Keep your container garden growing into fall

By Dawn Pettinelli - UConn Home & Garden Education Center
Feature Article - posted Mon., Aug. 22, 2011
- Contributed Photo

Growing plants in containers - whether they are hanging baskets, window boxes, decorative ceramic pots, or any other type of planter - has become widely popular over the last few years. More and more kinds of containers, both decorative and functional, are becoming available, and much creativity is seen in turning the most unlikely objects into planters.

Actually, container gardening is not a new phenomena. Drawings of plants in containers have been discovered on the walls of Egyptian temples more than 3,500 years old. It has not been until recently, however, with the development of soil-less mixes and the wide range of planters available, coinciding with the desire to decorate patios, decks and other outdoor living areas, that container gardening has been considered a specialized field of horticulture.

While most of us start off the gardening season by planting our containers and getting them off to a great start, often by the time August rolls around, they start to look a little peaked, and we wonder what went wrong. Container gardening is like any other branch of horticulture – partly science, partly art, with a little bit of luck and the vagrancies of the weather thrown in. Some basic principles need to be followed to attain the desired results. We still have two or more months to enjoy our containers, so think about sprucing them up.

Before we get into cultural considerations, take into account size and scale. Small containers may seem dwarfed by a large deck or patio. A few large containers could be added or smaller ones can be grouped together at varying heights for a more effective display. Pedestals, bricks, logs or upside-down pots are useful to adjust the heights of containers. Also, when planting, consider not only the color of the plants and how they blend with or accent the surrounding area, but also their growth habits. Often an upright plant and a trailing one are added to containers to create pleasing effects.

Because of the limited rooting space, container-grown plants require more attention than those grown in the garden. Check daily for water, and while it has been raining a lot lately, sometimes the foliage covers the container and the rain water just runs over the side. Water all parts of the container, not just in one spot. Continue applying water until it begins to run out from the drainage holes.

Often a slow-release fertilizer was added to the containers when they were planted in the spring. By now, most of the nutrients have probably been used up by the plants or leached out. Either reapply more slow-release fertilizer or add nutrients using a water-soluble fertilizer. You can use organic or synthetic fertilizers - just follow the package directions.

In drier years, if a soil-less potting mix was initially used, diseases are often not problematic. With all the humid, rainy weather we have been experiencing, some container plants, as well as some garden plants, are showing signs of disease. It may be easier to just replace any diseased container plants than to try and control the disease.

Insect pests typically consist of aphids, white flies and spider mites, but this year, again because of the abundant wet and cloudy weather, I have found slugs, earwigs and assorted other moisture-loving, plant-eating creatures in my containers. Bricks can be set under containers to allow the bottoms to dry up a bit.

Be sure to remove spent flowers regularly. This will keep the plant’s energy directed to flower production. Also, remove any dead or dying leaves and stems and cut back leggy stems. If a plant becomes unattractive, sick, or it just doesn’t fit well with your container design, feel free to replace it. Many garden centers have annuals, tender perennials and bulbs potted up for just such a purpose.

With a little care, your containers will last well into the fall, providing you with several more months of interest and color. If you have questions about growing plants in containers or on any other home and garden topic, call the UConn Home & Garden Education Center (toll-free) at 877-486-6271, visit, or get in touch with your local Cooperative Extension Center.

Let us know what you think!
Please be as specific as possible.
Include your name and email if you would like a response back.
This question is for testing whether you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.
Enter the code without spaces and pay attention to upper/lower case.