Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Pacific Northwest
May, 2003
Regional Report

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Tall pink snaps and 'Starlette Purple' trailing petunias provide contrast to the white daisylike flowers of Leucanthemum in this full sun exposure container.

Hot Annuals, Cool Containers

I love gardening in containers. Containers are an easy way to add instant color to my landscape, and an excellent way of putting any plant on a pedestal. From a simple red geranium to abundant floral displays, every plant can be the star of the stage. I can create dramatic displays for my front porch or back deck and then move the pots around to reset the stage and provide a fresh new look whenever it strikes my fancy.

Of course, annuals are a natural in pots and planters. With care, they can provide long-term color. And a few annuals in a pot can go a long way. One large planter filled with a bouquet of annuals can compete equally with dozens of flowers in beds. An added benefit to gardening in containers is that it's so easy to change the annuals when they begin to look tired. Pulling old plants and replacing them with fresh ones instantly breathes new life into the garden. Here's my recipe for success:

Use Your Imagination
From traditional terra cotta to whimsical washtubs, more and more container styles, colors, and materials appear in garden centers each year. While terra cotta is nice, let your imagination be your guide in choosing just the right container for the look you want to create. Don't be afraid to try a planter box, watering can, old aquarium or well-used wagon to hold your treasured plants. Just remember to poke holes in the bottom for drainage. Put plants of various shapes, colors, sizes, and textures together in the same container to complement and contrast.

Pay Attention to the Soil
The right soil mix is critical to ensuring healthy plants. I use commercial potting soil in my containers, but you can use garden soil if you amend it with peat moss and compost. The combination of peat moss and compost loosens heavy soil and adds body to sandy soil while saving water by absorbing and releasing moisture.

Know Your Climate
Remember that the container gardens on your balcony and deck are subjected to temperature extremes the rest of your garden may not experience. Since roots are above ground level, they can suffer heat stress. In hot spots use lighter-colored containers to lessen heat absorption.

Analyze the Space
Larger spaces allow for a nice mix of styles, shapes, and sizes of pots and plants, while small spaces look better filled with different-sized containers made from the same material. And don't discount the value of adding hanging plants or wall-mounted planter boxes to your container garden. You can add some height and visual interest by including a trellis or by training vining plants up and over the rail of your deck.

Move It
One of the great things about growing plants in pots is that containers can be moved with very little effort. Depending on your mood, you can reposition containers into dozens of different combinations. When you're filling your containers, group plants by how much light they require, and it'll be easier to care for them.

Vary With Veggies
Flowers are great, but don't be afraid to branch out by adding some vegetables and specimen plants to the mix. Cherry tomatoes, carrots, beets, and herbs all generally do well in container gardens.

Most importantly, have fun! Experiment with containers. Fill them with your favorite annuals, or combinations you've never tried before. If it doesn't work out, you can dump it out and try something else.

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