Gardening: Container Planting

Cary, NC – We have definitely had our share of heat this summer and it has probably taken a toll on your potted plants.  You may need to completely start over and that’s fine because there are some great late-summer container ideas that will last through fall and into early winter before the first frost.

Container Garden Basics

To start, make sure you follow some of the basics about container gardening. You can use any container you would like and be as creative as you want, something different is always fun. Conventional options include clay, ceramic, plastic and fiberglass. But you can use almost any option if you follow these simple rules.

Make sure your container is large enough to provide plenty of room for all the plants roots, soil and future growth. In general, the diameter of the container should be one-third the height of the plant from the top of the foliage and one-to-two inches wider than the plants root system. There must be a system for water drainage at the bottom as well. If not, you will overwater your plant and it will eventually die.

Once you have chosen your container, now it’s time for the fun part: picking out your plants. It is very important to make sure that you combine plants based on similar needs; if it is a full sun plant, all should be full sun.

Selecting Your Plants

You can get quite a few plants in a single pot, but it may not last as long. I usually change my pots twice a year, Spring and Fall and use three-t0-four plants per pot. An appealing design incorporates a tall plant surrounded by a few slightly shorter and then a trailing plant such as vinca or the little petunias. I also love a mass planting of just one plant with lots of color such as a hydrangea which you can later transplant into your yard.

Another great container plant is coleus. There are so many options in size and color that there truly is one for everyone! It is a nice plant to pair with impatiens and vinca vine or potato vine. These will need to be watered often and should be kept in a part shade spot. Don’t forget you can plant vegetables like spinach or swiss chard and there are many options with herbs. You get something attractive and something you can eat!

Lastly, to add some whimsy or a more formal look you can use boxwood shrubs and create topiaries. You do need to have a design plan in mind before you start but there are plenty of guides and tips that will help create unique designs with relative ease on the internet. And do remember that this time of year it is still hot. So baby your plants a bit by planting them at the end of the day and leave them in the shade for a few days then gradually introduce them to their location.

Don’t forget to check out the Wake County Extension Master Gardener Program for advice and questions about your garden.

Our contact information is Email: or call 919 250-1084.

Story by Melody Hughes, Extension Master Gardener Volunteer-Wake County and North Carolina Cooperative Extension. Photos by Anne Heathen and Serres Fortier.