Stella d'oro lilies

Green Thumbs Up for Beginning Gardeners at

Containers and Small Spaces Maintenance and prep.

For easy information on starting your container garden, or to jumpstart a beautiful garden for a small space, plant yourself here for a while. You will find that with good choices of plants and a basic understanding of simple gardening principles, you, too, can enjoy beautiful blooms and lush green!

The site is organized this way:

  1. Container Gardening and Gardening for Small Spaces: What you will need to buy, plants for bright light, plants for shade, in-between plants.
  2. Maintenance, Common Problems and Solutions: Keeping your garden in bloom, watering issues, weed control, preparing for next season. Note that some of this site is geared towards places that have a dormant season (winter). Places with long growing seasons and moderate climes all year round are not subject to the same issues of preparations for the new season, or when one is to plant etc.

Container Gardening

What you will need to buy:

Go to any plant/gardening center, or sometimes a general hardware store, or something like Home Depot or even Meier's that has a gardening center. Get yourself kitted out with:

  • gardening gloves
  • a little hand shovel/spade
  • a hand rake
  • General purpose Potting Soil (not Top Soil) e.g. a good choice is Miracle-Gro Soil. The amount you get will depend on how many containers you plan on planting.
  • a medium-sized watering can
  • pots and containers: this can be fun. You can get earthenware pots, with matching saucers for water overflow, or winter-friendly synthetic pots that have the bottoms built in. You can even get colorful pots or urns! A selection of different pots of varying heights and shapes can create nice interest and a 3-dimensional feel with height, background and foreground.
  • Brackets for mounting or hanging your pots, if you want to go that way. These will come with all the mounting hardware.


Here comes the REALLY fun part. BUT the first thing you need to know is the environment and where you intend to put these containers i.e. do you get more than 6 hours of sunlight, hardly any sunlight, or something in between? Container gardening would generally involve annuals with root systems that don't spread so much and die out after the season. Here are some overall pointers for arranging your flowers:

  • Put plants that have the same light requirements together!
  • Think of the color scheme, if you wish. You can choose to have a riot of the same color, or else go for contrast. Or have 1 color scheme for one area, and a different color scheme for another.
  • Do create interest in terms of foliage and height.

For a sunny patio, suggested container plants are geraniums and petunias (come in many colors), marigolds, some spikes for height. Dusty millers (gray-green foliage only) add interest.

Salvias (red) are fun, as are the multi-colored little daisies. You can also get "pre-fab" mini-roses from garden centers, and choose to repot.

If you are ambitious, you can even get other interesting pre-planted (grown) plants like the hibiscus to the right, and again, repot in your pot of choice. These can get costly after a while.

For a semi-shady patio, you can't go wrong with begonias, that come in pinks, whites and reds, with either dark or light foliage. For heavier shade, get impatiens, that are easy to grow and come in many colors. These are hardy and can take a variation in light. There is also a stunning variety of tuberous begonias, that are like shade roses. These grow well in semi-shady areas, and one begonia per small pot makes for a splendid display.

Don't confuse the regular impatiens with New Guinea impatience, which has dark green leaves and stunning larger flowers. These need more light, and need much more vigilance with watering.

Gardening for Small Spaces

If you actually have a "real" garden, and want to start planting in the ground, then you will need to get the following, in addition to the 1st 3 items for container gardening.

  • a large shovel/spade/hoe to edge out a flower bed
  • a hose and hose reel, or if it's really a little space, then a larger watering-can
  • for starters, a 20-pound bag of topsoil. This will improve the quality of any soil, until you know what sort of soil you're working with (acidic, alkaline, sandy, clay etc.). Mushroom compost is also excellent to mix in
  • some kind of fertilizer like Miracle-Gro: you can get pre-measured containers (1 bag of the stuff for each container) and you just hook up your hose to it and water something like once a month. Guaranteed results, especially if you pick hardy plants!

The same principles of attention to light apply, and grouping plants together with the same requirements. HOWEVER, once you are working on planting in the ground, you can work with perennials. These die off, but will return year after year, and are a smart investment. The bloom period of these does matter, or you will find yourself with many periods with nothing in bloom. For practical purposes, this site draws your attention to plants with a long blooming season.


Do think of the height to which these will grow, so you plant lower plants in the front (on the descriptions, these lower-growing plants are referred to as being suitable for borders). You can also stagger foliage with flowering plants to create interest. And, while you want to make the staple of your garden perennials, there is nothing to stop you from using some of the staples of your container gardening for quick splashes of color, either planted in the ground, or with containers scattered about for interest.

Blooming plants for sun that have a long blooming period include coreopsis, a bright yellow bloom that lasts all season. Also the heliopsis or false sunflower, also yellow. The red-and-yellow gaillardia is nice for the front of the bed. Yarrow comes in different colors, most commonly yellow. Also, try common plans like the purple or white coneflowers, the bee balm, and shasta daisies. Black-eyed susans are almost like wildflowers, and can take over. They tend to grace our eyes later in the summer blooming season.

For the shade, try ferns for interesting foliage, and also the different types of hostas, that will bloom with tiny white or lilac flowers on long stems. These are wonderful along a shady border or ringing a tree, are easy, and will return more lush than ever the next year.

Shade plants have more limited blooming periods, and primarily give us interest in foliage. One of the most stunning partial sun/shade plants is the astilbe. Other more muted ones are the lily-of-the-valley and the bleeding heart with the tiny pink flowers. They add lushness throughout the season.

A word about the concept of "naturalizing." This means that your garden will have a more natural look, rather than more "manicured" in neat little rows. Certain plants take well to "naturalizing," not least the daylilies that almost grow wild. Each flower lasts but a day, but they are easy to grow, grow to a height of 2 feet, and are tolerant of a variance in light conditions.

Consider also purchasing a 1-gallon potted Stella d'oro lily for your perennial garden. This is a compact plant, but it has won awards for being long-blooming (see image on left panel).

During the fall, if you want stunning splashes of color, plant a mum or two -- they come in so many brilliant colors, and are hardy and easy to grow.

Our next page will focus on maintaining your starter garden or container garden, common problems, and also discuss preparing for the new season with the planting of bulbs for the spring.

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Container with geraniums and petunias

The colorful impatiens

Stunning hibiscus


Shasta daisies

Black-eyed Susans



Ferns in the foreground

Mums for the fall

Naturalizing daylilies

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