How to create an incredible summer container garden

Tips on how to choose the right container, fertilizer, soil and much more.

Credit: Flickr / KorayGokhan

Bob Tuckey, owner of The Natural Gardener in Vancouver, demystifies summer container gardening

Follow this wonderful how-to on choosing the right planter, the best soil, creating drainage and, of course, planting your summer plants in their new home. Also find tips for fertilizing, getting fuller growth and pest control.


There are a wide variety of containers to choose from including terra cotta, glazed clay, wood and plastic as well as unconventional containers such as old watering cans, chairs, old shoes… Let your imagination run wild.

Mother's Day Container Recipe
Mother’s Day container recipe

Bob Tuckey puts together a creative container design inspired by his gardening mum in honour of Mother’s Day.

There are advantages and disadvantages to all these containers. Let’s look at them.



• Large variety of shapes and sizes
• Inexpensive (usually)
• Porous-allows for good air circulation
• Age well over time giving an interesting patina


• Susceptible to frost damage
• Soil dries out quickly
• Fairly heavy
• Crack and chip easily



• Wide variety of colours, patterns and sizes
• Excellent water retention
• Good insulation
• Good for formal settings and as focal points



• Expensive
• Heavy
• Chip and break easily
• Easier to over water



• If using cedar, stands up well to the elements
• Lighter than clay
• Retains moisture and insulates well
• Versatile, can be made in almost any shape



• Don’t use pressure treated wood
• Bottoms can rot



• Fairly inexpensive
• Easy to clean
• Harder to break
• Non-porous so doesn’t dry out as quickly
• Lightweight
• Lots of colours and sizes to choose from



• Easier to overwater
• Doesn’t insulate well
• Poor quality pots can get brittle with age

Unconventional containers

Things like wheelbarrows, galvanized pans or buckets, old dressers. If they don’t have a hole, you can drill one, if clay, or punch a hole, if metal. If you can’t put a hole in then just double pot it making sure the inner pot isn’t sitting directly on the bottom—and remember to drain the pot after a heavy rain.

Suggested minimum size for a patio container is 12”x12”.

Terra cotta patina

Mix buttermilk with live moss in a blender and paint on outside of pot.


Cover the drain hole of your pot with a landscape fabric. Raise pots off the deck surface with pot feet, pieces of stone or clay


Use a good, reliable potting soil from your favourite garden store. Never use soil from the garden.

To aid in retaining moisture, non-toxic water absorbing crystals can be added to the soil. They act like a sponge and hold up to 400 times their weight in water.

Planting your container

Water your plants about an hour before planting. Soak terra cotta pots before using.

You can either plant lightly and let the plants fill in or plant heavily and get that full look quickly. Your choice.

Before planting, arrange plants on top of the soil. Move around until you like what you see. Normally, tall plants in the back or centre of pot. However, let your imagination run wild and plant the way you like.

Planting process

• Cover drainage hole
• Fill two-thirds with soil
• Remove plant from it’s container and place at same depth as it was in its own pot
• Surround with potting mix. DO NOT TAMP DOWN!
• Do not overfill container, you need room for watering
• Water well, wait a few minutes and water again

Design tips

Use your imagination. Create contrasts in colour and texture. Generally try to use the same type or style of container. Give some height so everything isn’t on the same level.


You must water regularly. When it’s hot and dry, water in the evening; when it’s damp and overcast, water in the morning.


Use a liquid or water-soluble organic fertilizer every two weeks for annual containers and once a month for perennial and herb containers. Organic fertilizers, especially in liquid form are an excellent choice—long lasting and won’t burn plant roots. Pruning Pinch out tips on annuals for fuller growth and deadhead regularly to encourage continued blooming.

Pest control

• Insecticidal soap is good for getting rid of aphids and spider mites.
• Provide good air circulation to prevent powdery mildew.
• Check planters on a daily basis for insects and disease.
• Prompt action will limit the problem.

Bob Tuckey

Bob Tuckey, a certified Master Gardener, is owner and operator of The Natural Gardener, a charming gardening supply shop in Vancouver’s Point Grey neighbourhood, with interesting, rare and unusual plants, the newest cultivars of the season, and a broad selection of native plants.

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