Containers With Clout! Part 2

Select Plant Material:

When choosing plants the endless possibilities could make the task overwhelming. The way I approach it is to choose a palette of colors to work from. I keep this limited to two or three colors at the most. Then I go to the nursery to see what is available in those colors. If at all possible I bring the pot with me to see how my choices work with the container. From there I pick out several plants and group them together to see how thy will fit in the pot. I narrow the choices down this way.

I read a catchy little phrase a few years back that has stayed with me ever since. Every pot needs “thrillers, fillers, and spillers.”

This phrase was coined by Ellen Zachos, owner of Acme Plant Stuff in New York City, which creates and maintains container gardens. I have shamelessly borrowed the phrase ever since because it so aptly describes the recipe for beautifully planted containers. The “thriller” is the focal point. Something with height, or a striking specimen plant for the middle, or back of the planting. These are surrounded by “filler”; medium height plants  that fill in the middle. Lastly you put in a few “spillers'” that cascade down the side of the pot to soften its hard edges.

I stick to three to five types of plants so that the pot stays cohesive and does not look too messy. Choose contrasting types of foliage to play up the drama. Bold textured “thrillers”, fine textured “fillers” and medium textured spillers for example.

Superior Soil:

The soil is the foundation for the success or failure of the container planting. Good quality potting soil can not be overstressed. Filling your pot with dirt dug up in your garden will not enhance your chances of having a beautiful potted focal point. It will, however, increase your chances of introducing diseases and inferior quality soil to grow all those lovely new purchases in. I often tell my clients “Let me help you be successful”. In this case the recipe for success includes bagged potting soil that is a mix of sterilized soil and other quality ingredients. The best potting mixes include mycorrhizae and other additives that encourage healthy plant growth. Your local nursery can supply you with quality potting soil.

Care and Planting:

When planting the pot start at the middle and work out. Put some potting soil in the pot and then set your focal point in the container, checking where the finished level of the plant will be. All plants should end up one to two inches below the lip of the pot. Add soil under the plants, and between them, till all plants are at the desired level. I use my fingers and really push the soil down under the plants, and around them, making sure that there are no air pockets or unfilled gaps between the plants. Then water well with a watering can, or a hose with a nozzle that allows for a soft spray. Check the soil level again and add some if necessary.

Water your container often:

In the heat of summer I make sure mine are watered daily. The best scenario is to have the pots on a drip system that is hooked up to a timer. That way you don’t end up being a slave to the pots and they will be watered even if you are away. Fertilize regularly, following package directions. Prune spent flowers and any stray growth. In this way your containers will flourish all this season and even into the next, providing you the satisfaction of a beautiful focal point.

About the Author

Anna Smth

Terre Verte Landscape Design began in 2003 while Master Gardener Anna Smith was the staff horticulturist for Kern Counties only botanical garden, Mourning Cloak Ranch. Read More

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