Containers bring added beauty to your garden

Barbara Mrgich
Adams County Master Gardener

(2/17) Tired of cold, dreary weather? This is prime planning time for your 2018 garden! For extra splash, learn to use containers wisely. Here are a few things to consider when planning.

Containers bring instant color to bare spots

If your garden is lacking color, a large container bursting with colorful annual flowers or bright foliage plants can have a huge impact. A big advantage of containers is that they are moveable, especially if you use one made from the wide array of synthetic materials used today to produce planters. They are both lightweight and very strong and tough and will not crack if left outside all winter. They come in replicas of stone, ceramic and terra cotta containers, but are much less costly. You can move a container into an area and enjoy instant beauty in any season.

Add color in dry shade

It is often very difficult to grow anything in shade under a tree because the tree wins the competition for water and nutrients. A group of containers can add interest and beauty to a plain mulched area. Try raising one to vary the height or combining the containers with a piece of garden art such as a glass gazing ball, or a large urn. Artists tell us that uneven numbers are always more pleasing to the eye. Try thinking in terms of three or five items.

Add color and beauty on hardscape

For color and beauty on a patio or deck, the obvious solution is containers. Placing them near a water source makes daily watering more convenient. Many vegetables flourish in containers. Likewise, colorful containers really dress up an entranceway. You can grow anything from bright annuals, to shrubs and small trees.

Harness aggressive plants

Containers are great for "containing" plants that like to roam all over your garden. Many herbs, especially mint, fall into this category, and are often grown in pots for this reason.

Add a focal point to any flower garden

Within a full garden, one colorful container on a raised pedestal will add a focal point and a sophisticated touch. Be careful simply setting a pot on a pedestal. A strong wind can easily come along and blow it off. If the pedestal is hollow, as many are, try drilling a hole through the center of its top, then pounding a rebar through both the pot and pedestal deep into the soil.

Fewer problems with pests

My potted hostas are never eaten by slugs. Rabbits have a tougher time reaching your tender annuals especially if you raise the pot off the ground.

One big disadvantage of containers

Plants in containers rely on you for water and nutrition. Most containers need to be watered every day, and, in general, need regular fertilizer. In other words, they are constant maintenance. However, that "maintenance" only needs to take a couple minutes each day and yields great results! Also, small irrigation systems are available which can feed all the pots in a group at the same time. Connected to a timer, you can leave on your vacation worry-free.

Always group plants with the same requirements

Before planting, always make sure you know your plantís light and water needs. Plants needing full sun will languish, flop, and get leggy in the shade. Plants needing the protection of shade will burn up in full sun. Combining the two in the same pot will probably prove disappointing.

Most planters need to be watered every day, but a planter of succulents can go a long time without added water. Daily watering will rot succulents. Keep this in mind if you like the idea of containers, but don't want to water it every day.

One hard and fast rule

Every container MUST have drainage. If your planter does not drain, your plants will rot. You have probably successfully placed a pot with a hole inside a planter without a drainage hole for your house plants to protect your furniture and floors. That plant in the same situation outside will die because the planter will hold the rainwater and the plant will drown. Always remember, when you pour water in the top of an outdoor plant, it MUST run out the bottom!

Permanent containers

Try experimenting with using perennials in planters that last from year to year saving time, work, and expense. It is true that perennials are famous for a short bloom time, but there are quite a few that will give you extended bloom times, and several whose attractive foliage stays colorful all season.

Many plants that we think of as annuals, are perennial in warmer climates. Check their zone number on the tag. I grow several zone 7 plants in a container, that would freeze if grown in the ground. I simply move them into my unheated garage to give the plants a little extra protection, and to protect the pot if it is breakable. While there, I give them a very small amount of water about once a month.

Any plants rated zone 8 or above need to come into a cool. but heated area if you want to save them.

The fun part is experimenting with your own combinations. Try keeping a large pot partially planted in perennials, then adding a favorite annual or two in the spring. Let your imagination soar. Thatís the fun of gardening!

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