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Tips for fabulous container gardens

I could make container gardens all day long. There’s such a breath of material out there for every season, and you can really get creative with combinations of plants. Containers are wonderful for small garden areas, such as patios to punch up the color when perennials fade, as a focal point in a formal garden or sitting area, or flocking an entry.

  1. First start with an interesting container—just about anything will do—from an ornate garden urn to an old rusty bucket. Try to choose a container that fits the space. If you’re flocking the entry to a barn, you’ll want something casual, like a whisky barrel. If you’re making a statement in a formal boxwood garden, you’ll want something regal and elegant that will draw the eye toward a focal point.

  2. Next choose plants with complementary colors and textures. I try to pick plants that have three distinct characteristics when doing a basic container or window box: (1) tall and spiky, (2) flowing and draping, and (3) bulky and colorful.

  3. Pick plants that like similar conditions like lighting and watering. If your area is shady, you might pick begonias, shade grasses, coleous and impatiens. If the conditions are all day sun, pick plants such as petunias, miscanthius, vibernum and potato vines. You’ll have more choice in terms of blooming plants for sunny spots, but you can use a lot of texture in shady spots.

  4. Stay in one color palette. If you like cool colors, stay with the blues and purples. For hot colors combine yellows, oranges and reds. For my fall planters I combine purple kale, with deep purple pansies, dwarf grasses and wooly fern. I like to use cool colors where I entertain — on the patio. For the front entry, I like to use color — so I stay with hot colors, such as orange toned grasses, green kale, yellow pansies, orange mums and interesting ivies.

  5. Fill the bottom of the container with drainage, especially if the container has no holes. My staff can tell you I don’t like to throw anything away. I’ll fill the bottom of a container with broken shards of clay pots, scrap stone—anything that will allow water to run off under the soil. I fill the container about 1/3 full of the drainage material. Then fill with a potting soil. Always replace the soil with new potting soil when redoing a container, since many plants become root-bound in a container. They will also drain the old soil of nutrients, so it’s best to always replace with new soil.

  6. Start from the center of the container and work your way out. I work my way around the container and try to create balance on all sides, planting the same plants across from each other, not side by side. If the container will only be seen from one to three sides, start with the back of the container and put the tallest plants in back. Work your way to the front using the lowest plants in front and draping plants on the sides.

  7. Want more robust blooms? I pot with Miracle Grow potting soil. It’s easy to work with and already contains fertilizer. If my container needs more color, I’ll supplement with a bloom booster fertilizer throughout the season. I also constantly deadhead the spent blooms, to encourage new growth.

These tips will help you create fabulous, long lasting containers.

Send Jan Peterson an email with your gardening question:

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Past Articles

Five Easy Steps to Beautiful Orchids

The Cabin Fever Cure — Easy To Grow House Plants

Tips for Fabulous Container Gardens

Fail-safe Perennials for Sun (Part 1)

Fail-safe Perennials for Shade (Part 2)

Spring Gardening Tips

Fall Clean Up Tips


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