Official Start of Spring Planting in Mountains

11/23/2012 | Ken Lain, mountain gardener Flowers, Uncategorized

Containers filled with colorful plants will bring a fresh touch to any garden, regardless of the garden’s size or style. Pots full of flowers and brightly colored foliage can be an inexpensive way to garden, and for some folks they are easier to tend than plants in the ground. Caring for plants in containers on tables and plant stands can enable older and even disabled gardeners to continue gardening if moving about in the yard is a challenge. Fully mobile and ambitious gardeners like the flexibility of containers, which can be changed out with the seasons. Using containers to fill gaps in my garden is helpful when I need more time to figure out permanent plantings.

I really have fun creating garden vignettes with flower-filled containers. Last year I filled a container with the leftovers from my garden plantings; the effect was striking and cost-effective. I especially enjoy working a surprise factor into container gardens. For instance, just outside our front door I’ve put a container with a tomato plant surrounded by solar yellow marigolds. It’s not common to find tomatoes in an entryway planter, but incorporating the marigolds makes for a stunning centerpiece. Another eye-catching idea is to spray tomato cages in colors that make them stand out and be noticed. Believe me, a tomato plant surrounded by a cage that’s been spray-painted chartreuse instantly becomes the exclamation point of any container!

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One to thrill, one to fill, and one to spill are the three easy steps to creating container gardens worth your time and money. “Thrill, fill and spill” is a simple phrase to remember this process for designing exciting pot gardens. It’s the same phrase used by professional garden designers.

1. You will know you’ve encountered the “thrill” factor for your container when a plant stops you in your tracks at your favorite garden center. Whether unusual or merely a bright new color, it makes a statement. If it’s a bit taller than most plants, you also have found the centerpiece for your new container garden. A plant to thrill can be found in any department of a garden center. An ornamental grass, agave or yucca, even a tropical houseplant can make a statement. Go on, live on the edge; try something that really makes a statement!

2. Filler plants are easy. Pick any showy annuals that bring the container some eye-popping color. Geraniums, zinnias, petunias, and dahlias are all good examples of filler plants for containers.

3. Spillers soften container edges. Vincas, ivies, wave petunias, and alyssums are all examples of spillers that will bring an additional dimension to your arrangement.

With containers you can throw planting rules to the wind. For example, ignore that tag in the plant’s nursery pot that recommends a space of 12 inches between plants. The ideal container design will have little to no surface soil showing when complete. I think and envision in terms of foliage to foliage when planting containers. With upright plants root to root is more in keeping to really make a pot look full.

Plants do not like waterlogged soil, so be sure to use a container that allows water to seep from the bottom. Besides using a pot with good drainage, the potting soil used can mean the difference between success and failure with container gardens. Unfortunately, potting soil blends are where the most shortcuts are taken in our industry. I probably will get in trouble with my editor and the box store for writing this, but I don’t like the national brand that starts with ‘M’ and ends with ‘gro’. I have found that as they endure our harsh prevailing southwesterly winds mountain plants struggle to become established in such soil.

Instead, be sure to use a potting soil mix that is rich in peat moss and has a generous amount of perlite. Perlite is the white sponge-like particles mixed into a better soil. Perlite also happens to be the most expensive ingredient in any potting soil. Ask for recommendations from your favorite nursery staff, but if in doubt buy the soil that has a generous amount of both peat-moss and perlite, even it costs a couple of dollars more.

Here are some of my favorite plant combinations for containers: In sun-splashed locations I like mandevilla vine, harlequin dahlias, and barnyard blue verbena, with white alyssum filling every vacant nook and cranny. For shady spots I really enjoy a mixture of King Kong coleus, Icicle helichrysum, begonias, and ivy geraniums spilling over the sides. Large containers are a great place to keep corralled those “prone-to-go-wild” plants like bamboo and purple fountain grass. Using rambling petunias and million bells to spill over the edges of these bigger containers makes for a really impressive display.

Don’t forget that Mother’s Day is next weekend. Also keep in mind that containers filled with blooming plants last the entire growing season, while their equivalently priced bouquet of cut flowers, are pretty only for a few days. Give your mother a garden center gift card and take her shopping to spend it. She’ll be talking for months about the time spent with her child(ren) and how much fun it was to pick out just the right plants. The time spent together will be the memory, the season-long flowers the reminders of that memory.

Until next week, I’ll see you at the garden center.