Everything You Need to Know for a Gorgeous Deck Garden

flowers and herbs in terracotta pots and wooden planter boxes

Sometimes a big backyard garden isn’t a realistic possibility. Maybe you live in an apartment and all you have is a small patio. Or maybe a deck garden on your back porch is just more convenient – or more your style. Perhaps you’re growing some herbs on your back deck so that they don’t take over the garden. No matter which way you look at it, though, container gardening is a great way to garden.

And while I’m at a stage in life where container gardening would just get knocked over by one of four children, I asked gardening expert Sheri Ann Richerson to give some great tips and tricks to make it easier. Here are some of her top home and garden deck gardening tips. Take it away, Sheri!

Top Tips to Grow a Deck Garden using Container Gardening

If you want to add colorful accents to your deck garden, balcony, patio, courtyard, entryway or a larger garden area, container gardening is the way to go. Think of outdoor containers as garden sculptures: they need to make a bold statement.

They also need to hold enough soil for ample root room and moisture retention and be heavy enough not to topple over in a stiff wind.

How to Pick the Right Container for Your Deck or Patio Based Garden

When it comes to outdoors, the bigger the pot the better, especially if you want to grow vegetables or ornamental combinations. Pots and hanging baskets are sized and sold in inches according to the diameter of the container’s opening.

A 12-inch pot or basket is a good starting size for outdoors.

It’s small enough to fit on a balcony but big enough to accommodate tomato plants and a few herbs, several small vegetables or half a dozen flowering plants.

Wood and concrete are good materials for large outdoor pots, such as half barrels and planter boxes. They’re weather resistant so they can be left out year-round, and they’re also heavy and most suited to permanent placement or a patio or in a garden.

Outdoor pots are also made of fiberglass or plastic.

  • Fiberglass, the material of choice for many designer containers, is lightweight and durable, but expensive.
  • Plastic is lightweight and inexpensive, but short-lived because sun exposure eventually makes it brittle and easily broken.
  • Durable, lightweight polyurethane foam pots insulate plant roots against temperature fluctuations, and in mild-winter climates, you can leave hardy plants out in them year-round.
  • Foam pots are available in myriad shapes and colors including realistic replicas of antique terra cotta pots.

I can testify [foam pots] are break resistant and long-lasting – I have some on my patio that are 15 years old and still as good as new.

How to Plan Your Garden

There’s an art to planting a container, whether it’s a pot or a basket, even if you plan to grow vegetables in it. Think in terms of creating a bouquet, and put the tallest plants in the center – or at the back of the container if you’re placing it against a wall.

Arrange the rest of the plants in a pyramid fashion, working from medium-height plants surrounding the tallest ones down to the low-growing plants and cascading ones, which you should place around the rim of the pot.

A vegetable planter set up this way could have a tomato plant at the center or back surrounded by medium-height herbs such as basil, and them creeping thyme and cascading Greek Oregano around the rim.

An ornamental pot might contain tall flowering cannas or hibiscus at the center surrounded by trailing purple heart vines and asparagus ferns. By all means, mix and match – dress up a vegetable or herb container by tucking in a few flowering plants, especially edible flowers such as calendula, flowering chives, lavender, nasturtiums, and violets.

These will look as pretty sprinkled over a salad as they do in containers!
When considering vegetable and fruit plants for containers, let size and shape of the mature plants guide your choices.

Look for plants with naturally compact, or conversely, trailing shapes. Also, watch for signs at the nursery; some nurseries mark certain varieties as “container varieties.”

The Best Plants for Container Gardening on Your Deck

Here are a few of the many choices of vegetables, herbs and flowers for baskets and containers.

  • Bush beans
  • Cucumbers
  • Eggplants
  • Green onions
  • Melons, especially small-fruited varieties
  • Peppers
  • Salad greens
  • Strawberries
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Swiss chard
  • Tomatoes: patio, cherry, grape and paste varieties

Herbs, in general, perform well in containers because their needs for root room, fertilizer, and – for some – moisture are modest.

When shopping, match the size of the mature plant to the size of the container.
Here are a few herbs that do well in containers and would thrive on a deck garden.

  • Basil
  • Dill
  • Oregano
  • Sage
  • Chives
  • Fennel
  • Parsley
  • Thyme
  • Cilantro
  • Marjoram
  • Rosemary

A vast number of annuals, perennials, and even houseplants perform outdoors in containers from spring to fall.

Be bold and experimental with foliage and flowers, being careful to combine only all sun-loving or all shade-loving plants in one container. Then place your containers or baskets according to their light needs.

These are some container favorites:

  • Alyssum
  • Asparagus fern
  • Banana
  • Begonia
  • Calendula
  • Canna
  • Chrysanthemum
  • Coleus
  • Dusty miller
  • Geranium
  • Hydrangea
  • Impatiens
  • Lavender
  • Marigold
  • Nasturtiums
  • Ornamental sweet potato vines
  • Pansy, violet
  • Petunia
  • Purple heart vine
  • Primula
  • Snapdragon
  • Zinnia

Other Tips to Remember With Contained Gardens

Root room, moisture, and fertility are limited by the size of the container and the number of plants it contains.

You can, and should, pack plants tightly into window boxes, containers, and baskets for a lush display.

Watering Your Potted Garden Plants

But remember to water and fertilize, with a half-strength solution, often – daily during hot weather – because containers dry out quickly, especially in the sun.

After plant roots fill the container, water runs off the surface rather than sinking into the soil, so you may think you’re providing adequate water, but in reality, not much is sinking in.

I’ve learned, through experience, the best way to water pots and baskets, which are small enough to pick up, is to soap them up to the rim in a bucket or tub of water – overnight, preferably.

When fully saturated, pots and baskets can go longer, sometimes up to a week, between waterings.

Patio pots and barrels container a larger volume of soil and hold moisture longer than smaller pots and baskets, but you should still check them every other day or so and water as needed.

To test, stick your finger into the soil: if it feels moist 2 inches below the surface (up to the second knuckle), it does not need water.

Maintaining Your Patio Garden

Minimal maintenance is necessary to keep container plants performing at their peak.

Pick ripe fruit and vegetables, and deadhead flowers to keep plants from going to seed and looking ratty.

Be on the lookout for occasional weeds, and shape plants with gangly growth. You rarely have to re-pot summer container plants, but you may want to keep a few extra bedding plants handy for replacing ones that die for one reason or another.

The Best Soil for Container Gardens

Grow your container plants in a nutrient-rich, moisture-retaining potting mix.

If you need a lightweight mix for baskets or window boxes, use a light commercial potting mix containing peat moss and perlite, or make your own by mixing potting soil half and a half with perlite.

For standing (rather than hanging) containers, we prefer this homemade soil-based mix:

  • 1 part potting soil or pasteurized topsoil
  • 1 part finished compost or composted manure
  • 1 part coarse sand
  • 2 parts perlite

Be sure to set pots up on bricks instead of directly on the ground to allow for good drainage.

About Sheri Ann Richerson

Renaissance Homesteader and Proclaimed Plant Geek, Sheri Ann Richerson can tell you everything there is to know about organic gardening, being self-sufficient and raising tropical plants from seed in a temperate environment.

About Sheri Ann Richerson

Where you can find Sheri:

Y’all, those are just some of the amazing gardening insights Sheri shared – off the top of her head, even. So be sure to read this a couple of times – I keep finding new nuggets each time I read it! And then go enjoy some gardening.

Sheri’s Top Tips and Books:

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Kimberly C. Starr

I'm a ginger who loves reading, eating, being a nurse, spending time with my family, and writing about it all. I believe humor is the best medicine, followed very closely by chocolate and tacos. To read more about me, click here.

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