Containerology: how to grow a good-looking plot in a pot

Here’s a quick list of ways to create container gardens that inspire, not expire.

Con·tain·er·o·lo·gy:  It’s the art and science of container gardening – or how to grow a good-looking plot in a pot. But a containerology degree doesn’t have to be hard to earn. All you have to do is take fellow gardeners’ advice about what works and what doesn’t. We’ve asked gardeners across the country to share their best tricks.

Yellow Flower Carpet in Container

Flower Carpet Yellow planted with sweet potato vine and other annuals of similar hues


Shopping for your plants . . . .

In his video “How to Build the Perfect Container Garden,” Dave suggests buying lightweight, synthetic pots mimicking the look of heavier materials that dry out quicker (like wood, metal or clay). That way, you can conserve water and lift the pots easier. To view this how-to video and see more tips from Dave Epstein, check out our earlier blog post on Designing an Easy Container Garden.

One-plant pots make a powerful statement, especially when the plant is unique or unusual. Jimmy Turner, Director of Horticulture Operations for the Royal Botanic Garden in Sydney, Australia, recommends using the Storm™ series of agapanthus in containers for its architectural wow factor and drought and heat resistance. Jenny Wegley, The Dallas Arboretum’s Director of Horticulture, loves Flower Carpet® roses’ Next Generation line (bred for superior heat and humidity resistance) in large pots and hanging baskets.  For more ideas on using Flower Carpet check out this earlier blog post, filled with tips on using Flower Carpet in containers.

Storm agapanthus in single plant container

Blue Storm agapanthus is great for adding color to any spot in the garden


fragrant shrubs in single plant containers

Place containers of fragrant plants in an area where they can be enjoyed. Shown here is Daphne Perfume Princess.

Don’t forget fragrance.  Daphne Perfume Princess® – relatively new to the market – is a perfect plant to place in containers next to a seating area, or outside a bedroom window or kitchen door.  Graham Rice, editor of the American Horticultural Society’s Encyclopedia of Perennials, likes Fairy Magnolia® Blush – a michelia hybrid that’s perfect for pots and can be trained up a trellis.

Fairy magnolia

Espaliered Fairy Magnolia ‘Blush’

If you choose plants that are naturally disease, pest and weather resistant it will make caring for your containers a lot easier. Flower Carpet roses (winner of seven All Deutschland Rose designations – the world’s highest honor for natural disease resistance), mildew-tolerant Volcano phlox and Festival™ Burgundy cordyline are great examples.

Choose plants with similar water and sun needs to cut down on maintenance, says Denise Pierce, a home gardener from Red Bay, Alabama.


Designing your containers . . .

When combining plants, Epstein recommends echoing or contrasting colors and textures. In his video, “Easy Tips for Growing Plants in Containers,” he notes how the broad, flat, ovate leaves of Tropicanna® cannas differ from the fleshy rosettes of echeveria, yet the two go together, since they’re both burgundy. In that same pot, however, he notes how you can contrast the dark burgundy with either a white petunia or purplish-pink celosia.

Denise Pierce reminded us that one way to organize color combinations in pots is to use hues that are similar (i.e. three different shades of pink or yellow with yellow-green and green). This combination creates a harmonious, calming effect. A more dramatic effect can be achieved by using complementary colors (those across from each other on the color wheel – like blue with orange, yellow with purple and red with green).

If doing a mixed container, remember to include a “thriller” (tall, bold plant in center or toward the back of the container), a “filler” to fill the lower spaces and a “spiller” to gently spill over the sides of the pot to add interest and grace.

Mixed garden container

This design by home garden tester Denise Pierce includes Tropicanna Gold along with a mix of annuals.

Think of container gardens as moveable props. Use them to fill bare spots in the landscape, change out plants to reflect new seasons and reposition them to accommodate changing sun or shade. Bring them with you as you move throughout the property.


growing standard roses

When left to grow for a few years, this Flower Carpet Pink tree rose can add a bit of shade to a pathway or patio.

Although they’re not as easy to move as some containers, tree roses (also known a “standards”) planted in containers can add architectural interest to any patio, deck or sitting area.


new designer roses

Sweet Spot Calypso rose can be planted alone while still putting off tons of color!

You can also position several containers together, and them move them  around or switch them out as needed throughout the season to add color and interest to a porch or patio.

Flower Carpet red in container

This mix of single – plant containers can be easily moved and switched around throughout the summer.

For other ideas and container recipes, don’t miss our Easy, Colorful Container Recipes and tips on growing Flower Carpet roses in containers.

Sweet Spot roses

Sweet Spot® Decorator Rose ‘Calypso’ offers a kaleidoscope of color in one single plant!


easy container gardening

These containers, designed by award winning Todd Holloway, are simple yet elegant

Planting/potting tips . . .

Todd Holloway, owner of Pot Incorporated, an award-winning container and landscaping company in Vancouver, British Columbia, suggests keeping a container design in proportion to its pot by devoting one third of the height to the pot and the remaining two-thirds to the plants, or vice versa.  Your container’s volume should be roughly a third to a half the size of the eventual volume of the mature plants, says Holloway. If your mature plants are expected to grow to 3 feet tall by 3 feet wide, for instance, your planter should be no smaller than 1 to 1.5 feet tall by 1 to 1.5 feet wide.

Black Tropicanna canna

Tropicanna Black planted with contrasting colors


Maintaining tips . . .

Many of our readers recommend watering in the morning, when it’s cooler (for less evaporation). Make it part of your morning routine, like brushing your teeth.

Add a small amount of dish soap to your water. It acts like a humectant by holding the water in dry soil rather than having it run right through.

And finally, remember to fertilize later in the summer, especially if your container includes heavy bloomers.




Do you have any container tips that you’d like to share?  We’d love to hear them!

For more great container garden ideas and photos, check out our Containerology Board on Pinterest!

Red Flower Carpet

Easy – care Flower Carpet Red in a Victorian style container





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One Response to Containerology: how to grow a good-looking plot in a pot

  1. judieyeg May 6, 2014 at 7:29 pm #

    Hi, it could be that you’re not using a large enough container for all the plants you’re including. Try larger/deeper containers this year, or limit the number of plants. Another option is to use smaller annuals – the kind that come in 6-packs – and then let them fill in as the summer proceeds. Happy planting!

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