Contain Your Plants, But Not Your Enthusiasm

  • Difficulty Rating: Beginner
Contain Your Plants, But Not Your Enthusiasm

Containers are the superstars of the gardening world, and you are the director and producer of the show.

Containers are the superstars of the gardening world, and you are the director and producer of the show. Container plantings are more popular than ever, standing front and center on decks and patios, and in the limelight at the end of pathways. They are inserted in garden beds to refresh the space when other plants die or disappear during the heat of summer. Container plants even have their own descriptive language of thrillers, fillers and spillers first coined by Steve Silk in an article in Fine Gardening magazine from several years ago. The terms stuck, and that, my friend, is star quality.

Container plantings can be beautiful, but how can they be well balanced in style, color and growth? I’ll offer some simple guidelines.

What is your gardening style, or even better, what is the style of your home? Is it formal red brick, asking for a landscape with lots of boxwood and cast iron planters with green and white plants? Or does it have a 60s vibe which begs for a rock ‘n roll planting with bold color and modern design? English cottage style? Determining your style, along with that of your home, will dictate the type of container you choose and the plants placed within.

Through container gardening, we can continue to garden as we age. Choosing the right container to meet our needs is important too. You may love heavy, glazed pottery, but if so, choose one which doesn’t need to be moved often. Or, instead, opt for smaller and lighter weight options like this shallow, decorative planter from Fiskars. Resin planters are easier to handle even when full of potting soil and plants. Where will you place your container? Will it stand with another of the same type at the entryway of your home? Or, will it be a focal point at the end of a path? In a cluster near a pool or patio? Answer these questions first before ever choosing pot or plants.

Cobalt blue container--Dallas

To produce the best plantings, make sure the container you choose has plenty of room. Even if you have a small garden which needs a smaller container for scale, choose one with a wide opening for plants. This will give you more options.

Consider the type of weather your plant will endure. It makes a big difference whether you plant in full sun or shade, and whether the spot is wind-blown or sheltered. Don’t place a tall tree in a lightweight container in full wind unless you’re courting disaster.

Of course, your container must have a superstar plant placed in back or in the center to grab the spotlight. Pick something tall and cluster plants around it to disguise its stems with more plants to cascade over the sides of the pot for movement and romance. Or, you can use a cluster of pots to do the same thing.

Succulent grouping

Do not use garden soil. Instead, choose a soil-less potting mix specifically for containers which is high in organic matter for good drainage and water retention on those hot summer days. Successful containers also require food because water runs through the pot regularly--daily, or even twice a day in the south. Daniels® Plant Food makes an excellent, organic foliar food, as is Moo Poo Tea from Authentic Haven Brand. Both can be found in local garden centers or online.

Before planting, fill the container 3/4 of the way with potting soil and then set your plants in their nursery pots within the container so you can see how they will look. Move them around and choose how you want them to grow. Don’t worry too much about crowding because most containers will be changed out seasonally.

Through container gardening, your plants can be show stoppers so don’t contain your enthusiasm. Instead, use it and your imagination to construct containers that steal the show.