Growing Plants in Containers



Brian Minter

Minter Country Garden


Container gardening has grown exponentially, especially now with today’s new realities of smaller-space gardens and patio lifestyles. Containers are incredibly versatile, adding beauty, privacy, shade, food growing opportunities, and wildlife enjoyment to our homes and gardens.

There are some important considerations to note before creating containers at home. One big mistake is using a container that is too small. It will dry out quickly and will require too much maintenance during hot summer days. Size matters. The more soil volume in your container, the better. Larger containers hold moisture longer and are not constantly drying out. Larger soil masses also help with cold tolerance in year-round planters.

Weight can be an issue, especially on balconies, so check any strata rules. Resin or resilient plastic containers are replacing ceramics because of this concern, and lightweight soils are now the norm.

Style and colour are important components in any design. Terracotta, sandstone, and charcoal have become the colours of choice, and most manufacturers are producing far more stylish pots. Round pots are still the most popular, but square or rectangular shapes are more practical for placing against railings and walls to maximize limited space.

The next important consideration is the soil. Sunshine, Sungro, and ProMix are professional soil mixes that growers use for the best results. They are lightweight, have the right pH balance, and are ready to go. They also now come in consumer sizes as well as the larger 3.8 cubic foot bales.

For growing vegetables, herbs, and annuals, add some moisture-retaining compost, such as Sea Soil or mushroom and steer manures. For containerized perennials, trees, and shrubs, good drainage is critical. The addition of fine fir or hemlock bark mulch, worked into the soil, will greatly improve the openness of the soil, allowing excess water to drain away quickly and help prevent root rot. All plants need nutrients. A well-balanced formula that includes micronutrients is the most beneficial. Slow-release fertilizers are popular because one application feeds your plants more consistently for four to six months. I like the slow-release Osmocote 14-14-14. With today’s container options, we have so many choices on what we can grow. Recent research shows that the number one priority has been to surround ourselves with colour. During the pandemic, isolation has heightened our need to brighten our environment. The golden rule for when to start early planting is once “daytime” temperatures are consistently 10C. It can still freeze lightly at night, but cool-loving colour plants, like violas, pansies, primulas, ranunculus, and the new dwarf carnations, are just some of the vibrant early colour that we can rely on. They can be enhanced with early perennial showpieces, like euphorbias, carex grasses, arabis, aubretia, and candytuft. Ivy, too, especially the variegated forms, make nice spill-over plants. As a focal point, dracaena palms tolerate a great deal of cold and can last all summer and into fall. When we get steady “nighttime” temperatures of 10C or higher, heat-loving plants, like the new petunia varieties with their fabulous colour patterns, can go out in a sunny location. Other popular heat lovers are geraniums, gazanias, wax-leafed begonias, marigolds, new trailing portulacas, salvia, verbena, lantanas, zinnias, Vinca major and scaevolas. The new downy mildew resistant “Imara” and “Beacon” impatiens are the stars of shady or morning sun/afternoon shade locations. Begonias, particularly the new trailing varieties, are stunning. Browallias, fuchsias, New Guinea impatiens, and lobelias are among the top performers. The new upright and trailing varieties of easy-care coleus are must-haves for containers in shady or partial-sun areas.

Attracting pollinators has become very important. Bees, butterflies, hummingbirds, and other birds add much enjoyment to our patios. Salvias, alyssums, snapdragons, and cupheas are great attractor plants, as are long-blooming perennials, like “Rozanne” geraniums, core-opsis, echinaceas, and rudbeckias. Compact flowering shrubs, like the dwarf buddleias “Pink Micro Chip” and the “Pugster” series, add perfume and lasting beauty. Longer blooming hydrangeas, such as the “Everlasting” series and the new, compact, heat-loving varieties, like “Bobo,” are nice for those hot spots. Disease- resistant “Easy Elegance” roses are wonderful long-blooming patio charmers.

Beautiful year-round, but especially in fall, compact Japanese maples and vine maples will shade and cool your patio, and their branching form can provide great privacy. They will also attract birds to your patio.

For year-round trees and shrubs, a nursery soil mix is needed; it’s essentially a good soil blend, like ProMix or Sungro, with about one-third fir or hemlock fine bark mulch added to ensure good drainage. As with most long-term plants, a quality, slow-release fertilizer, like Osmocote 14-14-14, will provide four to six months of continuous feeding.

Interest in food gardening has grown exponentially. For most veggies to perform well, they need full-on sunlight from at least 10 or 11 a.m. until 3 or 4 p.m. If your garden gets little or no sun during this time period, you can still grow some leafy vegetables, such as lettuce, swiss chard, and spinach. Herbs also need a good amount of sun to thrive. Cool-loving vegetables can be planted out when “daytime” temperatures are 10C or higher. For heat-loving veggies, like tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, and even beans, wait for 10C “nighttime” temperatures before planting.

Many of today’s great new vegetable varieties have been bred to be very productive in containers. “Patio Snacker” cucumbers, “Mascotte” beans, and “Tumbling Tom” tomatoes produce far more abundantly in containers than older varieties. Vegetables should be grown in rectangular containers measuring about three to four feet long and 18 inches tall and wide.

By securing a tall trellis behind your container, your production rate will skyrocket. A trellis allows vining plants, like cucumbers, beans, and peas, to grow vertically, saving space and improving light and airflow.

Small fruits can also do well in containers. Trailing strawberries, cascading over the edge of hanging baskets, and new “Bushel and Berry” container fruits, like blueberries, raspberries, and miniature blackberries, are an added value to any garden patio.

For colour plants, edible foods, shade, or privacy, container gardening on patios offers so much. If you live in zone 6 or higher, you can enjoy them year-round. ■

Brian Minter’s destination garden centre, Minter Country Garden, is located in Chilliwack, BC, at 10015 Young Road North.  Visit their website at


The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of RGF Integrated Wealth Management, which makes no representations as to their completeness or accuracy.


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