Container Gardening for Apartment and Condo Dwellers
By: Katie Anderson
June 19, 2020
In the midst of the global pandemic, people are spending more time at home these days. Gardening can be a fun way to work off some stress at home, express your artistic side, and get in touch with nature—and many are taking it up for the first time.
But what if your outdoor space is limited or you don’t have any at all? Never fear—it’s entirely possible to build your own beautiful container garden, either inside or on your patio or balcony.
We sat down with Lois Miller, an experienced gardener and proprietor of Garden Design Service, to bring you some useful tips for beginners on starting a container garden.
So let’s say you have no or limited outdoor space and you want to plan a container garden. What are the most important things to think about?
“The most important things for plants are sunlight, water, earth and air,” Lois says. “Do you have a dark or shady space, or do you have reflective light that shines off a building into the space? Do you get direct light where it’s hot?”
One thing she points out is that direct sunlight isn’t the best for most indoor plants—it can sometimes be too intense, especially filtered through window glass. Many plants will do better when placed in indirect sunlight.
“The earth is easy, because when you container garden you’re using a potted soil mix,” Lois says. “I really like Miracle Gro’s soil retention potting mix, as it has fertilizer and gel that keeps it from drying out or getting soggy.”
Air circulation is also important. “If your air is too stagnant you could get pest problems,” Lois goes on. “Scale and spider mites are a big problem for indoor plants. Some plants like more humidity than others, but most do best in a place with some air movement.”
As for water, usually all you have to do is water your plants once a week or every other week—but this varies depending on the plant.
“The right way to water a plant is to hold it under the water until you see water running through the pot,” Lois advises. She also recommends washing the leaves when you water, as this can wash off dust that accumulates and blocks the plant’s stomata—the air holes that they breathe through.
Leaves get washed off naturally outdoors when it rains, but indoor plants don’t get rained on. Most indoor plants can use a good “shower” now and then; the exception is a plant like an African Violet, which has thick hairs that tend to retain water.
How do I choose my pots for a container garden? And how often do I repot a plant?
“A lot of your choices about pots will be determined by your interior design and what looks best in your space,” Lois says. “But a rule of thumb is that bigger is usually better than smaller.”
When you buy a plant in a store or order it online, usually the pot it comes in is too small. “The permanent pot you buy should be about twice the size of the pot your plant came in,” Lois says. “About 8-12 inches tall and wide is a good minimum.”
All pots should have a hole on the bottom for water to drain out, and be placed on a dish so the water doesn’t leak. More than one hole is great, and if the pot is made of the right material, it’s good to drill a few extra holes.
“If you choose the right pot initially, you shouldn’t have to repot your plants more frequently than every five to seven years,” Lois says.
Any other tips for cultivating a container garden?
“It’s better to buy your plants at a greenhouse than at a big box store,” Lois says. “The staff tend to be more knowledgeable and take better care of the plants beforehand, so they’ll be healthier. I also recommend getting fertilizer sticks—Jobe’s makes good ones—to help your houseplants thrive.”
“Container gardens are very easy,” Lois adds. “Some plants may need a trim every so often, but other than that, if you have the right plants for your space, it shouldn’t be hard to keep them thriving without a lot of effort.”
When should you consult a professional?
“Normally when you have a very difficult site,” Lois says. “For instance, let’s say you have a patio that gets a lot of wind or sun, or you want to build a natural screen to block someone’s view into your yard.”
“You don’t necessarily need to hire a designer,” she adds. “You can take pictures of the space on your phone and ask nursery employees what they recommend.”
Gardening is always trial and error. The great thing about container gardening is that it’s easy to experiment, move plants to different locations, or swap a few out to see what grows best in your space.
For more gardening tips and tricks, check out Lois’ blog, Lois Miller’s Greenspeak. And for answers to all your interior design questions, feel free to get in touch with us.