As soon as temperatures begin to warm, I am digging out all my planters, baskets and unusual planting containers. They all get a brisk cleaning and fresh new potting soil. Then I am confronted with decisions. The choices are more than just the type of plant. Site conditions, the size of the container, whether I want all annuals or perennials, ease of care, the dimension of the container garden, and many other considerations go into creating the perfect contained garden.

The variety of container knows no bounds. You can use almost anything as long as it has drainage holes. Try an old tool box with drilled holes, or perhaps a whisky keg. Crucial is the depth and width for the types of plants you wish to use. Annuals have shorter root zones than perennials and trees and shrubs need a width twice the root ball size. Once you have your container either purchase or make the appropriate soil for your selected plants. It should be free draining, loose and nutrient rich. An excellent option is a balanced potting soil or a mixture of compost, top soil and peat moss.

Choose plants that thrive in your agricultural zone and the conditions to which they will be exposed. For instance, year round planters filled with frost tender plants should only be attempted where freezing temperatures do not occur. Shade plants will not succeed in a fully sunny location and those that need dry heat will not prosper in a soggy region such as the Pacific Northwest. In addition to site conditions, contemplate the type of gardener you are. If you are prepared to devote time to upkeep the container you can pick fussier plants but if you are a lazy gardener, pick hardy, self-sufficient specimens.


Now for the fun stuff. Plant selection. Annual plants are a time honored choice for pots and hanging baskets. They perform well in the growing season and bloom until cold temperatures arrive with little more than some occasional fertilizer and plentiful water. Obvious options are pansies, petunias, geraniums, marigolds and alyssum. These are all sun lover but there are plenty of options for the shady pot as well. Impatiens, coleus, lobelia, fuchsia and begonia work perfectly in a shady to light exposure region of the garden. Annuals are designed to give you the biggest bang in the warmer months and then will fizzle away, giving you less bang for your buck than perennials.

Perennials last several years with proper care, even in containers. Succulents such as sedum and agave will produce full exposure beauty that lasts and lasts. Even cool zones can use these types of plants in pots but they may need to be moved indoors when freezing temperatures are consistent. Other perennials to consider are: Yarrow, Dianthus, Bugleweed, Hardy Geranium, Bellflower, Coreopsis, Pulmonaria and Forget Me Not. Pure foliage choices also abound. Mini hostas come back annually as do hens and chicks, thyme, creeping Jenny and ferns.

Foliage is worth a consideration when choosing a mixed planter. Trailing plants emphasize and compliment a container with one main taller plant and smaller mixed species surrounding it. Colored or spotted leaves, different dimensions of foliage and seasonal changes add that little extra something to a flowering container exhibit or simply as part of an all foliage extravaganza. Elephant ears, coleus, euonymous, herbs, brunnera, sedges and grasses, and lily turf add their unique leaf tones and texture to really impact the entire display.

Combination containers provide a fun way to display your personality or simply add a whimsical touch to otherwise standard potted presentations. One of the easiest ways to use combinations of plants is to start with an impressive, larger specimen. If you have a large pot this may be a camellia or dwarf rhododendron, for instance. Make sure the pot is twice as large around and deep as the root base, and then surround it with annuals or smaller perennials and a mixture of fantastic foliage. Consider how big each plant will get in a season at planting time and avoid overcrowding.

Additional concerns should be the preferred conditions for each plant in the grouping. All specimens should have the same water, soil, light and nutrient requirements.

Edible container gardens should get a mention here. Often these are as attractive as floral or foliage displays. Vertical gardening plays an important role here as does the preferred conditions for each plant. Try growing an indeterminate dwarf tomato up a trellis or stake in a large container and then surround it with bush type cucumbers or simply heat loving herbs like thyme, basil or cilantro.

Grow a variety of lettuces and greens for a cool season display of foliage color and tasty ease of access on your back patio. The same rules apply regarding size of container and similarity of care.

Expand your repertoire to succulent containers, bonsai, mini evergreens and even dwarf fruit trees. Have fun with your container gardening and enhance your landscape with all the flora and vegetation varieties you desire.

(images courtesy of Melody Rose)