No yard? No problem: Tips for gardening in containers

WASHINGTON There’s good news for green thumbs lacking green space: You don’t need a big yard to have a beautiful garden. All you need are a few containers.

Kathy Jentz, editor and publisher of Washington Gardener magazine, shares tips and best practices for starting a spring and summer garden on your patio, rooftop or balcony.

This April 26, 2013 photo shows a succulent arrangement on a patio table in Langley, Wash. Many techniques have been developed over the years to help ensure that potted plants survive winter. One of the simplest is to bring them indoors as this gardener intends to do for a second straight year. (AP Photo/Dean Fosdick)
Picking pots The first thing you’ll need to build a container garden: containers. And Jentz said when choosing a pot, bigger is better. She gravitates toward the 24- or 36-inch double-wall plastic pots that are designed to look like terra-cotta or stone. Jentz said the air pocket between the layers gives your garden some insulation and helps keep the heat off the root zone. Once you select your pot, check the number of holes in the bottom. Jentz said a lot of stores will mark where the drainage holes should go, but you’ll need to do the drilling — and you might want to add a few more holes, while you’re at it. For a 36-inch container, one or two tiny holes isn’t going to do it,” Jentz said. (AP Photo/Dean Fosdick) (AP/Dean Fosdick)
Getty Images/iStockphoto/Singkham
Setting the soil Don’t let the vastness of the containers scare you when it comes to buying soil. Jentz has a trick that will help cut down on the number of bags you need to lug home. In the bottom half of the container, place a few upside down plastic pots or empty water bottles to take up space where the soil would otherwise go. Arrange these fillers so that water will be able to move through the pot without getting trapped. Place a landscape fabric or fine mesh fabric over the plastic fillers, and then add your soil. “So then you’re only putting soil in the top half and you’re not having to constantly replenish the soil every time,” Jentz said. Not only does this make it less expensive to build a large container garden (bags of soil are not cheap), but it also keeps the container from becoming too heavy. “So containers can do what they do best, which is move,” Jentz said. (Thinkstock) (Getty Images/iStockphoto/Singkham)
This April 20, 2009 photo shows tall and small flowers that complement one another in this springtime window box assortment in Belgium. This homeowner in the Belgian countryside refreshes her plant selection with the change in seasons. Window boxes are convenient containers that provide color, deliver edibles and supply fragrances. (AP Photo/Dean Fosdick)
Picking the plants There are no hard-and-fast rules when it comes to what can and can’t be grown in a container. Classic container combinations usually consist of annual plants, vegetables, bulbs and perennials. However, when building a container garden, Jentz likes to stick to the general rule of combining a “thriller, chiller and spiller.” The thriller is a plant that’s vertical and that catches the eye — “like an exclamation point in the middle of the container,” Jentz said. Around that, you have the filler — “the plants that just sit there and have a good time and kind of fill in for you,” Jentz said. Finally, the spiller is a plant that spills over the edge of the container. “It’s something that creates a little more interest than having a perfectly symmetrical container sitting there,” Jentz said. A frequent container combination is dracaena, surrounded by red zonal geraniums and ivy spilling over the edge. “Those are well-behaved and play well together,” said Jentz, who added that one “spiller” plant to avoid in your pots is the sweet potato vine, due to the growth of its root. (AP Photo/Dean Fosdick) (AP/Dean Fosdick)
**FOR USE WITH AP LIFESTYLES**  **FILE**   This July 1, 2004 file photo shows radishes in a variety of colors, including red, purple, pink and white in Concord, N.H.  Vegetable gardening is not a dark science, nor the stuff of incantations and secretive weeding on moonless nights. But it does take a little planning.    (AP Photo/Larry Crowe, FILE)
Starting your container garden If you’re eager to get your garden going, Jentz said start with the “cool season” annuals, such as pansies, violas and snapdragons. You can also get going on some edibles, such as lettuces, baby radishes, collard greens and Swiss chard. For summer annuals, it’s best to wait until Mother’s Day, which Jentz said is “the all-safe date.” If you start any earlier, you’re risking a final freeze or two. “If you do start earlier, if you do take a chance, remember containers are movable, so you can throw a blanket over them and bring them in for some protection should we have another late frost or late snowstorm come up,” Jentz said. (AP Photo/Larry Crowe) (ASSOCIATED PRESS/LARRY CROWE)
Watering from plastic watering can on the garden.
Maintaining your container garden Gardening in a container isn’t necessarily less maintenance than traditional gardening. You’ll still need to carve out time to water and fertilize. However, Jentz has a few tricks. She likes to use soil moisture pellets, which absorb water and slowly release it at the root level, so you can usually go a few days between waterings. “The other part of maintenance would be fertilizing, because a container is a closed system and it’s not able to feed off other plants around it or getting nutrition from somewhere else,” Jentz said. Again, she recommends using a slow-release fertilizer that can be sprinkled in the pot and dissolve over the course of three-or-so months. (Thinkstock) (Getty Images/iStockphoto/Chalabala)
In this May 5, 2010 photo taken in New Market, Va., flowers planted in containers need watering more frequently than those planted in the ground but this French flower bucket, with its self-watering insert, makes things a great deal easier if you intend to be away only for a week or so. For vacations longer than that, consider hiring a garden sitter. (AP Photo/ Dean Fosdick )
Shade Gardening If your patio, balcony or outdoor space doesn’t get much sun, Jentz recommends varieties like the wishbone flower, begonias and caladiums. Typically herbs and vegetables need more sunlight. (AP Photo/ Dean Fosdick ) (AP/Dean Fosdick)
Tara Kolla examines a seedling container, amid other vegetable seedlings that will be planted this spring in the garden at her home in Los Angeles' Silver Lake district Wednesday, Jan. 27, 2010. Like many eco-minded gardeners, Kolla planted seeds, only to find that her garden violated local zoning laws and alienated her neighbors.  (AP Photo/Reed Saxon)
Starting Seeds Starting with seeds is the best option if you’re on a budget. “I highly recommend seeds because a seed pack could be $1.99 for a bunch of miniature sunflowers, and you could be paying $5 a pot for one sunflower,” Jentz said. You can grow the seeds in a tray and transfer them later to the container, or start them directly in the container while using a row cover to give the seeds some extra protection. “It’s not too late to start your tomatoes and peppers and then by Mother’s Day, that will be the time to plant them outside,” Jantz said. And just as you might mulch a traditional garden, don’t forget to do the same to your containers. Jantz suggests adding a top dressing of compost or shredded leaves while you wait for your plants to come in. “What that does is it helps keep down the weeds, keeps the soil warmer, and insulates it,” she said. Plus, critters will be less likely to dig up your seedlings. (AP Photo/Reed Saxon) (ASSOCIATED PRESS/Reed Saxon)
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This April 26, 2013 photo shows a succulent arrangement on a patio table in Langley, Wash. Many techniques have been developed over the years to help ensure that potted plants survive winter. One of the simplest is to bring them indoors as this gardener intends to do for a second straight year. (AP Photo/Dean Fosdick)
Getty Images/iStockphoto/Singkham
This April 20, 2009 photo shows tall and small flowers that complement one another in this springtime window box assortment in Belgium. This homeowner in the Belgian countryside refreshes her plant selection with the change in seasons. Window boxes are convenient containers that provide color, deliver edibles and supply fragrances. (AP Photo/Dean Fosdick)
**FOR USE WITH AP LIFESTYLES**  **FILE**   This July 1, 2004 file photo shows radishes in a variety of colors, including red, purple, pink and white in Concord, N.H.  Vegetable gardening is not a dark science, nor the stuff of incantations and secretive weeding on moonless nights. But it does take a little planning.    (AP Photo/Larry Crowe, FILE)
Watering from plastic watering can on the garden.
In this May 5, 2010 photo taken in New Market, Va., flowers planted in containers need watering more frequently than those planted in the ground but this French flower bucket, with its self-watering insert, makes things a great deal easier if you intend to be away only for a week or so. For vacations longer than that, consider hiring a garden sitter. (AP Photo/ Dean Fosdick )
Tara Kolla examines a seedling container, amid other vegetable seedlings that will be planted this spring in the garden at her home in Los Angeles' Silver Lake district Wednesday, Jan. 27, 2010. Like many eco-minded gardeners, Kolla planted seeds, only to find that her garden violated local zoning laws and alienated her neighbors.  (AP Photo/Reed Saxon)


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