All Season Containers

Early spring container by Leigh Barnes
Early spring container by Leigh Barnes-Tulips, violas, grape hyacinth, daffodils, allysum, salvia,and nemesia

Most people wait until mid to late May to plant their containers because of a chance of cold snaps, but I have been busy planting for weeks using plants that are cold tolerant, using bulbs, cool season annuals and perennials. For my most viewed post ever on containers, check out Not Your Ordinary Container-Containers With Pizzazz!

Shade Container
Shade Container

My Favorites

Bulbs only last a few weeks, but you can easily slip them out of the container and plant in one of your garden beds for a show next year. Leaving an empty spot that you can plug-in some annuals for a warmer season, like verbenas and petunias, containers can be transformed with the addition and subtraction of several plants and emerge with a completely different look.

Bulbs in containers

Violas are an early season staple that look good for about 6 weeks until the hot weather starts and then they are toast. See my post on Violas to see how many ways you can use this versatile plant. They give you a quick early boost of color which can be removed when the violas start to fade and then you can insert something more heat tolerant.

Viola Etain is one of my favorites
Viola Etain is one of my favorites

Mixing a melange of perennials, annuals, bulbs, and small shrubs early creates a container that will last through the season with tweaks throughout the year. Make sure that you take care of your container with good drainage, an essential for any plantings. I like to elevate my container off the ground so that it can drain properly. A plant stand or pot feet are perfect for the task.

IMG_5606
Pot feet keeps the container elevated so that water can drain off

Woodland Phlox is a great perennial that lasts for 6 to 8 weeks and is highly fragrant. When finished, pop it into the garden and replace it with something else blooming.

P1020366
Woodland Phlox(light purple) is highly fragrant and lasts for weeks

 

List of Early Flowering Plants for Containers

  • Annuals-alyssum, african daisy, lobelia, pansies, snap dragons, gerber daisies, english daisies

  • Bulbs- tulips, daffodils, grape hyacinths, scilla, crocus, hyacinths, alliums, lilies

  • Perennials-pulmonaria, columbine, bleeding heart, woodland phlox, variegated yucca, candytuft, coral bells, scabiosa, violas, bleeding heart, brunnera, lobelia, lamium, woodland phlox, primrose, armeria, poppies

  • Shrubs-heather, pieris, broom, blue star juniper, dwarf rhododendron, blueberries

Early spring color
Coral bells, dwarf Rhododendron, bleeding heart, brunnera, and lobelia
P1020380
Purple Gem Rhododendron makes this container shine
P1020373
Lava Lamp Coral Bells, Violas, Millenial Allium, Lobelia, and Lamium

Coral Bells

Coral Bells or the Heuchera family are my must have for spring containers. Coral Bells emerge early and have perfect foliage colors that you can match to your blooms and foliage of the other plants in your container. There are literally hundreds of shades and varieties of this plant and you can never have enough of them! Known for foliage rather than flowers, Coral Bells are probably my favorite plant for borders and containers.

An array of Coral Bells in a greenhouse
An array of Coral Bells in a greenhouse
Coral Bells Fire Alarm
Coral Bells Fire Alarm
Coral Bells 'Grape Expectations'
Coral Bells ‘Grape Expectations’

If you start with a good potting medium that has lots of compost and perlite to aerate the soil, you can keep your container healthy for years. I make sure to fertilize all my containers regularly with a diluted fertilizer so that my plants are happy and healthy!

Containers With Pizzazz ! Not Your Ordinary Container!

Shade Container
Shade Container

Container Finesse

Updated February 2017

I create containers for clients all the time and am always looking for inspiration to move away from the “geraniums with spike and trailer”  school of thought. With a little more planning and shopping, you can come up with a showplace masterpiece with WOW impact. For pollinator containers, go to Nectar in a Pot- Movable Feast 

Container with a variety of plants for all summer color
Container with a variety of plants for all summer color-Canna, trailing zinnia, trailing petunia, sweet potato vine, coleus, verbena, and salvia

Take pictures of creations that you like and copy them, but add your own personal touches to make it your own. Once you have done enough containers, the combinations are second nature, starting with just one really wonderful plant and working from there.

Succulents- you can go on vacation and leave these without worrying!

Artful Containers

The best piece of advice that I picked up over the years was a secret to coordinating your colors in an arrangement.  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, cut a swatch from fabric, or cut out paintings from magazines.  Inspired by a Van Gogh, my most successful container used the colors from his iris painting. Van Gogh’s painting has that intense blue which so many people adore – also orange, greens, a touch of white and yellow. If you like it in a painting, you will like it in a container!

Beautiful colors from Van Gogh painting

Early spring container by Leigh Barnes

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 are untested by me,  and go wild with the color combos.  Bold, vibrant,  and sizzling color, is the driving force for many of my combinations. To browse the new Pantone colors for 2016 or 2017, check out Pantone. Rose Quartz and Serenity were the colors for 2016 which are the blended colors of a soft pink and soft blue. That inspired me to create containers with hydrangeas.DSCN1089

For 2017, the Pantone color is ‘Greenery’! And foliage containers are so different and striking using just shades of green.

Different shades of foliage create an striking array of containers
Different shades of foliage create an striking array of containers

Coral Bells are usually my starting point for color inspiration as they come in some unusual colors not normally seen in the plant world.

A variety of Heucheras
A variety of Heucheras or Coral Bells
Painter palette of colors
Painter palette of colors

I find that there are too many containers with pastel and hum drum hues, and that I rather create a bold and striking container.

Bold container
Bold container

 

Musical Plants-Rearrange for the Season!

Portable and colorful, this single plant of Croton can be moved to accent anywhere in the garden
Portable and colorful, this single plant of Croton can be moved to accent anywhere in the garden

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 and other cool weather flowers, 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. To see my post on Fall containers, go to Creative Fall containers. For early season containers, go to Seasonal Containers.

Seasonal container-miscanthus, chrysanthemum, autumn fern, cabbage, artemisa, ivy

Edibles

Edibles in containers are big now and rightly so. So many leafy crops have gorgeous foliage and shouldn’t be relegated to the vegetable garden, and it is a great way to grow your veggies in limited space. One of my all time  favorite fillers is curly parsley. Colorful kale, lettuce, spinach, and other herbs like thyme are also great. Or, you can have an entirely edible container selection, and include eggplant, tomatoes, lettuce, cucs. The sky is the limit. If it is too late to start seeds, there is a huge variety of midget sized plants available at any nursery that have been developed for container culture.

Little Prince eggplant from Renees Gardens grow great in containers
Little Prince eggplant from Renees Gardens grow great in containers
Container with edibles
Container with edibles-kale, lettuce,, pansies, angelina sedum

Large Containers Are Best

Choose a large enough container to avoid constantly watering it during hot summers.  A pot with a circumference of at least 15 to 18 inches is enough to get you going with a choice of different types of plants, plus enough room for them to grow throughout the summer. I like the light weight faux pots that look like real pottery,  but will not crack and will retain water better than terra-cotta ones. The 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 and be sure to make them large enough, at least 3/4 of an inch in diameter. In addition, elevate your containers for air circulation. I use pot feet to elevate.

Pot feet elevates a container
Pot feet elevates a container
A great little trailer- Silver Falls or Dichondra

Good Soil – Good Plants

Good soil or potting medium is critical for the health of your plants that will be sitting in the container for months or years. Use an organic mix of compost, sphagnum 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. If you must reuse the same soil, then remove the top 5 or 6 inches and replace with fresh potting medium.

Container in full summer glory

Right Plant, Right Spot

Note if your container will be in all day sunlight, partial shade, or 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, cordyline, canna or caladium, and a cascader for the edge and something to fill in between- thrillers, spillers, and fillers!

A container with different types and textures of plants is more appealing
A container with different types and textures of plants is more appealing

It is an overused phrase, but it really describes the process well. For a pot 18 inches in diameter, you would need about 5 to 9 plants. Use a tall architectural one, a couple of fillers, and a couple of spillers. When I create a container, I want mature plants to make a big impact right away. Later on, you can prune and winnow out the ones that are failing to thrive.

Window Boxes

Shade Windowbox
Shade windowbox with begonia ‘Bonfire’

 

Succulent window box
Succulent window box

Planting window boxes uses 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 for sun and shade, and the new begonia ‘Bonfire’ is valuable for bright color in the shade .

All three types of plants are used in this standing windowbox, thriller, fillers, and spillers
All three types of plants are used in this standing windowbox- thriller, fillers, and spillers
Trailing Silver Falls out of a windowbox
Trailing Silver Falls out of a windowbox
Silver Falls at Chanticleer in the ruin

Textures

When 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.

Good textural contrast and variety-bubblegum petunia, variegated ginger, black and blue salvia, plectranthus, secretsea
More textural variety

Cannas and Caladiums -Focal Points

A variegated canna as a focal point
Caladiums
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. But be careful when you plant these as they are very sensitive to cold. Make sure the nights keep above at least 50 degrees before setting these out.

 Coleus

Varieties of coleus
Varieties of coleus

The Coleus on the market now are not your grandmother’s Coleus! Many of these new varieties are designed 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 striking foliage. I prefer not to let Coleus flower as the flowers detract from the foliage beauty, and when they appear, I pinch them off.


A beautiful Coleus – I forget the name!
Partial shade container in old fashioned lead pot-coleus, dragon wing begonia, fuschia, sweet potato vine, geranium

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.  If you don’t have good drainage, your plants will literally drown from lack of Oxygen!  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 clogged drainage holes.

Inserting a metal rod in a clogged drainage hole
Inserting a metal rod in a clogged drainage hole

Added 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!

Grouping

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. Grouping also makes it easier for butterflies, bees, and hummingbirds to find the nectar rich flowers.

A large grouping at the National Arboretum in D.C.
Great color combo-coleus, trailing petunia, lotus vine, verbena, silver falls, black and blue salvia
Don’t be afraid to plant just one kind of sensational plant in a container – here it is oleander

I

 

Containers With Pizzazz ! Not Your Ordinary Container!

Shade Container
Shade Container

Container Finesse

Updated April 2016

I create containers for clients all the time and am always looking for inspiration to move away from the “geraniums with spike and trailer”  school of thought. With a little more planning and shopping, you can come up with a showplace masterpiece with WOW impact.

Check out my updated post Containers With Pizzazz for new pictures and ideas. And for containers geared to attract pollinators, look at Nectar in a Pot-Movable Feast.

Container with a variety of plants for all summer color
Container with a variety of plants for all summer color-Canna, trailing zinnia, trailing petunia, sweet potato vine, coleus, verbena, and salvia

Take pictures of creations that you like and copy them, but add your own personal touches to make it your own. Once you have done enough containers, the combinations are second nature, starting with just one really wonderful plant and working from there.

Succulents- you can go on vacation and leave these without worrying!

Artful Containers

The best piece of advice that I picked up over the years was a secret to coordinating your colors in an arrangement.  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, cut a swatch from fabric, or cut out paintings from magazines.  Inspired by a Van Gogh, my most successful container used the colors from his iris painting. Van Gogh’s painting has that intense blue which so many people adore – also orange, greens, a touch of white and yellow. If you like it in a painting, you will like it in a container!

Beautiful colors from Van Gogh painting

 

Early spring container by Leigh Barnes

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 untested by me,  and go wild with the color combos.  Bold, vibrant,  and sizzling color, is the driving force for many of my combinations. Browse the new Pantone colors for 2016, and you will see a mix of Rose Quartz and Serenity(light blue) the top colors for this year. Not my cup of tea, as I prefer Violet Tulip, Radiant Orchid, Dazzling Blue, Celosia Orange, Freesia Yellow, and Cayenne which were the colors of the past couple years. I find that there are too many containers with pastel and hum drum hues, and that I enjoy creating a bold and striking container .

Musical Plants-Rearrange for the Season!

Cluster containers together for a bigger impact and ease of watering
Cluster plants together for a bigger impact and ease of watering

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 and other cool weather flowers, 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. To see my post on Fall containers, go to Creative Fall containers. For early spring containers, look at Seasonal Containers.

Seasonal container-miscanthus, chrysanthemum, autumn fern, cabbage, artemisa, ivy

Edibles

Edibles in containers are big now and rightly so. So many leafy crops have gorgeous foliage and should be used more in containers and is a great way to grow your veggies in limited space. One of my all time  favorite fillers is curly parsley! I buy this by the flat full. Colorful kale, lettuce, spinach, and other herbs like thyme are also great. Or, you can have an entirely edible container selection, and include eggplant, tomatoes, lettuce, cucs. The sky is the limit. If it is too late to start seeds, there is a huge variety of midget sized plants available at any nursery developed for container culture.

Container with edibles
Container with edibles-kale, lettuce,, pansies, angelina sedum

Large Containers Are Best

Choose a large enough container to avoid constantly watering it during hot summers.  A pot with a circumference of at least 15 to 18 inches is enough to get you going with a choice of different types of plants, plus enough room for them to grow throughout the summer. I like the light weight faux pots that look like real pottery,  but will not crack and will retain water better than terra-cotta ones. 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 and be sure to make them large enough, at least 3/4 of an inch in diameter.

A great little trailer- Silver Falls or Dichondra

Good Soil – Good Plants

Good soil or potting medium is critical for the health of your plants that will be sitting in the container for months or years. Use an organic mix of compost, sphagnum 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. If you must reuse the same soil, then remove the top 5 or 6 inches and replace with fresh potting medium.

Container in full summer glory

Right Plant, Right Spot

Note if your container will be in all day sunlight, partial shade, or 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, cordyline, canna or caladium, and a cascader for the edge and something to fill in between- thrillers, spillers, and fillers!

Foliage shade container by Leigh Barnes
Foliage shade container by Leigh Barnes- ferns, hakonechloa grass, helleborus, creeping fig, heuchera

It is an overused phrase, but it really describes the process well. For a pot 18 inches in diameter, you would need about 5 to 10 plants. Of the selected plants, use a tall architectural one, a couple of fillers, and a couple of spillers. Be wary of stuffing too much in so that plants have room to grow. Or for instant impact, stuff away and you can edit as plants get larger.

Window Boxes

Shade Windowbox
Shade windowbox with begonia ‘Bonfire’

 

Succulent window box
Succulent window box

Planting window boxes uses 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 for sun and shade, and the new begonia ‘Bonfire’ is valuable for bright color in the shade .

Silver Falls at Chanticleer in the ruin

Textures

When 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.

Good textural contrast and variety-bubblegum petunia, variegated ginger, black and blue salvia, plectranthus, secretsea
More textural variety

Cannas and Caladiums -Focal Points

A variegated canna as a focal point

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. But be careful when you plant these as they are very sensitive to cold. Make sure the nights keep above at least 50 degrees before setting these out.

 

Coleus

Varieties of coleus
Varieties of coleus

The Coleus on the market now are not your grandmother’s Coleus! Many of these new varieties are designed 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 striking foliage. I prefer not to let Coleus flower as the flowers detract from the foliage beauty, and when they appear, I pinch them off.

A beautiful Coleus – I forget the name!
Partial shade container in old fashioned lead pot-coleus, dragon wing begonia, fuschia, sweet potato vine, geranium

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 literally drown from lack of Oxygen! 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 root mass clogged drainage holes.

Inserting a metal rod in a clogged drainage hole
Inserting a metal rod in a clogged drainage hole

Added 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!

Grouping

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. Also, if you are doing pollinator friendly pots, grouping them makes it easier for butterflies, bees, and hummingbirds to find them.

A large grouping at the National Arboretum in D.C.
Great color combo-coleus, trailing petunia, lotus vine, verbena, silver falls, black and blue salvia
Don’t be afraid to plant just one kind of sensational plant in a container – here it is oleander

 

Containers With Pizazz ! Not Your Ordinary Container!

Same container grown in

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.

Succulents in containers
More succulents – you rarely have to water these containers

Artful Containers

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!

Beautiful colors from Van Gogh painting
Vase with Red Gladioli, 1886, Private collecti...
Vase with Red Gladioli, 1886, Private collection (F247) This painting represents some of Van Gogh’s early Paris still life, where he introduced brighter, contrasting color. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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.

Seasonal container

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.

Attractive composite containers planted with shrubs and flowers
A great little trailer- Silver Fall

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.

Container in full summer glory

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.

A favorite coleus for punching up the color
A favorite coleus for punching up the color

Window Boxes

Succulent window box
Succulent window box

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.

Silver Falls at Chanticleer in the ruin

Textures

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.

Good textural contrast and variety
More textural variety

Cannas and Caladiums

Canna indica 'Edulis'
Canna indica ‘Edulis’ (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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.

Canna Crozy Group 'Albèric', Pfitzer 1949
Canna Crozy Group ‘Albèric’, Pfitzer 1949 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The foliage of Cannas is their best attribute but some varieties have beautiful flowers also.

One of my full shade containers-shade is not boring!
Plant canopy (Caladium bicolor 'Florida Sweeth...
Plant canopy (Caladium bicolor ‘Florida Sweetheart’) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Coleus

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.

A beautiful Coleus – I forget the name!
Partial shade container in old fashioned lead pot

Maintenance-Nip and Tuck!

Snail Watering Can
Snail Watering Can (Photo credit: dog.happy.art)

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!

Grouping

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.

A large grouping at the National Arboretum in D.C.
Great color combo
Don’t be afraid to plant just one kind of sensational plant in a container – here it is oleander

Containers With Pizazz ! Not Your Ordinary Container!

Same container grown in

Finesse With Containers

Updated April, 2016 

I create containers for clients all the time and am always looking for inspiration to move away from the “geraniums with spike and trailer”  school of thought. With a little more planning and shopping, you can come up with a showplace masterpiece with WOW impact. For pollinator containers, go to Nectar in a Pot- Movable Feast 

Pink Polka Dot Plant has pretty foliage for the shade
Succulents are a good choice if you don’t want to water everyday

Artful Containers

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!

Beautiful colors from Van Gogh painting
Early spring container by Leigh Barnes
Early spring container planted with Tulips, Daffodils, Violas, Grape Hyacinth, Salvia, and Nemesia
Vase with Red Gladioli, 1886, Private collecti...
Vase with Red Gladioli, 1886, Private collection (F247) This painting represents some of Van Gogh’s early Paris still life, where he introduced brighter, contrasting color. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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 ability 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. For All Season Containers, go to my post on adding and subtracting plants for all season interest.

Seasonal container planted with Autum Fern, Mum, Ivy, Kale, Miscanthus, and Helichrysum

Large Containers Are Best

Choose a large enough container to avoid constantly watering it during long hot 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.

Attractive composite containers planted with shrubs and flowers
A great little trailer- Silver Falls or Dichondra, also, Sweet Potato Vine, Ginger, Petunia, and Verbena

Good Soil – Good Plants

Soil or potting medium can make or break your container. Use a more expensive potting medium that has an organic mix of compost, sphagnum 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.

Container in full summer glory

Plants – Dress It Up

Placement of the container is key to what plants you select.  Notice if the site will get all day or part-day sunlight, or will be in mostly shade.  Shady container plants are just as colorful as sunny ones with careful selection of vibrant foliage. Go to the nursery and ask a knowledgeable employee for suggestions on varieties.  For any situation,  you want something tall for the back- a thriller, like a grass or Canna or Caladium, a filler-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 phrase, but it really describes the process well. For a pot 18 inches in diameter, you would need approximately 5 to 9 plants. Of your chosen 5 plants, use a tall architectural one, a couple of fillers, and a couple of spillers. Aim for a variety of foliage sizes and textures so that each plant stands out.

Shade Container
Shade Container

Window Boxes

Unusual window box
Unusual window box

Planting window boxes uses 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 window boxes.

Silver Falls at Chanticleer in the ruin

Textures

When 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.

Good textural contrast and variety
Good textural variety

Cannas and Caladiums

Aug 20 034
Caladium

Cannas are good selections for 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.

Coleus

PicMonkey Collage

The Coleus on the market now are not your grandmother’s Coleus! Bred for both sun and shade, these plants come in a veritable kaleidoscope of colors. 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 striking foliage with endless color combos.. I prefer not to let Coleus flower as the flowers detract from the foliage beauty, and when they appear, I remove them.

A beautiful Coleus – I forget the name!
Partial shade container in old fashioned lead pot

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.  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!

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. Pollinators like hummingbirds, bees, and butterflies will more easily locate plant groupings. Go to Nectar in a Pot-Movable Feast to check out my pollinator container ideas.

A large grouping at the National Arboretum in D.C.
Great color combo
Don’t be afraid to plant just one kind of sensational plant in a container – here it is oleander