Monday, May 26, 2014

Container Gardening: 101

Happy Summer to all!  (Let's just pretend that the last time I blogged wasn't nearly 1 year ago, shall we?)
Summer time to me always means gardening and landscaping time.  It's the time of year I gladly open my wallet and literally throw dolla billz at the checkout clerks at Lowe's and Home Depot.  Actually, if we're being literal, it's the time of year I look at my bank statement and think, "I spent what?!?!"  (Dear Husband, please don't kill me).
I've always loved using containers in and around my yard for punches of color and interest.  And while I do love a good perennial (AKA, a plant that comes back year after year), they do leave much to be desired when it comes to colors and length of flowering period.  It's for this reason I gladly justify spending money on annuals.  They pack a punch!
Ladies and Gentlemen (man??), I present, Container Gardening: 101.

Let's do this in a 3 step process, shall we:

I've made a lot of rookie mistakes in my life, but probably the most serious has to be not choosing the right containers for my gardening containers.  Life or death, I tell ya.  When I was a gardening noob (newbie), I perused the aisles of Homegoods and Lowe's and happily chose the itt-iest, bitt-iest containers there were.  Seriously, I wish I had photos of some of my first few years.  I'd have probably 10 or 12 small containers filled to their brims with lantana, coleus, impatiens, etc.  The problems with this approach are many.  First, flowers need room to grow and expand.   Second, the overall visual looked pretty messy.  I realized as I walked through nurseries and gardens, that I was drawn to containers with weight (i.e. enormous!).  So with that realization in mind, that last couple years I refuse to buy a container that fits easily into a shopping cart.  If I don't look like an absolute fool getting that thing off the shelf, then it's clearly too small.   I also realized that I didn't need to be so literal with the container itself.  If I came across an interesting shape or form, hey, it has potential to become a flower pot.  All that's usually required is some minor drilling on the bottom for drainage, and possibly lining for leakage purposes.  
Case in point:

I present to you the newest addition to my back porch.... a trash can.  I loved the coloring and knew I could make it work.  I lined it with coco-liner, drilled some holes in the bottom for drainage (apparently, trashcans don't come made that way....haha...), and voila, flower pot!

After you've found your containers, turn your attention to adding some interest to your containers:

Another mistake I made in my former noob-gardening life, was failing to add a little extra visual interest to my planters.  The reason this is step 2 and not 3, is that sometimes adding the interest will actually determine what types of plants you choose.  Don't be afraid to add interesting trellises, stakes, or even name-plates.  You can use annual seeds (blog-post coming soon, I promise), to help add height to your planters and even to add in some cheap filler plants.

Yes, I'm a rusted owl, but see how much interest I'm adding to this planter?

Hello, my name is Basil, please pick me and use me in a yummy 
recipe, I'd be most grateful.

Lastly, and probably most importantly, time to choose your plants.

There is nothing worse than working hard (and spending money!) to fill up a planter, only to realize you've chosen the wrong plants.  Pay attention to the plant labels and the full sun/part shade/part sun notation.  Also, pay attention to where the plant is physically located in the nursery.  If you  pluck the plant from the side of the Lowe's display near the hot pavement, chances are pretty good you'll have success with full sun. And if you find the plant underneath the protective covering, semi-indoors, at the nursery, chances are you are dealing with a shade-lover.  
Also it goes without saying, but all your plants in your planter need to love the same amout of sunlight.  I clearly didn't get this memo last year when I paired a shade/part-sun loving coleus with sweet potato vine.
This is the before.....I will not show you the aftermath.  Poor coleus was fried.  But please do note 
the big a$$ planter.  I was half-way there, close.....

And as long as we're talking about failures, lots of times, trial and error is all you need.  Last year I tried this combo in my front yard, which is located in full sun (literally, all day, no shade till sun down).

Angelonia and Creeping Jenny, with a Morning Glory Vine planted in the back to grow up the trellis. 
All were advertised as full sun, but half-way through the summer, I realized
there may be a difference between full sun, and full sun containers located against hot 
concrete with literally no break in sun all day.  This container was soon toast.

But no worries, I learned from my mistake and I kept my eye out for annuals that did especially well in full on sun.  I found a couple varieties at friends' houses as well as a gardening expo that seemed to thrive--hotter the better, and this year I'm trying this in the same container:  (Back up to step 1: choosing a container.....a friend of mine was getting rid of this antique copper tub during a move.  I immediately volunteered to take it off her hands with the immediate idea of putting plants in it....what else?)

Mexican Heather in the middle, white Vinca on the outskirts of the planter, and 
Cardinal Climber Vine grown from seed to grow up the back trellis.

Here are some other combos I'm trying out this year:

Annual Salvia and Creeping Jenny.  This planter is located on a part of my 
deck that gets morning sun and afternoon sun until about 1 pm.  
In my experience, Creeping Jenny thrives with this type of light.  Even though it's 
advertised as full-sun (liars!)

Sweet Potato Vine, Lavender Vinca, and Purple Coleus.  In my experience,
most coleus like some type of break from the hot sun during the day, but this type was advertised as we'll see.  This planter is located in a place in my yard that gets
hot sun all day, so here goes nothing.  I know the Vinca can handle it, we'll see about the rest.

Lantana, Coleus, annual Salvia/Lavender

New Guinea Impatiens, Pentas, and Variegated Sweet
Potato Vine, with the purple and chartreuse coloring....I've never seen this 
before, so I'm looking forward to seeing this one grow.

I'll post some progress photos later to show how these fill out.  I'm also excited about some other containers where I'm using some annual climbing vines, which I'll blog about soon.  I never realized how much bang for your buck you get with seeds!  


  1. Very nice Ali. It's a well known fact that you can make anything beautiful. Even a crooked Christmas from years gone by.

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