The Dirt--Pot ABCs (No, not that kind)
It’s time! You’ve got pots, planters, window boxes, whiskey barrels and hanging baskets sitting there, waiting for you. There’s no excuse for leaving them empty when container culture is one of the easiest ways to enjoy flowers.
Growing plants in containers is like having a miniature garden where you control everything – soil, water, light and species. If you pay attention to the basics, they will reward you with color all season long. So let’s take a look at the basics.
Well, to start with, you need a container.
You can grow plants in just about anything. If it will hold soil and rains well, it can be a planter, so let your imagination go. The process is the same, whatever you’re growing in.
Once you’ve chosen a container and made sure it drains well, you will need soil. If you’re going to make the effort to plant some containers, do yourself a favor and use a good quality potting soil. Don’t cut corners by using topsoil or fillers. They won’t provide the aeration and moisture retention that your plants will need.
I recommend filling the entire container with potting soil, to allow plenty of room for root growth, but if you must put a filler in the bottom, use pine cones. They’re organic and can be composted with the used soil when the season is over.
Many brands of potting soil offer the convenience of timed-released fertilizer and moisture retention crystals already incorporated into the soil. This provides season-long nutrients and extended water retention – meaning you don’t have to water as often. These soils are great for annuals but not recommended for perennials or shrubs.
Water is the next major consideration when planting a container. Be realistic. There are no flowering annuals that you can stick in a pot and ignore. And, no, your neighbor/teen-ager/tenant isn’t going to water for you, even if they’ve promised on a stack of Bibles. If you’re not there on a regular basis, expect to have casualties.
Most larger pots need to be watered at least twice a week in the heat of the summer, and smaller ones even more. If you can’t water that frequently, consider growing succulents as an alternative. Their interesting colors, textures and shapes can produce beautiful containers that can survive on far less water.
Light is another factor that will determine your success with containers. Pay attention to when and for how long the sun hits the area where your container will be.
Most flowering annuals are tagged with a label describing the plant’s light requirements. If the label says it requires full sun, it needs at least six hours of direct sun a day. Part-sun means anything less than six hours, or filtered light from overhead trees. Shade is little or no direct sun. Choose plants that are designated for your light conditions.
OK – you’ve got your container and soil, you have a plan for water, and you know how much sun it will receive. Now you get to the fun part – designing your planter.
Annuals can be divided into three growth habits: trailing or cascading, mounding and upright. By choosing plants of each type, you can create a beautiful, three-dimensional arrangement. Pay close attention to the height listed on the plant tag, to ensure that you don’t wind up with one plant overwhelming the others.
Colors are a purely individual choice. Some folks prefer soothing cool colors, others like blazing hot hues, and still others like to mix them up. And then there are the ones that do themed pots, such as team colors. I had a customer last week who was ecstatic that the new black velvet petunia enabled her to do her beloved Pittsburgh Steelers’ colors. Hey, Orioles fans, listen up! It’ll work for you, too!
Whatever you choose, don’t wait! It’s time to spread some color around with reckless abandon.
And while no annual is going to survive long without water, there are a few that will survive longer than most. These are some of the best: lantana – all types; portulaca, also known as moss rose; scaevola aka fan flower; evovulus aka blue daze; nierembergia aka cup flower; and succulents of all types.
Ginger Hogan is a Delaware Certified Nursery Professional. Do you have questions you’d like to have answered in a future column? Send them to Ginger at email@example.com.