Containers are an easy way to add a splash of color to your garden, porch, balcony or patio, without ever having to dig a hole in our hard New Mexico soil. While you could drop pansies or geraniums in a pot and consider it complete, you could also plant a truly stunning container garden full of color, texture and fragrance. The right combination of plants arranged properly in a planter can be magical. After that, you only need to keep things watered and fertilized as you enjoy the colorful design all season long.
1. Choose the Right Container
Containers have their own unique characteristics to consider, including weight, appearance and sensitivity to weather changes. Also, consider your budget, space and style when selecting them. Keep in mind that the larger the size, the less you’ll need to water. But whatever you choose, make sure your containers have good drainage.
2. Select a Color Theme and Plant Combinations
Starting with a color theme for your container garden can help with plant selection. When combining plants in your containers, it’s important to make sure they all have the same light requirements and watering needs. A good rule of thumb is to plant in odd numbers and combine three types of plants — thrillers, fillers, and spillers — in each container to add interest and balance to your design.
“Thriller” plants are the centerpiece of your design. They add height and a bold vertical element. Options include plants chosen for foliage, ornamental grasses or other upright plants. In larger containers, small shrubs or trees, topiaries, spirals and other vertical selections can be used. Thrillers typically go near the center of a container, but they can also be put toward the back of the planter, depending on its final location.
“Filler” plants tend to be more rounded and make the container look full. These are generally placed in front of or around your selected thriller. In a narrow, long container like a window box, fillers are placed halfway between the edge of the container and the thrillers. Violas, pansies, dusty miller, ornamental kale/cabbage, ornamental peppers, geraniums and mums are just a few of the many options for autumn fillers.
“Spiller” plants literally spill out of a container. If your container garden is going to be visible from all sides, be sure to place spillers all the way around. Some favorite autumn spillers are licorice plant (Helichrysum), English ivy, Dichondra ‘Silver Falls’, ivy geranium and perennial vinca (minor or major), also called periwinkle. I am especially fond of some of the brighter vinca varieties like Illumination or Wojo’s Gem.
3. Fill the Container with a Good Potting Mix
Once you’ve selected plants and a container, it’s time to get started! Fill your container about two-thirds full with a good quality potting mix. If you have a really large planter and would like to use less potting mix, you can use empty water bottles or smaller empty nursery pots or containers turned upside down to take up some of the space in the bottom of the container. Fill around them with potting mix until your container is two-thirds full.
4. Arrange Plants in Your Container
When you’re ready to add plants, remove the plants from their nursery pots, gently loosening the root ball with your fingers. Place them in your container and add soil, stopping about two inches from the top of the container to leave enough space for watering.
5. Water Your Plants
Water your container garden thoroughly to help the soil settle. After watering, add more soil if needed to insure good root coverage. Check your containers every 2-3 days, and when the top two inches are dry, it’s time to water again. Don’t forget container plantings may need water twice a day when it’s hot, especially if it’s also windy.
Don’t be afraid to add different types of plants, such as annuals, perennials, herbs, cold-hardy vegetables, and even small shrubs, to the same container. The important thing is to select plants that require the same growing conditions. I really like using dwarf Alberta spruce or lemon cypress as the vertical element, surrounded by licorice plants, pansies/violas, dusty miller and ornamental cabbages. I will occasionally add artificial gourds, pumpkins and other décor to make them even more festive.
With a little planning and creativity, you can put together stunning container designs that can be enjoyed all season long.
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