How to Plant in Pots Correctly in 5 Steps

How to plant flowers in containers (and vegetables, too)

April 30, 2019
Planted Flower Containers
Del Boy/Shutterstock

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How to do you plant flowers in a pot or container? What do you put in the bottom of your planter? How do you ensure drainage? I attended an outdoor container gardening lecture at The Boston Flower and Garden Show and thought I’d share tips on how to create a basic planter.

5 Steps to Planting a Container

Whether you’re planting a container for outdoor flowers, vegetables, or herbs, the basic planter components can be the same. The trick is in the layering.

Before you start, use the right container. The size and material of your container will depend on what type of plants you wish to grow. See the Almanac’s list of best containers for vegetables and best containers for flowers.

  1. At the base of the container, add a reservoir to catch water. The reservoir can be as simple as a pie pan (or a Frisbee!).
  2. Then, add shredded paper (e.g., newspaper). Fill up one-half to three-quarters of the space.
  3. In the middle of the container, add a “slow-release” hard fertilizer (e.g., Osmicote) to provide the plant with food. It will last 3 to 4 months, usually into the middle of the gardening season.
  4. Also, add a polymer in the middle of the container to attract and hold water. A polymer typically hydrates for 7 to 8 years (well beyond the life span of most plants).
  5. As the top layer, add a mix of 80% peat moss and 20% perlite (or vermiculite). Do not use garden soil as it brings its own competition (other organisms, disease, etc.). Potting soil can work but is often too heavy. Peat moss is great because it holds moisture and provides air space. Perlite and vermiculite provide additional air space so that the mix isn’t too dense. You can buy the mix or mix it yourself. Most annuals have shallow root systems, so 4 to 8 inches of depth is ample.

Note: Although the basic peat moss and perlite mix should work fine for most flowers and mixed containers, there are a few plants that may need specialty mixes, namely orchids, succulents, and cacti.

Container Care

  • Of course, you’ll want to check the moisture level in your containers every day. If the top 2 inches are dry, it’s time to water until it runs out of the bottom of the planter. It’s best to water in the morning.
  • In midsummer, you’ll want to add liquid fertilizer. Cut the strength in half.

Grow Veggies in Containers!

Inter-planting and Companion Planting

As you interplant, consider “companion planting” to get a good harvest. Mix plants that grow well together and often repel pesty insects yet attract beneficial insects.

  • For example, plant tomatoes with parsley to attract beneficial insects (but not corn or broccoli).
  • Plant cabbage with herbs, potatoes, and beans (but not strawberries or tomatoes).
  • Plant lettuce with radishes or carrots (but not broccoli).
  • Some flowers are great for companion planting too. For example, marigolds are as good as gold when grown with just about any garden plant, repelling nematodes.

See the Almanac’s article on “Plant Companions: Friend or Foe?” for many more suggestions and a top 10 list of companions for common vegetables.

Do you container garden? I’d love to hear about your experiences and what you’ve learned along the way.

About This Blog

Your Old Farmer’s Almanac editors occasionally share our reflections, advice, and musings—and welcome your comments!