Container Gardening: Tips From the Pros

Anne Reagan, editor in chief of, plants the seed for styling your container garden. See her complete picks for container gardening on her Styleboard, and all of her Styleboards can be viewed here. project and photo by Alderwood Landscaping.

Container gardening doesn’t have to be complicated. In fact, it’s the easiest way to add color, style, and volume to your outdoor area without completely re-landscaping your yard. Because it’s fairly convenient to change out the plants, and because containers are easy to move, your potted plants can give you the look you want without much effort. Used properly, they can soften the edges of your outdoor space and provide a vibrant periphery all year long. Here are some excellent reasons to create containers worth bragging about.

Containers Create Zones

Planters and containers are your yard’s best friends when it comes to designing your outdoor space. Establish a feeling of height and prominence by elevating baskets on plant stands or use a variety of planter heights. Even small plants will feel larger when elevated. Use containers to soften the transitions of your outdoor space or create divisional zones between outdoor activities. Place containers at the edge of a patio, for example, or between your outdoor seating areas and the edge of the lawn.

Containers arranged in groupings of three and placed “at the edge” will create a graceful transition and trick the eye into thinking your yard is larger than it is. Not sure which style of planter to choose? Take a cue from your home’s exterior design. If your home uses lots of ornamental metal detail, for example, select a planter with similar metal touches.

Pro tip: Have older pots that need an update? Purchase spray paint in an updated color and experiment with textures and patterns that coordinate with your home.

Container Gardens Encourage Healthy Living

Planters or raised container beds can also be the perfect space to plant edibles such as fruits, vegetables, and herbs. A few containers filled with fragrant herbs like lavender, lemon thyme, and rosemary are perfect near your home’s entrance. Raised garden beds for edibles can provide fresh produce all season long. And consider creating a compost area in your yard. Using organic soil and nutrients will ensure the best “ingredients” in your garden.

Pro tip: Plant low-maintenance, culinary herbs near your kitchen to make every meal taste fresh and delicious: Try chives, thyme, French tarragon, sage, dill, rosemary, and mint.

Containers Are Easy To Design

Planting an eye-catching container doesn’t have to be difficult. Head to your local nursery and check out available plants for your containers. Keeping in mind that your small plants will grow and extend, purchase colors and textures that will create a balanced look. A rule of thumb is to select one tall plant, one filler plant and one trailing plant (a larger pot may be able to contain additional plants). The plants shouldn’t be more than twice the height of your pot and no more than 1 ½ times as wide.

The style of your container may lead you to choose a particular style of plant. Simple containers may beg for ornamental and “busy” plants, ornate containers may look stylish with simple plants. Small containers may only need one type of plant, whereas large containers may be more dynamic with several varieties of plants. While you’re at the nursery, arrange your selections in the desired groupings and view the grouping from all angles to get a sense of your composition.

Pro tip: To keep your small hand tools sharp and free from rust, fill a small bucket or container with a mixture of sand and lubricating oil. Store tools upside down in the sand and keep them near your containers for easy reach.

Containers Create Expert Gardeners

Knowing your seasonal weather, the amount of sunlight your yard receives, and paying attention to the instruction card that comes with your plants will help make you a better gardener. In springtime, try starting seeds indoors; it’s less expensive than purchasing full-grown plants, and there are more varieties from which to choose. It’s also a great way to learn which plants do well in your containers and hanging baskets. Learning from your mistakes and experiencing a little trial and error with your containers and planters will lead to beautiful potted plants and a well-landscaped outdoor space.

Pro tip: Keep track of your planting progress in a journal. Tape empty seed packets or plant tags into the book and note when and where the seeds were planted and your care of them.

Anne Reagan, editor in chief,




+ Leave a comment

  1. DAVID

    Do you have anything for boxing in outdoor ACunits and water heaters?

  2. Cherish

    What is the best way to keep squirrels out of my containers?

  3. Hi! We consulted with Dana, our resident gardening expert, and she suggests the following: “There are a number of methods to help with this problem. The most commonly used is to sprinkle red pepper flakes on the top of the soil. The flakes don’t dissolve as easily as cayenne pepper, which works but has to be replaced frequently. The pepper will not harm your plants either.

    You can also lay a piece of appropriately sized chicken wire across the top of the soil, plant accordingly and then cover with another half-inch of soil. I would still add the red pepper flakes because if your squirrels are ornery, they might still pull small plants out for entertainment.

    I love the wildlife in my yard so long as they behave! I feed the squirrels corn in a far corner away from my plantings. It seems to help keep them out of my pots – just be careful to pick up the cobs if you have dogs, as they can be dangerous if swallowed.”

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