A beautiful garden doesn't necessarily have to sprout from the ground.

Container gardens can be just a gorgeous, and there's some added advantages to growing your plants in pots and other vessels.

For one thing, it makes your plants portable, so they can be moved to a better location whether it's to get more light or for protection when temperatures drop.

Also, containers usually don't require as much weeding, and potted plants are less prone to soil borne pathogens and insects.

You also have more control over what type of soil or other medium to use, and can match it to the needs of a particular plant.

On the flip side, potted plants require more work.

One of the biggest challenges is keeping up with watering. During summer, it seems like it’s a never-ending chore.

To be successful, make sure you plant in a large enough container. The bigger the container, the more soil to hold water and nutrients. Porous containers such as terra cotta dry out quickly, while plastic, metal and ceramic containers retain more moisture.

Watering is a balancing act — too much or too little can be bad.

Overwatering is the No. 1 killer of plants.

When plants get too much water, the roots cannot take up oxygen and essentially drown. Their growth will be stunted and the leaves will yellow. Unfortunately, plants not getting enough water show the same symptoms. That's why many people continue to water, making the damage worse. When it rains a lot or when a container is in a shaded area, the soil tends to stay moist.

It's best to water when the soil surface becomes dry to the touch. Pour on the water until it begins draining from the bottom of the container, meaning it has reached the roots.

Water at the soil surface instead of overhead to help prevent foliar disease. Water in the mornings to insure adequate moisture for the hot daytime temperatures. This gives foliage time to dry. Avoid watering at the end of the day when the foliage stays wet too long.

With regular watering, nutrients will leach from the container quickly so add a balanced, granular, slow-release fertilizer when planting. This will provide nutrients over several months. It is also a good practice to feed with a water-soluble liquid fertilizer every two to three weeks until the temperatures cool and watering is less often.

Use saucers to help with the watering war, especially for plants located in hot, sunny locations to help the soil retain moisture longer. Plants with dry soil sitting in wet saucers can wick up and absorb the moisture. Remove the saucers for plants sitting in shade or when the weather cools to prevent moisture retention.

Occasionally, remove dead flowers to encourage new flower production.

Also remove dead or diseased leaves. If part of the plant dies, cut it back to the nearest healthy growing point or to the base of the plant. Unhealthy or dying plants are susceptible to secondary injuries such as disease and disease-carrying insects.

To tame rapid growth or to promote new growth, trim container plants into shape, as much as half at a time. They’ll be back to full size in just a couple of weeks. Do this in the morning or late evening to avoid stressing the plants in the heat of the day.


Email questions to gardennews@agcenter.lsu.edu.