In Garden Tips, General

When there aren’t any beds in which to plant, one may have no choice but to depend on containers for beauty.

Now that summer is in full swing, our thoughts turn to adding some color to our gardens It can be a bit tricky though since in order to have healthy plants you first need healthy soil and that is no walk in the park, at least not here in Knoxville, Tennessee. There are many places in our garden where when the first shovel of soil is turned, our first thoughts may be “just how might I make a brick or two from this heavy, orange clay?” Yikes!

Most all of our soils need some sort of amendment (and I think I’ve already hit you over the head with how proud we are of our compost bin in a past post). So, what to do if you want a splash of color but don’t want or can’t dig? Containers! And the more the merrier (perhaps up to a point). Growing plants in containers has many benefits. The first being that they are portable. Unless you choose a massive container, these portable plant communities can be moved from sun to shade or vice versa. If you find your plants are struggling to bloom, move the container to where it gets more sun. THEN you may relocate temporarily to where your guests gather (maybe in a shady, cooler part of the garden) and then move it back the sunnier area(s) after your entertaining is over.

Containers can be goofy or grand, depending on your mood.

Another benefit to container gardening is that you much more control over the soil composition and moisture. Often when a plant’s leave come into contact with regular soil in your beds, it becomes easier for fungus, pests and diseases to grab ahold and travel up the leaves to the main plant and do some damage. Most planting media for containers has been manufactured in a more controlled way and then mixed with perlite or vermiculite (additives for drainage and improved soil texture.

There are many brands of potting soil and my only advice would be to try to get some from a reputable garden center. I’m sure the big box stores sell some good stuff but there is one brand that comes in a green and yellow bag that I tend to avoid as it seems quite difficult to get wet. Not impossible but challenging. Also consider the volume of a container to be filled. For a really deep container it can take a lot of soil to fill it completely. I’m a bit frugal when it comes to filling these completely (plus they can also weigh a ton!) so I’ve been known in the past to cap and place empty plastic bottles in the bottom (this can also help with drainage) and THEN filling the remainder with soil. Most plants going into these containers are seasonal and therefore relatively short-lived so they won’t need all the volume available in a larger container to put out roots and be happy. So why waste expensive potting soil?

With deeper containers, I like to save weight and soil by filling bottom with capped plastic jugs and cans. The remaining soil volume is sufficient for the growing season.
A variety of attractive containers. All with their “Thriller, Filler, and Spiller”.

Now to the details of what to plant. You may have heard it before but for any average size planting container, you need three different plants: a thriller, a filler, and a spiller. The thriller is a taller maybe spikey plant like Japanese Blood Grass, New Zealand Flax, or Draceana indivisa. For the filler just about anything will do but I’m partial to Coleus, Euphorbia, or a dwarf Lantana. Lastly for the spiller, try Creeping Jenny or Dichondra (Silver Falls).

If you have some smaller containers, it may not be necessary to follow the above formula as just a simple Calibrachoa (look it up, great plant) or two will easily add a splash of interest and will no doubt fill the entire container in no time.

For those of you who travel or worry about the watering of containers if you’re forgetful, there are some pretty nifty “Self-watering” containers that hold a small reservoir of water from which to draw as the soil begins to dry. Check out this helpful video:

As in the past, maybe I’ve only whet your appetite on this subject. The point is, like all of garden design, this is a very subjective topic. I’m sure you have color and textural preferences. There really isn’t a lot of risk and expense when you consider the benefit of having portable mini-gardens that you can scoot about to create a mood or enhance any outdoor garden room. Most every plant make me happy. I hope you’re the same.

Happy planting!

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