It is rare for a garden to be without some containers filled with plants. There are many advantages to container gardening, and a few considerations to keep in mind as well when placing out potted plants.

For an apartment dwelling gardener, containers are an absolute necessity and mean low maintenance. For others with limited space, entryways, balconies and window sills can be places for container gardening with pots being used not only for ornamentals, but for herbs, small fruits, vegetables and salad crops as well as for small trees.

For the gardener in general, containers can be practical and can be used to enhance the looks of a variety of areas from doorways to patios, to foreground and background portions of beds and borders.

They can be used as a convenience and to accent spaces.

Pots and/or containers can be moved fairly easily unless they are quite large. Their portability means that one can shift them around for a change of scenery, for a special occasion or for seasonal change. A reasonably good pot can last for years and can handle many changes of plantings.

Containers usually come in plastic, clay and wood, sometimes metal, and can consist of multiple sizes, shapes, colors and designs.

Some people create their own containers from other objects. Containers can be used singly or in combinations, giving the gardener practically unlimited design elements.

One particular idea when using containers for ornamental purposes is to pot some plants in reserve so as to be ready to replace those potted plants which have become spent. One then can simply switch containers and redo the former containers at one’s leisure.

In some cases, potted plants may be high enough or can be raised to give greater ease at maintaining them.

When using containers, one must consider a few special needs that are different from regular gardening, specifically those of soil, water and temperature.

There are many potting mixes available for containers. They should match the plant’s needs and be of a fairly light consistency for easier maneuverability of the containers.

When creating your own mix, think in thirds: some composted soil, some nutrients and some material such as Perlite, Vermiculite or sand to assist in drainage.

Since containers are raised above the natural soil level, their contents are subject to drying more quickly than ground plants. More frequent watering is called for; the gardener needs to keep a closer watch.

Container soil heats more quickly than ground soil. This can be an advantage where plants may mature more quickly, but may rule out plants that need cooler conditions unless seasonal change is considered. Fortunately, in our climate, we needn’t worry much about container plants being subject to frost damage now that the cold season is upon us, but if that becomes a reality, the containers can be moved to shelter.

Lompoc resident Al Thompson has been a local gardener for 45 years. His Down to Earth column will appear bimonthly.

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