Let your plants go to pot

Almost any interesting container can serve as a planter.
For some people, gardening is an art form.
They delight in the artistic process of selecting the perfect foliage to complement a craggy rock border or white picket fence.
And they're always dreaming up new ideas that keep them digging in the dirt all summer long.
But then winter arrives, the landscape goes barren and the creative spirit of the artsy gardener must lie in limbo until the splendorous rebirth of springtime -- or must it?
One way to practice gardening as an art form all year round -- both indoors and outdoors -- is to experiment with container gardening.
Here's the idea.
You find a really fabulous planter -- a true object of art in its own right -- and you fill it with an aesthetically pleasing mix of foliage.
The plants you choose could be herbs or flowers, ivy or cactuses -- the sky's the limit.
And there are no boundaries when it comes to where you place your container garden.
It could grace your dining room window or bring a bright splash of color to your backyard patio.
That's the most convenient thing about container gardening. You can move your pretty posies wherever you want whenever you want without ever having to dig up a flower bed.
And, unlike flower beds, container gardens require no weeding.
Sound fun?
Here's how to get started.
Choosing a planter
Don't let the word planter subdue your creative vision.
A planter can be almost anything, as long as it will hold dirt, water and plants.
Here are a few unconventional planter possibilities: an old boot or shoe; an old tin washtub; a watering can; tin cans stripped of their labels and painted bright colors; a copper pot; an old sink; a hanging wall fountain; a large seashell; a wire basket; a wicker basket; a wooden wine case; a terra cotta pot spray-painted gold; a galvanized bucket; an old wheelbarrow; an old cart or wagon; an old stoneware crock; or an old enamelware coffeepot.
Consider location
Where your container garden will be located will help you determine the best choice of planter.
If your planter tends to leak or is particularly heavy, for example, it probably doesn't belong on your living room coffee table.
And if you want to keep your planter outdoors for a good part of the year, it must be able to endure the natural elements.
For example, terra cotta planters look great and are available in a wide range of styles and sizes but are prone to frost damage.
Wooden planters suit almost any planting scheme, but wood requires maintenance to protect it from sun, wind and rain, and wicker baskets are lightweight and pretty, but also prone to water damage.
On the other hand, some planters are best suited for the outdoors. Stone troughs and pots are durable and aesthetically appealing, but they are also very heavy, sometimes too heavy for household furniture.
Also consider if your planter will blend with the overall style of your home. A rustic wooden window box might look charming on a country cottage but out of place on a more formal home, and a classical Greek urn might look silly in a country kitchen.
Also remember to select a planter that's the right size for the plants it will hold. The general rule of thumb is that the planter should be slightly larger than the plant's root ball.
Not enough space will crowd the plant's root system, and if the plant has too much space, it will scramble to grow fast, compromising the quality of its foliage and flowers.
Types of plants
If you don't want a long-term container garden but do want one that's full of flashy color, select fast growing, summertime annuals such as impatiens, begonias or petunias.
Trailing annuals, such as lobelia and nasturtiums add delicate dimension to window boxes and hanging baskets.
Or you could grow a container garden for every season.
In spring, you could fill a tub with tulips, daffodils, grape hyacinths or fragrant lily of the valley.
During summer, a big basket brimming with sunflowers or carefree pansies could brighten a patio or walkway.
When the chill of autumn sharpens the air, plant a tub of colorful chrysanthemums, and during winter, cultivate an indoor container garden of delicate rosemary or a Christmas topiary of golden holly.
A pot of flamboyant amaryllis or colorful cyclamen will chase away the winter blues.
Just remember that although many types of plants will survive the winter outside when planted in the ground, they probably won't survive outdoors in a container garden since their roots aren't protected from bitter winds or hard freezes, so bring your container garden indoors during the cold months.
Some folks would rather plant for scent than seasonal charm.
A container garden filled with fragrant lavender, sweet alyssum or peppermint emits a heavenly aroma.
Or maybe you want an edible container garden.
Kitchen container gardens packed with herbs such as sage, oregano or parsley come in handy for folks who love to cook. You could also mix and match different varieties of leaf lettuce or cultivate a pot of wild strawberries.
If you want a topiary, choose a fast-growing vine such as English ivy and wind its tendrils around a wire frame.
If you want a climbing plant, insert a trellis for support and make sure the planter you choose is heavy and sturdy enough to bear the weight of climbing foliage.
Heavy stone planters also complement alpine plants such as sedum, Hebe and achillea. Add weather-beaten, windblown character by topping the soil with moss-covered rocks or coarse gravel.
If your thumb isn't exactly green, plant a cacti container garden.
Cacti won't mind if you forget to water them. Just make sure they have plenty of sun and sandy soil.
Soil selection
Speaking of soil, before you fill your planter with just any old dirt, find out what type of potting mix the plants you have selected prefer.
Most standard compost mixes consist mostly of peat. Since peat is lightweight and drains quickly, plants in peat composts will need regular watering.
A peat-based compost with no added lime is known as ericaceous compost. Rhododendrons, heather and camellias like this type of soil.
Loam-based compost is heavier than peat-based compost and is ideal for long-term plantings since it retains nutrients well.
Since most general potting mixes contain sufficient food for only about six weeks, you'll eventually need to feed the plants in your container garden.
Slow-release plant food granules are readily available and easy to use.
Keeping a container garden adequately moist is not as easy as it might seem.
If your container garden sits outside, it will dry out very quickly on hot days. You can't rely solely on rainwater because it tends to bounce off the leaves of plants and fall onto the ground instead of into the soil.
Summer window boxes, container gardens and hanging baskets need water even on overcast days. The best time to water outdoor container gardens is in the morning or in the evening.
When watering window boxes and outdoor container gardens, take your time and give the plants a thorough soaking. Wait until the water drips out from the bottom.
Adding water-retaining gel to your soil will help keep it moist.
Most garden centers sell sachets of gel. Simply moisten the gel with water and add the recommended amount to your soil mix before planting.
Indoor container gardens require less watering, but indoor plants need spraying occasionally to keep dust from settling on leaves.
Over-watering, on the other hand, is just as bad, and adequate drainage is very important.
No matter what kind of soil you choose, make sure your planter has adequate drainage holes and a layer of gravel at the bottom.
If you plan to keep your container garden indoors and you're concerned about leakage and possible water damage to furniture, place a tray or saucers beneath the planter to catch excess water.
If you use a wicker or wire basket as a planter, seal the interior of the basket with plastic to prevent leakage.
Although most people assume mulch belongs only in flower beds, a layer of mulch can complement a container garden.
Since bark mulch works best when spread about 7 inches thick, it's not recommended for smaller container gardens.
Gravel, on the other hand, works well as a mulch in container gardens.
Smooth stones can also be used as a decorative mulch for large container plants and can deter cats from using the container as a litter box.
XSource: "Container Gardening" by Stephanie Donaldson