Sunday, June 6, 2010

Pots and Plants

Many people use annuals for all of their pots; annuals do well because they tend to have a long bloom period. But if you use a bigger pot and a variety of plants, you can still achieve steady bloom all season-and then right on through the winter. Not many annuals can do that! No plant is off limits; consider small trees, dwarf conifers, or shrubs with fall color, spring bloom or interesting shapes. Perennials are fantastic and diverse with varying bloom times for every season. Ornamental grasses provide structure and movement. Bulbs make lovely container plants and many are fragrant. Don’t forget edible plants for utility and beauty.

Whatever combination you choose, white potlook for  colors and textures of bloom, leaf, bark and fruit that please you and complement each other. Why not plant purple sage with a dark leaved geranium; or ‘Bright Lights’ Swiss chard with red twig dogwood and red leaved Bergenia; or white kale with blue fescue grass and white pansies? There are so many options, and so many beautiful combinations.

Try to select plants with similar cultural requirements to share a container. Cultural requirements include sun or shade, dry or wet, hardiness zone…But don’t stress; containers are, by nature, temporary. They are a great place to try out plant combinations before installing them in their permanent homes. Try color combinations that are totally unexpected. See how different foliage textures complement each other and create a design that is better than the sum of its parts. See what it actually means when a tag says “part shade.” If something doesn’t work, switch it out. A large part of the fun of containers is constantly improving on your design skills.

One design strategy that is Sw summer pinkparticularly effective in containers is called ‘color echo.’ Choose your plants so that part of one will echo the colors of another. For example, In this photo taken at Swanson’s Nursery, the magenta blooms of the Phygelius perfectly pick up the pink variegation in the leaves of the tri-color Hebe. It is a no fail way to unite your container while making it very diverse and interesting.

Another design principle is to consider the texture of your plants. A limited color scheme allows the textures of the plants to be of primary signiWM winter yellowficance. In this photo taken at Wells Medina Nursery,  there are no blooms at all in this group of pots, but there is considerable interest. The color palette is very limited-but look at the textures! Yucca ‘Color Guard’ has a bold, lance shaped leaf, Lonicera nitida ‘Baggeson’s Gold is tiny and ovate and Osmanthus ‘Goshiki’ is glossy and serrated. Contrast is provided by the dark, smooth, broad leaves of Bergenia. By the way, this photo was taken outside in mid November!

If you enjoy your perennial container enough to keep it for next year, give some thought to overwintering. Herbaceous perennials by definition die to the ground in winter and return the next spring. If you plan to keep the container in view of the house, make sure you have plenty of woody or evergreen specimens to provide interest in the winter. You can also opt to move some of the summer blooming herbaceous plants out of the container and into the garden for next year and refresh the container with plants that bloom in winter or early spring. (How about bulbs?)

A popular and easy recipe for successful container plant combinations has three components: thrillers, fillers and spillers. Every container should have a centerpiece that is big and bold; that is your thriller. Put that in the center if the pot will be seen from all sides. If you are planting a pot that will be up against a wall or a fence, plant your thriller in the back. Surround that with your filler plants; of course, the spillers go next to the rim where they can cascade down when they get big enough.

Place your plants still in their pots into the container to decide how you want to position them. This is a great idea when you are planting in the garden as well. Sometimes I will try a new plant in several locations-for several days-before I install it. I still end up moving plants multiple times which is a great source of amusement for my husband. He cautions me to never buy a plant that doesn’t come with its own little suitcase because he can guarantee that it is not going to stay in one place for long.

Once you have the plants positioned to your satisfaction, take them out of the pots. If you have a plant that is root bound, there will be very little soil and many roots when you take it out of the pot. If that happens, loosen the roots with your fingers and, if necessary, cut the roots in several places to allow them to spread out into the soil. The minimal damage you do will actually encourage the plant to put out new roots deep into the good soil. Once the plants are in place, fill in with your soilless mix and tamp down to set the plants firmly in place. Remember, we want at least 2” from the top of the soil to the rim of the pot so that the water won’t spill over the rim before it has a chance to soak in. when all is in place, water your container well.

My next post will fill you in on how to maintain, now that you’ve contained.

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