1. By: Jessie Keith

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    Simple pots of colorful annuals can be placed in the spring garden to add color and interest.

    Bountiful spring containers are a joyous way to reign in the new season. Nothing welcomes spring better than exquisitely orchestrated collections of potted flowers. The key is choosing suites of plants and pots that are seasonal and complimentary—whether the compositions are simple or flamboyant.

    Some gardeners take their spring container gardening very seriously—planting up bulb and perennial pots in fall for spring show. But, this practice can be problematic, if gardeners don’t take care.  Tulip bulbs in pots are highly vulnerable to rodent attack, and some bulbs or perennials may not survive hard winters or can heave in pots. Both potential problems call for protective pot covers and storage of containers in protected spots in a cold garage or in a protected spot beside the house. Or pre-planting can be bypassed entirely. As more and more potted bulbs are offered at spring planting time, fall container prep is no longer a prerequisite.

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    Early season perennials, like Dicentra spectabilis ‘Gold Heart’ (center), can add a lot of interest to spring pots.

    Choosing Containers

    When designing spring container plantings, start by choosing the pots. Pretty glazed pots in subdued earthy or mossy tones create a pleasing base for brightly colored flowers. Pots of different complimentary shapes and sizes look the nicest when arranged in groups. For symmetrical groupings choose an even number of pots, and for asymmetrical groupings choose an odd number. Once pots are chosen, artfully place them together, considering height and shape.

    Choosing Container Mix

    Next, choose your container mix. Fafard Ultra Container Mix or Fafard Ultra Potting Mix with Extended Feed are great choices for potted outdoor plantings. Not only does it feed plants for up to six months, but it contains moisture-holding crystals that reduce the need to water as often.

    Choosing Container Plants

    Finally, establish your color pallet and choose your plants—considering height and texture as well as bloom time. More often than not, bright, gregarious colors are what people like to plant in spring (enough with dreary subdued landscapes), but pastels are also popular. Cheerful combinations of yellow, orange, red, pink and blue flowers make spring container gardens pop.

    Past plant combinations that have worked well for me include mixes of hardworking annuals, such as pansies, violas, stocks, trailing lobelia and twinspur (Diascia spp.), in addition to choice perennials like colorful golden bleeding heart (Dicentra spectabilis ‘Gold Heart’), Heuchera, and any bulbs that I can get my hands on. Less common perennials, like Tradescantia ‘Sweet Kate’ or trailing bellflower (Campanula poscharskyana), also add polish and oomph to containers. Even miniature roses can be added for color and flair.

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    Variegated tulip leaves mingle beautifully with pretty Sorbet violas.

    Planting Containers

    Before planting up my containers, I fill the pots ¾ full with potting mix to allow space to arrange my planting before bedding them in. This step is essential to visually balance the plantings and can make the difference between your plantings looking like a hodgepodge or a well-planned container garden. Cascading plants always look best along the edge of the pot while upright plants should be centered. During this process I also consider how different potted plantings will complement one another. Once my design is set, it’s time to start planting.

    When transplanting bulbs, be sure to move them without allowing the rootball to lose its shape; then firmly press the soil down around the roots to keep the foliage and flowers tidy and upright. Perennials and annuals are often “pot bound”, meaning their roots have become densely intertwined. Before planting, gently tease apart tightly bound roots a bit to loosen them. Then, sprinkle the pots with a little slow-release fertilizer. Finally, irrigate the pots until the water flows out of the drainage holes.

    It’s a joy to watch spring container creations fill in and burst forth. Once bulb flowers are spent, be sure to cut the old stems back to keep pots looking clean and pretty. Then as summer approaches, move out the flagging cool-season plants and replace them with vibrant warm-season ornamentals that will shine until fall.

    About Jessie Keith


    Plants are the lens Jessie views the world through because they’re all-sustaining. (“They feed, clothe, house and heal us. They produce the air we breathe and even make us smell pretty.”) She’s a garden writer and photographer with degrees in both horticulture and plant biology from Purdue and Michigan State Universities. Her degrees were bolstered by internships at Longwood Gardens and the American Horticultural Society. She has since worked for many horticultural institutions and companies and now manages communications for Sun Gro Horticulture, the parent company of Black Gold. Her joy is sharing all things green and lovely with her two daughters.

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