The lone voice of horticultural reason

Container Gardening Tips

Plants grown in pots and other containers open up a whole new dimension of design possibilities. One of the best gardeners I know plants coleus in 12″-tall pots in the spring, then places the pots strategically throughout one of her numerous flower beds. By July the perennials and annuals rising from the earth completely hide the pots; all one sees are these great plumes of coleus bursting up 18″ to 20″ above the ground and one thinks, wow, can she ever grow coleus!

With pots you can have color anywhere there is concrete, particularly in that dead zone where the cold, drab concrete apron runs flush to the house. The steps and stoops of our front doors are a natural choice as well, particularly so that visitors are cheered and feel welcome. Use of pots at doors brings to mind some loose rules concerning pot placements that might be helpful.

Unless yours is a grand home with an impressive front door and plenty of space on either side, one pot of flowers or cluster of same to one side of the front door usually looks better than the balanced effect of a pot or pots evenly matched on both sides. Pots are like perennials-they work better, fit better, look better in odd numbers rather than even. One pot in the right place often looks great. But add a second pot next to it, same size or different size, and the scene looks less so. Add a third and it looks great again, particularly if the three pots are now large, medium and small. If two of those pots are different sizes but the exact same style and the third one isn’t, watch, you lose something-there’s that number two again. Better if all three pots are exactly the same style, just different sizes, or not at all related, you still can’t go wrong with three. Or five. Or one. The odd-numbered arrangement will always look better than two or four or six pots together. No one knows why.

Growing in pots can also add the fiery reds of annuals such as salvia or the fun of multi-colored pansies and petunias to the darkest, shadiest portions of your garden or patio. Think it not possible? I know a gardener who grows three identical annual arrangements in three identical pots. He grows the pots in full sun until early June, then distributes them around his property, two in sunny spots and one in dense shade. Then early in the morning twice a week he grabs his kid’s wagon and rotates them. Each pots gets four days in full sun, then two in the shade, and all three pots bloom like mad all summer long. Drives his buddies nuts-they look at that one pot that’s always sitting back there in the shade, and cannot figure out how he gets those pansies to bloom.

Another great use for pots and containers is on top of tulip beds after the tulip leaves have withered away. The biggest single reason tulips don’t come back after a few years in our region is that after they’ve bloomed we plant annuals on top of them, then water the annuals all summer. Tulip bulbs want to be in dry soil after they have bloomed, the drier the better. Visit Holland in June after the tulips have bloomed and the countryside is as charming as Illinois on your way to Detroit. Dutch growers don’t do anything after their tulips have bloomed except pray for drought. By using pots and containers on top of your bulb beds you can fill those spaces with color the rest of the summer while limiting moisture to the bulbs below.

Don Engebretson
The Renegade Gardener