these guidelines for creating container plantings that suit your style:

  • Choose a combination of tall plants (thrillers), shrubby plants (fillers), and trailing plants (spillers).

  • Select plants with contrasting forms — tall and spiky, gently arching, soft and flowing.

  • Choose plants based on the mood you want to set. Flowers in bright, hot colors like fuchsia, fire-engine red, and blazing orange will energize a planting. Cool colors like periwinkle blue and lilac set a calm, relaxed mood.

  • Use various shades of a single color, like pastel pink to deep rose, to create a unified yet still interesting display.

  • Create contrast between colors. Foliage plants with silvery and chartreuse leaves provide a perfect backdrop for brightly colored flowers. White and pale colors make dark plants pop and are luminous in the moonlight.

  • Add height to your containers by growing vines on trellises.

  • Use plant stands and hanging baskets to bring plants up to eye level.

  • Add attractive edibles, such as purple basil and tricolor sage, to decorative containers.

Controlling Pests in Eco-Friendly Ways

After investing time and money in your container gardens, the last thing you want to find is bugs or other pests munching on the plants in those containers. Here are some ecologically sound ways to prevent pests from feasting on your flowers and vegetables.

  • Choose pest-resistant varieties that are adapted to your climate.

  • Keep plants healthy by making sure they’re getting the right amount of sun, water, and fertilizer for optimal growth.

  • Invite beneficial insects into your landscape to help control pests by planting a diversity of plants and minimizing pesticide use.

  • Inspect plants frequently so you catch problems early.

  • Identify the culprit before taking any control measures.

  • Use barriers, like row covers, to prevent pests from reaching plants.

  • Spray repellents to keep critters at bay, such as neem oil for Japanese beetles and predator urine for deer.

  • Trap pests like slugs to reduce their populations.

  • Hand-pick insect pests or wash them off with a blast of water.

  • Choose least-toxic pesticides, preferably ones that target only the pest and don’t harm other organisms.

Knowing Which Garden Critters Are Good for Your Plants

The plants in your container garden can benefit when you let certain insects and animals hang around your yard. Invite these beneficial creatures into your landscape to help you control pests:

  • Lady beetles, green lacewings, tachinid flies: They feed on small, soft-bodied insect pests and their eggs. Plant a variety of flowers, especially umbrella-shaped ones like yarrow and dill.

  • Dragonflies: They eat mosquitoes, aphids, and other insect pests. They thrive in wetlands, so add a small pond or leave a naturally marshy area in your landscape.

  • Bees: Honeybees, bumblebees, and other species are important pollinators. Avoid spraying pesticides, especially during the day when bees are out foraging.

  • Spiders: Most species are beneficial and help keep pests in check. Resist the urge to kill garden spiders when you see them.

  • Frogs and toads: They eat slugs and other plant pests. Create moist hiding places, such as piles of rocks and old branches, and overturned clay pots.

  • Bats: They eat countless mosquitoes, making your time in the garden more enjoyable. Put up a few bat boxes to invite them in.

  • Lizards: They eat pest insects. Include some flat rocks that get morning sun so the reptiles can warm themselves in preparation for a day of insect hunting.

  • Birds: Many songbirds eat pest insects and their eggs. Invite these feathered friends to your garden with houses, feeders, and birdbaths. Plant shrubs that produce berries.

And yes, even snakes and wasps have a place in a healthy garden ecosystem.

Choosing the Right Container-Gardening Tools

Having the right tools available when you’re growing plants in containers can make some of the chores easier. Most of the following items are available at garden centers or through mail-order suppliers.

  • Hose-end bubbler: Screw this attachment to the end of the hose and use it to soften the flow of water so you don’t wash out soil. A metal hose-end extension allows you to water overhead baskets and containers that are normally beyond arm’s reach.

  • Scrub brush: Use a brush to nudge soil, moss, and salt deposits off your containers.

  • Hand truck: You need one of these if you want to move heavy containers indoors or if you do a lot of outdoor redecorating.

  • Watering can: With a watering can, you can also apply liquid fertilizer as you water.

  • Soil scoop (trowel): This tool comes in handy when filling containers with potting soil or when mixing small quantities of potting soil. (For larger quantities, use a shovel.)

  • Mister: Indoor plants often need extra humidity. Apply moisture with a small hand sprayer.

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