Container gardens are most popular with apartment dwellers for the obvious reason — no landscaping — but containers make it easier to control the plants' environment. Sudden cold spell in the summer? Time to move the pots indoors. "Any plant or flower can be grown in a container," says Jamie Hoffman, owner of Chicago Earth, who specializes in urban gardening. "Even if you have very little outdoor space, you can go vertical and install containers on a wall, saving your precious deck real estate for people space." Plus, it's fun. "I have an earth box filled with basil, sage, oregano, parsley and rosemary — things I commonly use when cooking," says expert gardener Melinda Myers, whose favorite dish to make from her patio is ratatouille. "It sits outside my kitchen door for easy access."
Practical gardening tips to help you get started
Start with quality potting mix
"Incorporate into the potting mix or sprinkle on the soil surface a low-nitrogen, slow-release fertilizer, like Milorganite, if the potting mix does not already contain fertilizer," says Myers, who's also an instructor in horticulture. "This way, anytime you water you are fertilizing. And with a slow release, you encourage healthy growth without interfering with flowering and fruiting."
Select plants with shallow root systems
There's no limit to what you can grow, says Hoffman, but the best vegetables and herbs for container gardening are those with shallow root systems like chives, lettuce, tomatoes, basil, lavender and rosemary. "I love to work with Nostradous. Its flowers are edible and help to keep away certain types of infestations like aphids." For a sleek, contemporary look, try grass seed, she adds.
Select the right container
"The key to success is making sure the container is large enough to support the plant and is in scale so it looks good," says Myers. In addition, choose containers with drainage holes. "Check the containers daily and water thoroughly. The larger the container, the more forgiving — meaning you can stretch out the time between waterings," she adds. Keep in mind, plants with large root systems need larger room to grow and vice versa, Myers notes.
"I like to use old CD racks. You can hang them on the wall, and poof — instant wall garden," Hoffman says. And despite their size, trees are the most popular for containers — just make sure you have a very large container, she adds.
"Select plants that are at least one zone hardier for better success, and match the plants to the growing conditions. Look for drought-tolerant plants if you are busy and can't commit to daily watering," Myers advises. Perennials, trees and shrubs perform well. Grow in a container that can tolerate year-round weather conditions, she says.
More garden tips
Expert tips to till your garden
13 Essential gardening tools
Decorating Diva: Digging up the hottest garden trends