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Container Garden Basics for the Beginner

Don’t have a lot of gardening space? Or maybe you want to learn how to design a beautiful container garden for your deck, porch, or patio this season. Today, I’m sharing the basics of container garden design and simple care tips for beginners.

(This post was updated in April 2022)

When you lack garden or landscape space, a great option is to grow plants in containers.

There are SO many things you can grow in a container garden and several of you have been asking how to plant, design, and care for a container garden.

So let’s cover it all in today’s post.

In my landscape, I love to do a mix of both elaborate and simple container garden designs.

An elaborate planting has more than one type of plant.

A simple planting has one type of plant.

Simple container plantings are pretty straightforward, so today we’ll focus on how to plant and design a more elaborate container garden.

Here’s what you need to know!

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How to Plant a Container Garden

How to Design a Container Garden

Container gardens are super fun to design.

It is one of my favorite things to do in the garden because you can play with so many different flowers, textures, and dimensions in the pots.

Whether you keep your container gardens simple or create something more elaborate, they are the perfect addition to both indoor and outdoor living spaces.

copper planter container garden idea
How to Plant a Container Garden in 7 Easy Steps

Step One: Choose Your Container

First, it’s important to determine what style, color, and size containers you are using before purchasing plants.

I prefer to use oversized or large planters because they do not dry out as quickly and can hold more flowers and greens.

Cause we all want more blooms, am I right?

Potting Bench Idea

And feel free to think outside the box as far as containers are concerned.

I LOVE to thrift around for the perfect containers at thrift stores, flea markets, and antique malls for the garden and find the coolest items to use!

How to Plant a Fall Garden in a Flea Market Find

Step 2: Choose Plants

When creating an elaborate container garden, consider the container design technique: thriller, filler, and spiller while shopping.

To further explain this planting technique, see Proven Winners Container Gardening Techniques because they are a great resource.

As an aside, I use the thriller, filler, and spiller technique with almost all of my container garden and centerpiece designs.

While shopping at the nursery for garden plants, play around with different ones using this technique to see what colors and textures look best.

If I don’t have the container with me while shopping, I use the cart to visually see how my designs will look.

How to Plant Flowers in a Window Box Planter

Choose plants that inspire you, but also remember to keep in mind where outdoor planters will be maintained. Because shade vs sun matters when buying plants.

Plant containers in odd numbers so it is more pleasing to the eye. But make sure you purchase enough plants to fit in the container you are using.

I tend to overstuff my outdoor planters so they look fuller but you don’t have to if you don’t want to.

They eventually fill in but I like a fuller look from the get-go because the season is so short.

Outdoor Planter ideas for sun
How to Add Non-Stop Color in the Garden with Annuals

Step 3: Add Fresh Potting Soil

If you do not have potting soil in your containers, add fresh potting soil.

And if your container already has potting soil, remove some of the old soil and add fresh potting soil. Trust me, your container garden plants need it.

When we water plants, soil nutrients wash out, so always add fresh soil to your containers when planting.

I tend to remove about half of the old soil then add new soil underneath and around new plants so the roots have healthy soil to grow in.

planting a window box

Potting Tips

  • Before adding potting soil, line the inside of the container with weed fabric. Weed fabric allows water to seep out the drainage hole while keeping soil inside the container.
  • To keep a container garden lightweight, recycle plastic nursery pots by filling the bottom of a container about 1/4-1/3 of the way. I usually crush them down. Then fill with soil and plants. Containers will be significantly lighter to move around!

Oh!!! And if you want to save some money on potting soil, you’ve got to check out THIS money-saving tip!

Potting Bench Idea
Happy gardening with dark horse wiegela, peonies and container gardening

Step 4: Design Your Container

When the container is ready for planting, start stuffing it with the thriller, filler, and spiller planting technique.

While working, step back a few times to see that the container has symmetry, balance, and fullness.

Since I like to stuff plants in containers – there is usually no room left in a pot after I plant.

But if you want to take it a step further, consider adding natural elements such as bows, raffia, wicker, birdhouses, etc.

Do what you love and most importantly, have fun with it!

That’s part of the joy in gardening.

caladiums and impatiens container garden design ideas
Potting Bench

The Best Way to Pot a Plant

The best way to pot a plant is from an upright position. For years, I was bending over and planting containers from the ground.

But this year, I started using a potting bench, and it is so much easier to plant a container that way!

If you don’t have a potting bench, consider using a folding table or something to raise those containers off the ground.

Potting Bench Idea
How to Plant a Mosquito Repellent Garden

Step 5: How to Care for a Container Garden

To keep annuals healthy and looking good, they must be fertilized. I use THIS slow-release fertilizer because it is set and forget.

Water outdoor containers regularly.

In spring, my New Jersey gardening zone 6a elements usually do most of the work for me in New Jersey but in general, it’s about once a week.

Before and After Garden Shed

But once the New Jersey hot summer humid temps hit, I water them once a day.

The best rule of thumb is to keep an eye on any potted plants you have. If they start looking sad and droopy, it’s time to water.

But the best way to tell if your plants need to be watered?

CLICK HERE.

The Secret to Keeping Houseplants Alive

It is important to always water your plants – whether houseplant, outdoor container, vegetable garden…whatever they are – earlier in the day. Watering at night promotes pest and disease problems.

Admittedly, I have watered in the late afternoon on occasion if I did not get a chance to water during the day – but that is rare.

Make it a habit to water in the early part of the day. Your plants will reward you for it with prolific blooms and good overall health.

To learn more about houseplants, CLICK HERE.

Potting Bench Idea

Want More Container Gardening Ideas?

If you want some container garden inspiration, wait until you see these spring, summer, fall, and winter ideas!

Want to Pot Up Some Spring Garden Plants in Real Time?

You can watch the video HERE!

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How to Plant a Container Garden
How to Plant a Container Garden

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6 Comments

    1. Thank you so much Kim! I love planting in containers – its one of my favorite things to do in the garden!

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