Container gardening 2 – Getting the job done

By Laxmi Natarajan
In the concluding segment of our article on container gardening, we look at what kind of plants and plant arrangements are suitable for containers and how best to look after them.

Once we have selected our containers and decided where to place them it’s time for a trip to the nursery.

Choose the right plants
The most important thing while choosing plants is to consider whether it is going to be in the sun or shade.  Choose plants that have the same cultural requirements for light and water.   If you have the containers at home already, it is a good idea to have pictures of your pots (with the sizes written down) when you shop for the plants. You can either use a similar pot at the store or buy the plants and the containers at the same time to check and see how the plants look in the container.

Putting the plants together
When you go to the nursery, it can be confusing to most of us when we see so many different plants equally attractive.   I have some simple design strategies that can used to create a professional looking arrangement.

The simplest of all would be to use a one plant per pot arrangement
Typically we would use plants that are big, have color and structure and hold up on their own.  A lot of perennials like lavender, coreopsis, penstemmon, phormium, red fountain grass, palms petunias, geraniums, hostas, bamboos, camellias, dwarf citrus make great candidates for a one plant per pot arrangement.  The number of plants can be more than one but it will be of the same kind.  For example you can plant an entire pack of pony pack or multiple 4” pots of begonia in a single larger pot.

Three plants in a pot arrangement: Here we use three types of plants, a thriller, a filler and a spiller.  Thriller would be a vertical plant with lot of structure and color and gives some height to the arrangement. The filler is shorter than the thriller and will fill the pot. The spiller is a plant that will spill over the sides of the pot and hang down. Here we vary the form of the plant materials;  tall linear species to add height; mounded species to add mass; and low growing, cascading species to fill in, add depth, and soften the edges of the containers.  If this is easy then you can graduate to having more number of plantings in your arrangement.

Thriller plants: Phormiums, Silver grass, red fountain grass,
Filler plants: Nemesia , artemesia, lavendar, lobelia
Spiller plants: Bacopa, million bells, thyme, hanging fuschias, verbena

Pots with a theme:
Build a herb garden with basil, chives, coriander, oregano, lemongrass and a pot of mint
Create a small salad pot with lettuce, cherry tomatoes and radishes.
Create a salsa pot with some jalapeno peppers, some early-girl or heirloom tomatoes and maybe some onion plants.
Have a pot full of annuals for the season that welcomes visitors at your doorstep

Some general design tips.
-Keep the color scheme simple. Do not have all the colors at the same time.  Limiting the scheme to 3 main colors at most gives you a put together look. You can use any combination (high contrast, monochromatic, a single color with different shades , cool colors, warm colors) that works for your sense of style and for your site. Choose the plants based on when and how long they bloom. 

-Repetition of the same scheme in multiple pots can create a statement. Repeat color at regular intervals around the outside of a round container or along the length of a long rectangular container. Repeat color in several containers to "tie" them together. Graceful lines of plant leaves add flow and rhythm.  Having similar combinations in different areas can create harmony in the yard.

-Having coarse, medium, and fine textured plants together can add visual interest. Use variation and gradation of form and texture.

-Use bigger or more plants in larger containers, and less and  smaller plants in small containers.  Rule of thumb is the height of the tallest plant should not exceed 1X-2X the height of the container excluding pedestals and "air-fairy" sprigs.  It always works better if you use odd numbers – one, three, five or seven plants or plugs of each cultivar.

Maintenance Procedures
Watering: The most common problem with container gardens is too little or too much water. Because the volume of soil is relatively small, containers can dry out very quickly, especially on a concrete patio or in full sun. Daily, or sometimes even twice daily watering may be necessary.  Learn to use your fingers to gauge the need for water, then apply enough to run through the drainage holes in the bottom of the container. This assures that the soil is thoroughly and uniformly wet and that excess salts are washed from the soil. Always make provisions for water drainage.  Do not allow the pots to sit in the water(little riser steps for the pots that are available are great things to use to avoid this problem. . It will cause root damage because there will be no oxygen in the soil, and it will cause a build-up of salts that can be toxic to plants. You could also invest in a water gauge that you can stick into the soil and it will indicate whether the soil is dry or moist.  Invest in a drip system that waters the plants automatically.  These are fairly easy to install and relatively inexpensive.  A lot of do-it-yourself kits are available in the garden stores.

Regular fertilizing: Follow the direction on the packages or sometime I like to do it more frequently but half the dosage than what is recommended on the packages.

Keeping them clean: Remove dead flowers and dry leaves all the time and keep the pots clean. When flowers and foliage start to fade on filler plants such as annuals and bulbs, replace the plants, adding fresh potting mix and controlled-release fertilizer before replanting.

My daughter once came back from school and told me Mom did you know that there is a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.  I told her of course there is and come to think of it I feel that to me my pot of gold is the pot of dirt that lets me have beautiful gardens.  Here is to happy gardening and happy growing. You can reach me at Bagicha for your garden questions and more information. 

The plants and pots in this article were provided by Wegman’s Nursery, Woodside Rd, California.
For the first pa
rt of this article, go here .

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