The latest trends in container gardens and raised beds
Homeowners with a yen for growing plants, flowers, fruits and vegetables don't have to break new ground -- literally. They can follow time-tested advice and make matters simple by gardening above ground in boxes and containers.
Box gardening within raised beds over grass or soil offers the advantage of letting you create the ideal new soil environment within an aboveground wooden, metal or plastic frame that you can make yourself or assemble from a kit. They also drain more efficiently than in-ground gardens and require less kneeling and bending, depending on their height. What's more, you can extend your growing season by planting earlier because the soil warms up sooner than if it were below ground.
Gardening in containers, meanwhile, offers portability and flexibility.
"If you're living in a place with minimal space, container gardens are great alternative to traditional in-ground gardening. They're perfect for patios, balconies, porches, windows, doorsteps or even for adding pops of color in existing garden beds," says Amy Enfield, consumer horticulturalist with Marysville, Ohio-based Scotts Miracle-Gro. "They add a lot of character and beauty to any space, and are an easy way to enhance your home's curb appeal."
Additionally, "with container growing, you can bring the plants inside during wintertime and bring them back out when weather is favorable," says Andy Lopez, CEO of Malibu, Calif.-based Invisible Gardener Inc. "You can also easily change the look, (because) it's really simple to just replant in a different container."
Kim Davidson, landscape designer at Mulhall's in Omaha, Nebraska, says raised bed and container gardening work great in a climate zone like hers, which experiences four seasons.
"In the early spring, we start with cold-tolerant flowers, like pansies, and other design elements like birch poles, moss and grapevine. Then we transition into tropical plants for the summer, ornamental grasses and perennials in the fall, and, for the holidays, mixes of fresh-cut evergreens, red twig dogwood, lights and ornaments," says Davidson.
The good news is that you can grow nearly any flowers, succulents, herbs, shrubs, vegetables or fruits in containers or planter boxes.
"The container should be at least 14 inches wide and have deep enough soil volume for root development," says Tim Duffin with Ball Horticultural Co. in West Chicago. He adds that you should carefully consider the spacing requirements of each plant and follow the instructions on the plant's tag or container.
Today, containers are available in a variety of traditional and innovative options:
• Terracotta pots, a time-tested favorite "that's ideal for drought-loving plants," says Enfield, who recommends glazed terra cotta, which doesn't dry out as fast.
• Concrete and stone containers, which are extra-durable but heavier and more expensive.
• Metal containers, "which are great for adding a modern feel to your landscape, but best for plants that can withstand heat and drought," Enfield notes.
• Coco-lined metal planters, commonly found as hanging baskets or window boxes (aka "hayracks").
• Resin planters, which offer the look of stone without the weight. "These are great for decks and stairs, and they're also frost- and crack-proof," says Enfield.
• Wood containers, which provide a natural look that blends well in a garden setting. "They're durable and weather-resistant but break down over time and can be quite heavy once filled with potting mix," adds Enfield.
• Natural/biodegradable containers, including CowPots (containing 100 percent composted and odor-free cow manure), Jiffy-Pots (made from Canadian sphagnum peat moss and wood pulp) and fiber pots.
• Fabric containers like Smart Pots, which expel heat to keep roots cooler during hot weather and prevent root circling.
The latest trends in raised bed gardening include:
• Closer placement of the bed to the home's exterior to enhance a patio, deck or outdoor living area.
• Using rounded-corner and circular metal walls to deviate from that boxy/rectangular look.
• Uniquely shaped beds, such as a wave- or L-shaped bed.
• Finely detailed beds made from higher-end stained woods like cedar and custom-built by a carpenter or craftsman.