Container Gardens Go WildTuesday, December 7thObjective:Find out how combinations of flowers, fruits, vegetables and/or herbs and the right soils cancreate attractive patios, decks, and tabletops but also quick sources of food. Tips fordesigning a container garden in this class will introduce successful traditional and non-traditional garden possibilities. 1. Inspiration: Photo journey through container garden dreams – beyond the everyday into the world of fantasy 2. Style considerations: color, texture, geometry, location 3. Location: sun, shade, patio, porch, garage 4. Beyond pots – containers but also awesome potsBasics 1. Pot placement 2. Pot selection – style, garden, traditional, new-age or whim, 3. Thirsty pots and plants – water strategies and drainage 4. Soil or no soil -- does the pot need a diet plan, how heavy is it? 5. Hungry plants – slow release fertilizers 6. Pot feet?Planting 1. Design 2. Selection 3. Likes and opposites – getting together 4. Soil recipes 5. MulchGoals 1. Butterflies 2. Hummingbirds 3. Succulents 4. Food – seed, seedlings, woodyMaintenance 1. Constant chow 2. A little nip 3. Alien watch 4. Hurricanes, Grasshoppers, and WinterDemonstrations and videos throughout presentationBottomline: Prepare to take risks and replace if necessary.
To create a beautiful container garden, landscape designer Jan Johnsen recommends using plants with contrasting leaftextures and varying growth habits. She suggests three different kinds of plants to a pot, including a tall element in themiddle like a tree and a trailing plant over the edge to droop over the sides. Or try the no-fail method of sticking to onekind of plant, like impatiens or straw flower.Color is also key: A pot can be filled with soft, romantic colors like pink and lavender, or bold hues like red and purple.Johnsen says an eye-catching combination is a pot of primary colors red, blue and yellow. Or a monochromatic look, suchas all white flowers with lots of green foliage, will brighten up a shady corner.Johnsen, nursery manager Michele Terlizzi and Ray Rogers, author of "Pots in the Garden," had these 10 tips for plantingand caring for container gardens:1. Decide where the pots are going. The choice of plantings depends on whether theyre going in shady or sunny spots.2. Choose pots that suit the style of your house and garden or a whim, and plantings to go in them. Plants can share acontainer if they have the same need for sunlight or shade.3. While pots are generally low maintenance, they require more watering than an inground garden because the plantsabsorb water faster. If you are going on vacation, invest in a plant sitter to water once or twice a week.4. Add a slow-release fertilizer to help plants continue blooming all summer.5. Watch the weight: Once a pot is planted, it can get heavy and collapse a deck or be difficult to move.6. Make sure the pot has a hole for drainage, which prevents root rot. Most, but not all, pots come with holes. A hole canbe drilled into certain types of pots like plastic and wood.7. Add pot feet to raise the pot to help with drainage.8. Try different combinations in your pots. If you dont like it, you can easily change it.9. Fear not: "Dont be afraid to make a mistake," says Rogers. "The thing I see so much is people come into a nursery andvery timidly say, Does this look good together? If you like it, by all means do it."10. If youre working with a landscape designer or nursery to create your pots, ask for the rates and to see a sample oftheir work. Some nurseries dont charge to plant the pots if you buy the materials from them; others do.With a container garden, you can grow something even where space is limited, add instant “curb appeal” to yourlandscape, or just ease into gardening cautiously. And, of course, every container garden can also be a small contributionto the environment.DryingSize matters when picking out the container. A large pot for several plants is a better investment than several small potswith one plant each. Small pots dry out quickly, but larger ones seem stabilize by creating their own ecosystem. Thematerial of the container affects its drying rate, too. A plastic, wooden (with liner), or glazed ceramic container will keepthe soil moist longer than a terra cotta or concrete container, unless a liner is available.Drainage • If your chosen container does not have a hole in the bottom, some nurseries will drill one for you. The container will drain best if it is not sitting directly on a surface. Place it on smooth flat stones for elegant ‘legs’, on a tray holding pea gravel, or on a dolly with casters. Inside the container, add a sheet of porous landscape fabric, or an inch or so gravel or pot shards to keep the soil from leaking through the hole. Fill the container with good potting soil. Soil directly from the garden is too heavy. • Plan for the top of the soil to be an inch below the rim of the container after the plants are in.PlantingGardeners used to be concerned primarily with what looked pretty and survived in Houston, but now we also considerwhether it supports wildlife, can be eaten by humans, and is not an invasive species. In warm weather and a sunnylocation, try basil, mint, perilla, lemon grass, or lemon verbena together with insect-attracting plants like pentas, salvias,black-eyed susan and coreopsis. In cool weather, you can plant chard, cilantro, parsley, arugula or dill together withpoppies, calendula, nasturtiums, and paperwhites. Some of the herbs have varieties with showy purple or striped leaves.Thyme and oregano look nice draping over the side of a pot, and varieties of eggplant, chili peppers, and leaf lettuces areas attractive as any ornamental plant.If you don’t want to change plants by season or prefer simplicity, consider planting a small or dwarf variety of citrus, apple,or fig in your container. Urban Harvest list ideal fruit tree varieties for Houstonat http://www.urbanharvest.org/advice/fruitgardening.html. A selection of perennial Texas natives in a large containercould include salvias, manfreda, Lindheimer muhly grass, coreopsis, winecup, switchgrass, and lazy daisy.MaintenanceSynthetic fertilizers, among their other faults, cause a buildup of salts in the soil of the container. It’s another reason touse organics. Save some rainwater for your container garden. It will help flush out minerals left behind by tap water.
Mulch will protect the plant roots, just as in a garden bed. Look for hardwood mulch made here in Houston from local treewaste. For style points, you might try a layer of tumbled recycled glass in a container where plants are not changed often.Now that the burn of summer is easing, a container garden is a good way to kick off the next planting season.What makes a successful container garden? A good potting soil is the first key ingredient; you want a mixture thatprovides a good combination of excellent drainage and aeration. Regular garden soil is too heavy and dense for use inpots."Look for professional on the label," suggests Dr. Susan Hamilton, who oversees the University of Tennessee Gardens."That word puts the potting soil in a whole different category. Youll be paying a little bit more, but it will be high quality. Ifyour container garden fails, it wont be because of the potting soil." To tell whether the potting soil has the rightconsistency, give it the squeeze test. "If it feels like pastry dough, yet it still crumbles, thats a good sign."Many growers like to mix their own and prefer particular blends. "Every greenhouse manager has his or her favoritepotting soil recipe, and each thinks theirs is the one to use," she says. Here, says Hamilton, are three great recipes:Mix #12 parts peat: 1 part perlite: 1 part builders sandMix #22 parts peat: 1 part builders sandMix #31 part peat: 1 part builders sand: 1 part pine-bark mulchIs it really worth it to mix your own if youre a typical backyard gardener? "No," Hamilton says."When you look at price and volume versus what you really need, you usually have a lot of material left over. Besides,bagged soils are pretty cost-effective because all the guesswork has been taken out of it. Professional blends havealready been charged with starter nutrients and pH adjusted. If you were going to do that part on your own, oh my, it getscomplicated."More great advice from the experts:M Select plants that are compatible in terms of light, water, growth and the conditions in the chosen site. Dont mix ashade- and water-lover like impatiens with a dry-and-sunny plant like thyme. Some plants like mint are such aggressivegrowers they need a pot of their own.g Pay close attention to watering. For containers in sunny, hot or windy areas, watering twice a day may be necessary. Aplant that has outgrown its pot will also need more frequent watering.p Consider using a water-absorbing polymer; it will improve the moisture retention of the potting soil. Follow thedirections on the package.d Top-dress with mulch and a slow-release fertilizer. Youll be reducing the evaporation rate as well as eliminatingregular feedings.Make Your Own Hypertufa ContainerHypertufa looks like stone but weighs less and takes whatever shape you wantby Michelle Gervais Photo/Illustration: Michelle Gervais
Containers made from hypertufa are wonderful for displaying rock-garden plants or succulents. Over time,the hypertufa ages gracefully, collecting a patina of mosses and lichens. In this article you will find therecipe and instructions for making hypertufa.The process I use to mold containers is much simpler that the usual box-in-box method that sandwicheshypertufa and some metal mesh in a frame. Instead, I simply pack hypertufa around an overturned plasticpot or planter. And because its so easy to work with, hypertufa can be molded into many sizes andshapes.Wondering what to plant in your new container? Browse our plant guide or check out more articleson container gardening. To read more about hypertufa, click here.Supplies• mixing tub• container for measuring• peat moss• perlite• Portland cement• concrete reinforcing fibers• dust mask• rubber gloves• trowel• plastic drop cloth• plastic container for a mold• wire brushThe recipe1 part Portland cement1 1/2 parts sphagnum peat moss1 1/2 parts perliteTo add strength, I add a small handful of fibermesh, a synthetic concrete reinforcing fiber, to each batch,which is easier to work with than sheets of wire mesh embedded in the hypertufa. You can find fibermeshat masonry-supply stores or online.Five easy stepsStep 1 —Measure and mix the peat moss, perlite, cement, and a small handful of reinforcing fibers in your tub.You’ll kick up plenty of dust at this stage, so be sure to wear your dust mask.Add the water while stirring with your trowel. Test the consistency frequently, as it’s much easier to addwater than it is to readjust the dry ingredients. When a squeezed handful retains its shape and doesn’trelease more than a few drops of water, the mix is ready.1. Create a vignetteA triangle always worksContainers can be grouped into vignettes the same way plants can. A triangular arrangement of pots willproduce quick, pleasing results. In design terms, a triangle consists of a dominant central element flankedby components of smaller stature. This form is a staple of all art forms for good reason: It always works.
Allow one pot to dominateA container grouping will quickly fall into place if the tallest element is placed at the rear of thecomposition with the other pots on either side. Plant the tall container with something appropriatelycommanding so it will dominate the groupingTake it as far as you wantTo expand on the classic triangle grouping, simply add more subordinate pots. While no hard-and fastrules exist concerning how many to use, it is easier to arrange uneven numbers into a pleasing pattern. A triangle always works: A colorful hibiscus serves as the apex of a triangularcomposition completed by subordinate elements placed slightly in front and to the side. Allow one pot to dominate: If you have two containers of similar stature, raise oneon a pedestal to give it prominence. Photo/Illustration: Virginia Small Take it as far as yoy want: This complex grouping creates an irregular triangle andincludes pots of all sizes, a plant stand, and a whimsical sculpture. Photo/Illustration: Jennifer Benner
2. Add focal pointsProvide something to look atThe purpose of a focal point is to attract attention. If you are burdened with an area where nothingadequately does this job, a container will quickly fill the void. Because they can be planted and replantedwith colorful, eye-catching plants, containers have an advantage over inground combinations.Create coherence in mixed plantingsThe opposite of having nothing to look at is having too much to look at. Often in a mixed border, therecan be so much going on that one isn’t sure where to look first. Adding a focal point provides a sense oforder to such scenes.3. Break up wall spaceMasses calm a busy backgroundThe rigid, repetitive pattern of a brick wall can be tiring on the eye. But when blurred by lush masses offoliage and colorful flowers, the lines of mortar recede. The terra-cotta pots echo the warm color of thebrick. The clusters of bright red flowers contrast with the darker orange and the greens of the foliage,bringing the whole scheme to life.Fine texture stands out against a plain wallA plain, unadorned wall can dominate an area with its monotony and mass. One can take advantage ofthese features by using them as a backdrop for fine-textured foliage that can often get lost on a largescale. The photo at right shows how simple means can achieve a beautiful effect. Large pots of small treeswith fine foliage are evenly spaced along a perfectly plain wall. A border of wispy ornamental grassreinforces the container plantings so that, together, they hold their own against the bulk of the wall.Saturated colors work with a light backdropUnadorned with plants, this white wall would dominate the area with glaring brightness. But as thebackground for a dense, complex arrangement of forms and colors, it is perfect.Growing plants in containers is one of my favorite ways to garden. Come August, however, I’ve had it withdeadheading and lugging watering cans. Last spring, when I was preparing to pot up my containers, thememory of spent, sticky nicotiana blossoms clinging to my fingertips came rushing back, and I wondered—is all this fuss and fluff worth it? Do containers really need that much care, or is it just a lot of hype?That’s when I decided to embark on an experiment. I planted several sets of identical containers and gaveone pot in each set only water and the other the royal treatment: fertilizer, primping, and pruning.By midsummer, it was clear that containers need more than just water. The water-only containers lookedpathetic: The plants were puny, had few flowers, and their leaves were often an unhealthy yellow. Thecontainers given more TLC thrived with abundant growth and flowers. The moral of the story is that aregular-maintenance checklist is the best way to get great-looking containers from beginning to end. Nowthat I know that all of the work really does pay off, it makes the rewards that much sweeter.More ReadingA Basic Potting Soil RecipeRoot Pruning Container PlantsHow to Repot Container PlantsThrillers, Fillers & Spillers
1. Provide a steady supply of water and nutrientsThe warm temperatures of summer send plants into a growing frenzy. If they don’t have access toadequate water and nutrients, they will be stunted and sickly. Watering can be a bit of a balancing act:too much or too little and your plantings will suffer. My strategy is to water containers thoroughly whenthe soil surface becomes dry to the touch. During the hottest part of the summer, this can mean wateringat least every day. I add water to each pot until I see it draining from the bottom, which ensures thatmoisture has reached the deepest roots. I also avoid watering at the end of the day. Without sunlight andwarmth to evaporate moisture on leaves, the foliage stays wet longer, making it more susceptible to foliardiseases.Given nothing but water all season long, this container looks acceptable until compared with the pot that gotthe star treatment (right).This container has the same plants grown in the same location as the one on the left. Its exuberant growth andplethora of flowers testify to the benefits of complete and consistent care.
Most gardeners fill their pots with soilless mixes, which lack organic matter and nutrients. To provideplants with the food they need, I give my containers a regular dose of fertilizer. I add a balanced,granular, synthetic or organic, time-released fertilizer to the potting mix at planting time. This will slowlyfeed the plants for the next few months. Because container plants are heavy feeders, I also begin feedingthe pots with water-soluble fertilizer, which roots can take up instantly, about a month after planting. Imix the liquid fertilizer at half strength—because the soil already contains granular fertilizer—and apply itat watering time every two to three weeks until the end of the season.You get what you giveThis container received routine watering and fertilizing.With only an occasional visit from the watering can, this container cant compete with the one on the left.
2. Snip off spent flowers and unsightly foliageI give my containers a good primping every week or so. Deadheading faded blossoms and removingdamaged or diseased leaves and stems not only keeps plants looking good but also keeps them productiveand healthy. Deadheading redirects a plant’s energy from seed production back into flower production.When snipping off blooms, cut flower stems back to a leaf node or main stem. Do not leave any unsightlyheadless or leafless stems.Removing problem leaves back to the main stem is also important. If an entire stem is damaged ordiseased, cut it back to the nearest healthy growing point or all the way back to the base. It’s best toremove disfigured leaves and stems as soon as you notice them. Injuries attract insects and encouragediseases. Many container plants like pelargoniums, also known as annual geraniums (Pelargonium spp.and cvs.), have a tendency to develop a fungal disease called botrytis on their lower leaves. Don’t be shyabout digging deep into plantings to look for problems. Likewise, take a peek under your trailing plants,and remove any brown or tattered foliage.3. Prune plants back into shape
Two or three times a season, I snip my containers back into shape. Some plants grow more vigorouslythan others, so I cut aggressive plants back to size to keep my plantings balanced. I have a tendency tooverplant, so when I see a pot getting crowded, I remove a stem here or there to be sure the containergets enough air circulation to stay healthy. If you have the opposite problem and your planting is not fullenough, pruning the tips of a few stems back a bit will encourage them to bush out.Some plants need a total overhaul by midsummer. If a plant is appearing less productive and attractiveoverall, I cut all the stems back by as much as half to a leaf node or growing point. The plant is usually upand running again in a couple of weeks. If the idea of cutting the whole plant back intimidates you, do itgradually over three weeks by cutting one-third of the stems back each week. Avoid pruning your plantsduring the heat of the day, which is stressful for the plant. Prune them, instead, in the morning or eveningwhile the stems are firm yet bendable.Don’t be a slave to wateringKeeping up with watering is one of the most important factors in beautiful containers, but sometimes itseems like it’s a never-ending job. Here are a few things you can do to lessen the load.Use saucers to save water for laterI often place saucers under containers that are located in hot, sunny locations to help the soil retainmoisture longer. The saucers also help when the soil is so dry that water just runs off the surface. Byhaving water sit in the saucer, the overly dry soil has a chance to wick up and absorb the moisture. Iavoid placing saucers under pots that are located in shady sites as they can keep the pots too damp, thuskilling the plants. For the same reason, I also remove the saucers during particularly rainy spells.Choose the right potThe type of container you use also influences how often you’ll need to water. Terra-cotta pots are porousand tend to dry out quickly, while glazed, plastic, or metal pots hold more moisture.Mix in some magic crystalsMoisture-retaining soil additives can minimize the need to water. In years with excessive rain or with potslocated in shade, however, the soil tends to stay too moist.