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Gardening: Getting the most from your container plants

Nancy Szerlag
Special to The Detroit News
People peruse the plants at Eastern Market.

Today container gardening is all the rage because many folks are short on time or space to plant. So here are some tips to keep your pots perking all season long. 

When choosing a container, bigger is always better because you can fit more plants in the pot and they hold water longer.   

To reduce transplant shock, moisten the potting soil before planting. For potting mix, I add one part water to three parts soil. Best to do this ahead of time so the moisture can move evenly throughout the soil. Putting a plant in dry soil will damage or kill the fine root hairs that bring moisture and nutrients to plants. Also, water the plants in advance so the root balls are well soaked. 

After planting, water the container and allow it to drain. After the soil settles, the root ball may be exposed so be prepared to top it off. The soil level should be about 2 inches below the rim of the pot. Recheck the soil level after a week or to be sure more settling has not occurred.  

  Many of today’s potting soils contain a fertilizer charge and claim it lasts anywhere from 3 to six months. However, daily watering quickly washes these nutrients away, so I add extra fertilizer.  When potting up containers, I mix in a good quality pelletized slow release fertilizer, such as Jack’s ClassiCoat, into the soil following the package directions. After about a few weeks heavy feeders such as petunias and million bells begin to run out of gas so to keep the color pumping it’s a good idea to give the plants a boost by adding a water-soluble fertilizer on a weekly basis at half the regular rate.  My fave is Jack’s Classic Petunia FeED formulated for plants that do not take up iron efficiently. 

Herbs in containers produce lanky lush growth and lose their flavor when over fed. Best to give them a fertilizer boost using an organic product, such as Neptune’s Harvest Fish and Seaweed Fertilizer when planting.  Herbs grown in the ground do fine on their own if compost is added to the soil when planting. 

The best time to fertilize containers is in cool of the morning or in the evening.  Avoid feeding during the heat of the day, when the temperatures rise above 85 degrees. If the soil is dry, water before fertilizing. 

Petunias tend to get lanky as the season progresses, so pinching the stems back after the 4thof July will keep the plants flowering through the rest of the season. 

Nancy Szerlag is a master gardener and a Metro Detroit freelance writer. Her column appears Friday’s in Homestyle. To ask her a question go to and click on Ask Nancy. You can also read her previous columns at