A few days ago, I received the following question from a reader:
QUESTION: "I have some large pots that I need to fill. There are six around the pool and two each at two separate entrances to the house. Two are boxes and the other eight are urns. I would like some ideas for possible combinations. I would like to combine evergreens, perennials, and annuals. Ornamental grasses also, either perennial or annual. I live in zone 7." - Bill Dubin
ANSWER: Bill, I have planters all around our garden area. Last season I used grasses and some ground cover, and featured some perennials. I even included hostas. Here are some that have worked well for me in containers:
Grasses: Miscanthus I. Red Baron, Pennisetum Karley Rose, Pennisetun Hameln, Panicum v. Squaw, Miscnathus purpurascens
Hostas: Blue Angel, Blue Dimples, Patriot.
Ground Cover: Ajuga, English ivy, sedum (including Dragon's Blood Red, Blue Spruce and Baby Tears)
Perennials: I like any of the achilleas (such as Summer Berries or Paprika that I described in a previous column) and Clematis.
Here's a basic design tip. If you have a container that will be seen from all sides, plant your grass or the tallest perennial in the center of the pot then build the remaining plants around it to give a layered effect. If the container will be close to a wall or fence and will be viewed mainly from the front, put the tallest plants in the back and work forward to the shorter plants in the front.
If you are having trouble deciding which colors work well together, it's a good idea to go to a local art or craft store and buy a color wheel which will give a visual guide to color harmony for a very modest investment. If you can't wait, take a look at an online color wheel and a basic explanation of the difference between complimentary and analogous colors at http://www.artsconnected.org/toolkit/encyc_colorwheel.html As that's a long URL, you can click on a direct link when you find this column at my Web site www.landsteward.org
As I mentioned, container gardening is nothing new, but it is a growing trend in recent years. As for benefits, one of the biggest is the mobility factor. "You can arrange the containers for a party on your patio and then move them to other places in your yard," says Felder Rushing, a gardening expert at the Web site www.Learn2Grow.com
Among Rushing's other points:
Monitor watering. Plants in containers require more water than those grown in the ground. Also, the type of containers you choose will impact the watering requirements. Clay pots are porous and dry out faster than plastic pots. The smaller the container, the more often you will need to water it.
Consider weight. That one-pound pot may weigh more than 12 pounds once you get soil and plant material in it. If you want to be able to move your containers around, make sure they're not too heavy. As an alternative, Cheryl and I place some of our containers on specialized dollies with casters for easy movement. We also place a thick layer of recycled Styrofoam "peanuts" under the soil in larger pots for improved drainage and lighter weight.
Consider conditions. In cold climates, containers will be the first to freeze and in warm climates, they'll hold in heat. Move plants out of hot baking sun in warmer areas and protect them by placing them in a garage or shed in freezing temperatures.
Container gardening is a fun and manageable way to enjoy many types of plants, regardless of the size of your landscape.
The Plant Man is here to help. Send your questions about trees, shrubs and landscaping to firstname.lastname@example.org for resources and additional information, or to subscribe to Steve's free e-mailed newsletter, visit www.landsteward.org