iStock-9798640_container-garden-calibrachoa-petunia-sweet-potato-flowers_s4x3_lgChoosing the Best Soil

To create a successful container garden, the most important ingredient is good potting soil. Choose a mixture that provides a good combination of excellent drainage and aeration.

“Look for ‘professional’ on the label,” suggests Dr. Susan Hamilton, who oversees the University of Tennessee Gardens. “That word puts the potting soil in a whole different category. You’ll be paying a little bit more, but it will be high quality.”

Many growers like to mix their own and prefer particular blends. “Every greenhouse manager has his or her favorite potting soil recipe, and each thinks theirs is the one to use,” she says. Here, says Hamilton, are three great recipes:

Mix #1
2 parts peat: 1 part perlite: 1 part builder’s sand

Mix #2
2 parts peat: 1 part builder’s sand

Mix #3
1 part peat: 1 part builder’s sand: 1 part pine-bark mulch

Is it really worth it to mix your own if you’re a typical backyard gardener? “No,” Hamilton says. “When you look at price and volume versus what you really need, you usually have a lot of material left over. Besides, bagged soils are pretty cost-effective because all the guesswork has been taken out of it. Professional blends have already been charged with starter nutrients and pH adjusted.”

Selecting Plants

Select plants that are compatible in terms of light, water, growth and the conditions in the chosen site. Don’t mix a shade- and water-lover like impatiens with a dry-and-sunny plant like thyme. Some plants like mint are such aggressive growers they need a pot of their own.

Watering Your Container Garden

Pay close attention to watering. For containers in sunny, hot or windy areas, watering twice a day may be necessary. A plant that has outgrown its pot will also need more frequent watering.

Consider using a water-absorbing polymer; it will improve the moisture retention of the potting soil. Follow the directions on the package.

Dressing Your Plants

Top-dress your plants with mulch and a slow-release fertilizer. You’ll be reducing the evaporation rate and eliminating regular feedings.