Finesse With Containers
Anyone with a flower pot can put together a container in an afternoon with a trip to the local big box store or nursery. But here are a few pointers which help with the final result that will turn your finshed product from the pedestrian geranium with vinca vine to a showplace masterpiece with Wow factor.
The best piece of advice that I picked up over the years was the secret to coordinating your colors in a container. Choose a piece of fabric or piece of art that you really like and take it with you when you plant shop. Of course, you can’t take a painting with you so grab refrigerator magnets with famous paintings on them from museums, or cut out paintings from magazines. My most successful container was inspired from a Van Gogh magnet obtained from my many museum visits. Van Gogh’s iris painting has that intense blue which is hard to get with flowers – also orange, greens, a touch of white and yellow. If you like it in a painting, you will like it in a container!
I have plenty of room to plant in my beds but I really enjoy planting in containers because they become a piece of art in miniature. This is my opportunity to try new annuals that look good in the nursery and go wild with the color combos. I also do it professionally for clients who don’t have the time or expertise to put it all together.
Musical Plants-Rearrange for the Season!
I rarely keep my flowers in the pot all season. They just fizzle by the end of the summer and I get tired of them. Sometimes I have three seasons of containers – a winter one with an evergreen and some pansies, then I move on to petunias, supertunias, cannas, lantanas -everything that likes heat, and finally to fall plants – mums, asters, grasses, cabbages, and ferns. I mix and match perennials, shrubs and annuals to get the most versatility and longevity out of my pots.
Large Containers Are Best
Choose a large enough container to avoid constantly watering it during our hot Maryland summers. A pot with a circumference of at least 15 to 18 inches is enough to get you going with a selection of different types of plants, plus enough room for them to grow throughout the summer. I like the light faux pots that look like real pottery, but will not crack and will retain water better than terra cotta ones. These faux pots will last for years and you can leave them out all winter, plus they are inexpensive and portable. There are even self-watering ones available which have a water reservoir built into the container. Regardless of the type of container that you have, make sure there are drainage holes in the bottom. If there aren’t any, drill some using a large bit on a portable drill.
Good Soil – Good Plants
The soil that you use should be an organic mix of compost, spaghnum moss, and perlite. There are a lot of commercial potting mixes on the market so be sure to choose one that has added fertilizer to it as container plants need a good boost of fertilizer to bloom all season long, plus regular applications. Make sure that you add a good dollop of compost in the bottom of the pot – a couple of inches at least. This is where the roots are going to reach down and use up all those nutrients to produce flowers all season long.
Plants – Dress It Up
Consider where the container will be located when you select your plants. Notice if the site will get all day or part-day sunlight, or will be in mostly shade. Shady container plants can be just as colorful as sunny ones with careful selection of colorful foliage. Go to the nursery and ask a knowledgeable employee for suggestions on varieties. For any situation, you want something tall for the back, like a grass or Canna or Caladium, something shorter for the middle area, and a spiller to cascade down the sides – thrillers, fillers, and spillers! – I am sure everyone has heard this phrase. It is an overused hackneyed phrase, but it really describes the process well. For a pot 18 inches in diameter, you would need approximately 5 to 6 plants. Of the 5 plants, use a tall architectural one, a couple of fillers, and a couple of spillers.
Window boxes are planted using the same principles as containers. To create depth you really make use of those spillers. Silver Falls, Dichondra, is a great asset for trailing down walls and planters.
Whe selecting your plants, consider your textures. I see too many containers planted with flowers and foliage that are similar in texture and look too busy. Try mixing it up with some broad sculptural leaves, variegated foliage, and deeply lobed leaf shapes. Using varying forms will help your plants stand out instead of blending together in an indistinguishable mass.
Cannas and Caladiums
Cannas are good selections for sunny containers – just make sure your pot is large enough. I have seen cannas get 8 feet tall or higher! For shade, try Caladiums. There are beautiful Caladiums on the market with very colorful unusual markings and they will shine in the shade.
The foliage of Cannas is their best attribute but some varieties have beautiful flowers also.
The Coleus on the market now are not your grandmother’s Coleus! Most of these plants have been bred to thrive in full sun – not shade – though there are a few that prefer shade only. Literally, there are hundreds of varieties on the market and you could simply do lots of containers with just Coleus and have very colorful pots. Coleus are among my all-time favorites with beautiful strking foliage. I prefer not to let Coleus flower as the flowers detract from the foliage beauty, and when they appear, I remove them.
Maintenance-Nip and Tuck!
Maintenance includes regular watering, at least once a day when it is hot, fertilizing with a dilute or granular fertilizer at least once a week, and pinching back plants as they grow to maintain their shape. I call this nip and tuck. If you don’t do this on a regular basis, your plants will get leggy, unattractive, and woody. It is also a good idea to elevate containers on bricks or “pot feet” so that they drain properly. If you don’t have good drainage, your plants will sulk and die! Make sure that your drainage holes are large enough so they don’t get clogged up and don’t use gravel in the bottom. I carry a long metal rod for unplugging drainage holes. The gravel just makes the pot heavier and does not help with drainage. Drip irrigation is an option if you have lots of containers that need regular watering and you don’t want to be a slave to your water can. Drip is pretty simple to set up, with all the components available at a local nursery or hardware store and they just snap together. I compare it to playing with Tinker Toys!
Another helpful hint is to group your containers, especially if you have many small ones. By grouping, you achieve a bigger impact and it is far easier to take care of them in one bunch. If you do drip irrigation, grouping is essential as you use less tubing and you can hide the tubing in the adjacent pots.
- Calvin Finch: Colorful plants withstand summer heat (mysanantonio.com)
- Growing Tropical Flower and Foliage Plants in Chicago (disclose.tv)
- Annuals are the ‘ta-daa!’ of the garden; here are new additions (seattletimes.com)
- Creating a Window Box for Your Apartment (apartmentguide.com)
- Choose The Right Container For Your Gardening (backyardgardeningtips.com)
- Container Fever in the Winter (thegardendiaries.wordpress.com)