by National Gardening Association Editors
These simple maintenance tasks keep your patio planters and window
boxes looking their best throughout the growing season and help
cold-climate gardeners prepare for winter.
Tools and Materials
* Planted containers
* Water source, hose or watering can
* Slow-release and water-soluble fertilizers
* Scissors or hand pruners
* Seasonal flowering and foliage plants
* Chicken wire and loose mulch, optional
Water frequently. Closely spaced plants packed
into a small volume of soil need watering as often as once or twice
a day, especially in hot, sunny, dry weather. When you water, be
sure to saturate all the soil in the pot-not just around the edges.
Pots that dry out too quickly may have more plants in them than
the soil can support. Remove some plants, prune them back, or move
the pot to a less sunny location.
Fertilize regularly. Rapidly growing plants need
plenty of nutrients. Frequent watering and the limited amount of
soil in container gardens makes the need for fertilizer critical.
Mix slow-release fertilizer pellets into the potting soil, according
to package instructions. Add additional nutrients throughout the
growing season by dissolving a water-soluble fertilizer in the watering
can once every week or two. Use a one-half to one-quarter strength
dilution, or follow package instructions.
Groom and remove dead flowers. Keep plants looking
lush and full by pruning leggy stems back to buds or branches and
removing off-colored and damaged foliage. Many plants continue to
produce new flowers if you remove the spent blooms before they set
seeds. Pinch the flower stems back to just above a leaf or bud.
Change plants seasonally. When the plants begin
to look tired and past their prime, pull them out and replace them
with fresh plants. You can keep your container current with seasonal
themes by growing a succession of plants, such as bulbs and primroses
in the spring, annuals and vegetables in the summer, and colorful
kale and pansies in autumn.
Prepare for winter. In cold-winter climates, containers
and their contents need protection from freezing temperatures. Even
hardy perennials, trees, and shrubs cannot tolerate completely frozen
roots. Terra cotta and ceramic pots may crack if left outside to
freeze. Empty their contents into the compost pile and store the
dry pots in a protected garage or cellar. Wrap chicken wire around
the pots of small trees and shrubs and stuff with loose mulch, such
as straw. Store in an unheated but not freezing garage or basement
for the winter.
Reduce watering chores by choosing light-colored, non-porous containers
such as plastic or glazed pottery. Protect pots from full sun and
Rotate containers to encourage plants on all sides to grow evenly.
Plants on the shady side tend to get leggy as they stretch for the