Tonawanda News

June 2, 2013

STAFFORD: Container gardening can be for everyone

The Tonawanda News

Tonawanda News — At this time of year the warm sunshine and new growth of spring are powerful temptations to spend time outdoors. For some of us, the urge to spend every free moment in the garden is almost overwhelming. But even if you don’t have the time or the space to tend large flower beds, you can create colorful container plantings that will be uniquely your own.

Although garden centers offer a fine selection of pre-planted containers, don’t feel limited by their combinations. The possibilities are endless. Before you go shopping you should do a bit of planning. Make a written list of where you’d like to have container plantings. Front porch?  Patio? Window boxes, maybe? 

Decide what size containers will go in each spot, and whether they will be in sun, shade or part of each. Unless I do this every year, I end up with too many plants I have no place for and empty spaces that I failed to buy plants for.

At the garden center, spend some time walking around with a cart, placing various combinations of plants together to learn what pleases you. Be sure to check the tags, grouping plants with similar requirements for sun and shade as well as moisture level. Some plants can tolerate dry soil much better than others. If uncertain, ask questions of the staff, who are generally eager to share their expertise.

It’s often effective to choose “a thriller, a filler and a spiller,” for each container. That is, have a tall, showy plant for the center, shorter, fluffier plants to fill in around it, and something that trails over the edge of the pot to add interest.

When planting in containers, excellent drainage is essential. Start by placing a piece of terra cotta from a broken pot with the curved side facing up over the drainage hole to create a little air pocket. This will prevent the hole from becoming clogged while allowing excess water to drain out. Containers tend to dry out quickly, even if watered every day, so buy the cheapest brand of disposable diapers to layer in next. Cut off the elastic part and place in the bottom of the pot. The diaper will hold water and allow it to reabsorb gradually into the planting mix for continuous watering.

If you are planting in a large container or urn that would be too heavy to move when full, note that the entire container does not need to be filled with potting mix, only the top 6-8 inches, depending on plant size. To take up some of the extra space, place empty plastic soft drink bottles in the bottom before adding the potting mix. Make sure these do not plug the drain hole, to allow for proper drainage.

Now that you’ve prepared your container, it’s time to add the potting mix. Never use regular garden soil as it’s too heavy and doesn’t provide the drainage needed. You can purchase potting mix with a slow release plant food, or mix in your own, to provide nutrients throughout the season. Make a flat base of potting mix in the container to set the plants on so that the final soil level will be about an inch below the rim of the container. It’s a good idea to experiment with the final placement of your plants before you remove them from their pots. This way you can rearrange without disrupting the roots. 

 When you’re satisfied with the arrangement, remove each of your plants from its pot, loosen the roots gently if they seem compacted, and place them in the container. Finally, fill in around the plants with the potting mix, firming with your hand. Water thoroughly, and get ready to enjoy your handiwork!

Soon your containers will grow and flourish and you can display them with pride. The Lewiston Garden Club hopes you will want to share what you’ve created by entering the container contest at the Lewiston GardenFest on June 22 and 23. Additional details and an entry form can be found at

Barbara Stafford is the third vice president of the Lewiston Garden Club. For more information on the club’s Lewiston GardenFest, visit