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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.

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 plus cover some care basics after planting.

Here’s what you need to know!

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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?

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! Like this thrift store find that I flipped for my front porch.

Close up of thrift flip idea planted with scaevola on front porch with different varietes of coleus in terra cotta pots, a white porch swing and outdoor area rug

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.

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.

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close up of whiskey barrel planter with pink geraniums, calibroca, bacopa, latte superwave petunias, euphorbia, coleus and canna lillies

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 and 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!


And if you want to save some money on potting soil, you’ve got to check out THIS spring gardening hack that will save you money!

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 of gardening.

container garden for spring with alyssum and pansies with backdrop of daffodils and tulips with flowering crabapple trees

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.

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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.

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 to learn my secret to keeping plants from getting overwatered.

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.

Click here to learn more about houseplants care.

Before and After Garden Shed

How to Choose the Right Container for Your Garden

There are lots of different options out there to choose from when growing plants in containers.

Click here to learn more about different types of containers for gardening and how to choose the right one.

It Helps to Have a Potting Bench

To raise your workspace so there is less strain on your body and organize all the things, you totally need a potting bench. There are so many wonderful options you can buy that will accommodate any garden space or budget.

I found some great ones that I would LOVE to have. Some are so pretty yet functional. And if you aren’t that big into gardening, they would even make great decor for a porch or patio.

Click here to shop for potting benches.

More About Planting in Containers

Do you grow flowers, herbs, or vegetables in containers? Do you have any tips you’d like to share? I would love to know more in the comments below.

And don’t miss joining my Gardening DIY and Decorating Community on Facebook for more chatter. And follow along there and on Instagram as well. There are behind-the-scenes daily things that I share on Instagram that don’t make it to the blog. Would love to see you there too!

If you prefer to binge-watch Bricks ’n Blooms on TV, we go more in-depth with tours and posts on my YouTube channel. Would love to hang out with you there!

And… If you’re catching up on blog posts you may have missed, be sure to sign-up to get my newest posts via email to stay up to date with everything that’s happening here on the blog and more.

Garden Supplies I Use

I’m often asked about the garden supplies and tools that I use most. From pruners to deer repellents, here are some of my favorites in no particular order.

Click here to shop my vintage farmhouse with close up of the front porch with flowers

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!

YouTube video

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How to Plant a Container Garden
sedum autumn joy superbells supertunias and zinnias in the front yard cottage garden by the porch

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  1. So many good tips! I love planting in my containers and can’t wait to start. Looking forward to seeing all your new gardens in all their glory!

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

  2. Lots of great information here! We just finished our new patio so I am eager to start planting our containers. You have given me lots of inspiration!