Comments Off on Surprise Lilies for Summer and Fall
The rosy blooms of Lycoris incarnata almost look candy-striped. (photo courtesy of Jim Murrain)
Commonly known as “magic lily,” plants in the genus Lycoris are, in fact, much more closely related to amaryllis than to their namesake. But they do bring plenty of magic to the landscape when they open their large funnel-shaped flowers on tall naked stems in mid- to late summer. Several are winter-hardy to boot, creating all sorts of delicious possibilities for gardens in USDA Hardiness Zone 5 and warmer. With their showy amaryllis-like flowers and their tolerance of bitter winters and partial shade, these bulbs from East Asia make marvelous (and miraculous) subjects for cold-climate gardens. (more…)
Comments Off on Technicolor Gardening: Vibrant Garden Flowers
Colorful Benary’s Dreamland Zinnias are lined with deepest blue edging lobelia.
Sometimes gardening life is just a little too pastel and predictable. A day dawns when all those pale pinks, powdery blues, and dreamy pale yellows look washed out, and you yearn for exuberant flowers that pop out of beds and containers with bursts of bright color. By adding a few “technicolor” flowers with deep, saturated colors, you can create explosions in the garden without scaring the neighbors. (Those same neighbors will probably also enjoy the bees, butterflies, and other pollinators drawn to your vibrant blooms.) (more…)
Poppies are some of the most beautiful garden flowers! (Image by Jessie Keith)
Nothing is prettier than a field of red, windblown poppies. The delicate blooms rise from slender stems, and their colorful petals resemble crushed tissue paper—giving these classic garden flowers lasting appeal. Poppies are diverse, and can be grown in practically any garden. Some are long-lived perennials while others are fleeting annuals the bloom spectacularly for a short time before setting seed. (more…)
Everyone loves butterflies, and the threat to monarch populations has spurred increased interest in butterfly gardening. When planning a smart butterfly garden, you want to include plants that feed both adult butterflies and their caterpillars. This is essential because butterfly caterpillars are species specific, meaning they only feed on specific plants.
Color, design, and site conditions are important when creating butterfly gardens. To make the job easy for new pollinator gardeners, we created two designs that are colorful and appeal to black swallowtail and monarch butterflies. Most butterfly plants are sun-loving, so these gardens are all adapted to sunny garden spaces.
Black Swallowtail Garden Plants
A black swallowtail caterpillar feeds on bronze fennel. (Image by Jessie Keith)
The caterpillars of black swallowtail butterflies feed on many plants in the carrot family, Apiaceae. These eastern North American butterflies have many native host plants, but none are attractive enough for ornamental gardening. Thankfully, quite a few cultivated flowers also feed them. These include bronze fennel, Queen Anne’s lace, lace flower, and dill. When mixed with colorful, compact Magellan zinnias and Sonata coreopsis, which feed adult butterflies, a wild, lacy flower garden is created. Black Swallowtail Garden Design: This simple design shows a traditional rectangular flower border, but it can be adapted to fit any garden shape. Just be sure to keep the taller plants towards the center or back of the border. Most of these flowers are annuals, meaning they need to be planted year after year.
Monarch Garden Plants
Monarch caterpillars only feed on milkweed plants.
All milkweed species (Asclepias spp.) feed monarchs. These colorful perennials contain protective chemicals that the caterpillars feed on, which render both the caterpillars and adult butterflies unpalatable to birds. The prettiest of all milkweeds include the orange-flowered butterflyweed (Asclepias tuberosa (USDA Hardiness Zones 4-9)), pink-flowered swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata (USDA Hardiness Zones 3-9), and orange-red flowered Mexican milkweed (Asclepias curassavica (USDA Hardiness Zones 8-10)), which self sows yearly. Monarch adults feed on all manner of butterfly flowers. The best are fall-flowering species that support the butterflies as they head to Mexico late in the season, like goldenrod and asters. [Click here to read more about growing milkweeds for monarchs.] Monarch Garden Design: This border design includes three showy milkweed species and dwarf late-season asters (such as Symphyotrichum novi-belgii ‘Lady-in-Blue’ (12-inches tall) or ‘Nesthäkchen’ (18-inches tall) and dwarf goldenrod (such as Solidago ‘Golden Baby’ (18-inches tall) or ‘Little Lemon’ (18-inches tall)) to feed migrating monarchs.
Planting your Butterfly Garden
These gardens are all designed for full-sun exposures. When planting them, feed the soil with Fafard Premium Natural & Organic Compost to ensure the plants get a good start. You might also consider feeding them with a good flower fertilizer approved for organic gardening. Another important note is to avoid using insecticides, which will damage or kill visiting butterflies.
These simple gardens are pretty and sure to lure lots of beautiful butterflies to your yard. To learn more about pollinator conservation and gardening, visit the Xerces Society’s Pollinator Conservation page.
Comments Off on Miniature Water Lily Pots for the Patio
The white pygmy water lily is tiny and perfect for container culture.
Nothing is more cooling in summer than a water garden filled with water lilies. Lack of space and resources for a garden pond keep most gardeners from growing these beautiful aquatic flowers, but what if a pond isn’t needed? Spacious troughs or large pots without drainage holes can be converted into small water gardens for miniature water lily varieties. If you have a partially sunny patio, deck, or flat garden space that can take the weight of a water-filled pot, you are set!
Choosing a Container
Any deep, spacious, water-tight pot will hold miniature water lilies.
Water lily pots have to be large and spacious, so start with choosing a container that’s at least 15-18 inches deep and 24-40 inches wide. This will give you enough water-holding space for your lilies and their roots.
Pots must be water tight. Specialty “no hole” pots designed for aquascaping are sold, but you can also fill line large pots with pond liner, which is often the cheaper option. Simply cut the liner to a round that will fit in your pot and fit it snugly along the inner lip of the pot. Its helps to apply a strong, non-toxic adhesive along the edge to keep it in place.
Choosing Miniature Waterlilies
The yellow water lily ‘Helvola’ is a classic compact variety that grows beautifully in containers.
True miniature water lilies are so tiny that some even have flowers the size of a quarter. Many are pygmy waterlily (Nymphaea tetragona) variants, which are very hardy—surviving winters as cold as USDA Hardiness Zones 4-11, with good protection. They come in a suite of colors that include ivory, pale yellow, pink, and red. The best for home gardens are easy to find online or in specialty stores.
One of the tiniest miniatures is the white pygmy water lily (Nymphaea tetragona ‘Alba’). The hardy plants reach 18 to 24 inches across and sport tiny white flowers that float alongside teensie white flowers. Another beautiful white-flowered variety with much bigger, tulip-shaped flowers but a small growth habit is ‘Hermine’.
The peach-pink-flowered ‘Berit Strawn’ (Nymphaea ‘Berit Strawn’) has larger flowers (3 to 4 inches) and pads of deep green with some reddish mottling. The tiny plant is perfect for container growing, is very hardy, and will bloom nonstop from early summer to fall. Plants will spread between 24 and 30 inches.
‘Hermine’ is a stunning, white-flowered miniature water lily.
One of the smallest red-flowered miniatures is ‘Perry Baby Red’ (Nymphaea ‘Perry Baby Red’). Its rosy red flowers compliment dark green pads. Plants spread 12 to 36 inches.
An old classic mini water lily is the hardy ‘Indiana’ (Nymphaea ‘Indiana’). Its tricolored, 2- to 3-inch flowers are in shades of rose-red, yellow, and orange. The diminutive plants have a spread of 12 to 28 inches and small green pads with reddish spots.
One of the best yellow-flowered water lilies is the cheerful ‘Yellow Pygmy’ (Nymphaea ‘Helvola’). Flowers are only a couple of inches across, but they are bright and pretty. Plants reach 18 to 36 inches across.
There are lots of great sources for miniature water lilies. Lilypons and Texas Water Lilies are good sources that offer quality selections.
Water lily ‘Helvola’ in full bloom. (Photo by Jessie Keith)
Water lilies grow from fleshy tubers that must be grounded in smaller pots sunk below the surface of your water container. Choose a wide, shallow plastic pot that will fit in the bottom of your container while providing plenty of head space. Planting depth can be 5 to 24 inches from the water surface. Pots should be placed where they can get 6 hours of sun per day or more.
Line the pots with porous but tight-knit plastic burlap. The base soil should consist of a 3:1 mixture of heavy loam and Fafard Premium Natural & Organic Compost. The compost and soil must be well combined before planting. Finally, add a small amount of a slow-release, all-purpose fertilizer to the mix. Over fertilization can cause algal bloom.
Sink the tuber into the soil, so the top of the plant meets the soil line. Once it is planted, line the top 2 inches of the pot with pea gravel to help keep the soil and plant in place. Place the pot on the bottom on the container and stabilize a flat, 1 to 2 inch thick rock along one side of the pot, so it sits at an angle; this helps with gas exchange for healthy root growth. Gently fill the pot with clean tap water to a depth a couple of inches below the lip of the pot.
Maintaining Potted Waterlilies
Clean, fresh water is important to the health of potted water lilies.
Keeping the water clean in your water lily pot is important. Remove any debris that falls in the water, and cut old leaves from your water lilies. Refresh the water regularly as it recedes. Small- to medium-sized water pots don’t need aeration filters.
Water-filled containers cannot be allowed to freeze in winter, even if your water lily is hardy. Freezing and thawing can also cause containers to crack. The best course of action is to drain the container before the first freeze of the season, remove the lily pot (being sure to cut back the leaves), and store it in a water-filled bucket in a cool place. Water lily tubers should be divided every two to three years.
Water lily pots are colorful, impressive, and will brighten any summer garden spot. If you want the tranquil beauty of a pond without all the work and hassle, plant one this season.
Canada goldenrod (Solidago canadensis) is one of the most common field species in North America. (Photo by Jessie Keith)
It is hard to think of goldenrod (Solidago spp.), as something precious and special when it is so extraordinarily ubiquitous. Native to all of North America, it bursts into bloom in late summer and early fall, lining field edges, roadsides and just about every sunny space where it can gain a foothold. In its native land, it is often damned with faint or non-existent praise. Even worse, it is unjustly damned as the source of pesky, end-of-summer hay fever attacks.
The compact ‘Little Lemon’ is a tidy, small goldenrod fit for border edges and containers. (Photo by Jessie Keith)
Ragweed, goldenrod’s seasonal fellow traveler, is the true cause of most late-season allergies. Ragweed is a stealth allergen. It’s so visually nondescript with its humdrum green flowers that people overlook it in their quest to point accusing fingers at goldenrod’s bright plumes. Like many hay-fever-trigger plants, ragweed is wind pollinated. It relies on the breeze to complete its pollinating chores, sending tiny pollen granules flying through the air where they meet up with sensitive human beings.
Goldenrod, on the other hand, is pollinated by bees and other insects, meaning its pollen never becomes airborne and causes us no harm.
Common and condemned, goldenrod had to go all the way to Europe to lose its bad reputation. Europeans, untroubled by hay-fever concerns, common origins, and supposed coarse appearances, fell in love. When plant people on the other side of the Atlantic got hold of the winsome field flower, that love translated into hybridizing. The result of international travel and human-initiated plant hanky-panky is that gardeners have the option of getting their goldenrod two ways—wild or bred into garden-worthy forms.
Solidago ‘Crown of Rays’ is a tidier cultivated form for the garden. (Photo by Jessie Keith)
Goldenrod’s lineage makes it natural for the home garden. At first glance, the resemblance is hard to see, but Solidago is in the daisy family, Asteraceae. Each lush flower panicle is made of up of many miniature golden daisies that can be seen up close. Loaded with pollen, they attract bees, butterflies, and many other insects. If you have ever eaten wildflower honey collected in fall, you have most likely tasted the autumnal richness of goldenrod.
In the garden, these hardy perennials ask for little. Established plants can tolerate dry spells in fine fashion, and some species are tolerant of moist soils. Sunny space is ideal for the plants, although some will also prosper in light shade, sporting somewhat fewer flowers per stem. Anyone familiar with field goldenrod, which is frequently, but not always, Solidago canadensis, knows that it can grow 3 to 6 feet high and forms large clumps due to its vigorous, spreading root systems. Clearly, this is not ideal for all gardens. Fortunately, breeders have come up with more civilized, compact garden goldenrods that are perfect for small spaces or containers.
One of those compact varieties is Solidago ‘Little Lemon’, which reaches only 12 to 18 inches tall. It looks cute in seasonal containers, but this perennial should be replanted along a border edge before frost descends. The popular ‘Crown of Rays’, which grows 18 to 24 inches tall, is another compact form to consider. For a medium-tall variety, try the popular Solidago rugosa ‘Fireworks’, which grows 3 to 4 feet tall and spreads less aggressively than some wild forms. The winter seed heads of all goldenrod add garden beauty by attracting the lovely, yellow-feathered goldfinch.
The word “Solidago” comprises two Latin words that mean “to make whole”. “Solidago” shares a common root with the English word “solidarity”. This seems perfect for goldenrod, which finds solidarity with a variety of plants that bloom at the same time. The most prominent of them is the blue-purple Symphiotrichum novae-angliae (New England aster). Mums, especially those in burnt orange or dark red shades, also make good companions. In the fields, the waving golden wands harmonize with the last of summer’s true blue chicory, not to mention purple ironweed (Vernonia spp.) and lots of airy native grasses.
Goldenrod is a great garden plant, but it also makes an excellent cut flower. Best of all, since no one has ever been inclined to pick ragweed and add it to a vase, you can enjoy goldenrod’s sunny fall flowers indoors without resorting to allergy medicine or the tissue box.
Strands of Solidago rugosa ‘Fireworks’ intermingle with a fall planting of red dahlias and Salvia elegans ‘Golden Delicious’. (Photo by Jessie Keith)
Comments Off on Protect Plants from Summer Heat in Four Steps
A thick layer of straw helps keep roots cool while also holding moisture and keeping walkways clean and weed free.
It’s baking hot and your garden plants are wilting, waning, and altogether looking crummy. What do you do? High heat can take a toll on our vegetable and flower gardens, causing fruit and flowers to drop, buds to shrivel, leaves to wilt, and plants show general stress. It’s bad news, but there are a few protective measures gardeners can take to save their green investments through the worst of the high heat periods. Just four tips can help you turn your over-heated plants around: 1. Plant Smart, 2. Add Water-Holding Amendments, 3. Water Smart, and 4. Provide Mulch and Shade.
Heat-tolerant Profusion Zinnias buffer the hot edge of a driveway garden.
Choose heat-tolerant plants, such as Mexican marigolds, that will shine all season long.
More heat-tender plants should be placed in spots where they are protected by midday shade. Those planted alongside pavement need to be tougher because of the reflective heat generated by the concrete or asphalt. Buffering walkway or driveway edges with super tough creeping plants, such as rocky stonecrop (Sedum rupestre ‘Angelina’), trailing rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis ‘Prostratus’) or Profusion zinnias, will reduce some of the glare and generated heat. Another tip is to place plants so that they are just touching, but not overcrowded. Keeping the sunlight from hitting the ground surrounding plants is cooling. It is also smart to plant from high to low with taller plants shading shorter plants (Wild Senna is an outstanding tall, heat-tolerant perennial you can read about here).
Add Water-Holding Amendments
Water keeps soil cooler, so adding water-holding amendments helps reduce heat stress as well as drought stress. Organic matter always holds more water, so it is wise to add fresh compost to beds before planting. Fafard Premium Natural & Organic Compost is a great choice, but there are other amendments designed specifically to hold water. A sustainable selection is Black Gold Just Coir, which is comprised of 100% all-natural coconut coir and holds water like a dream. Coir comes from processed coconut husks, a byproduct of the coconut industry.
Early morning is a great time to water plants, if the day is going to be a hot one.
There are several watering techniques that will help you protect your plants from heat a little better (read all about smart watering tips here). First, watering early in the morning or later in the evening will allow plants take in moisture at cooler times of the day to help them withstand the high heat of midday. I like to water in the morning best. Drip hoses also help keep roots cool and water directly at the root zone.
Provide Mulch & Shade
Mulching cools rootzones, which helps keep plants happy during the hottest times of the day.
Mulches help keep plant roots cool. In the garden, lighter mulches, such as straw, hay, or leaf mulch, make a real difference in keeping plants happy during high-heat windows. Leaf mulch or pine straw are good choices for ornamental gardens. When days are really scorching, vegetables may benefit from floating shade cloth to reduce the sun’s glare. The cloth can either be supported by stakes surrounding beds or floated over rows during the day’s hottest window, from 11:00 am to 5:00 pm. Most studies show that the time between 2:00 and 3:00 pm is the hottest time of the day.
The most scorching days of summer usually don’t last long, but they can do lasting damage, dulling your garden’s looks and reducing yields. Protect them during these times to make the most of your garden for the rest of the season.
Tall phlox are midsummer bloomers that will rebloom if the old flowers are pruned back. (photo by Jessie Keith)
Timely summer pruning is the key to more flowers – and less flopping – in the perennial (and annual and shrub) border. Many annuals and perennials bloom better and longer if their spent flowers are regularly pruned – a practice known as deadheading. In addition to boosting floral display, deadheading also prevents self-sowing by fecund perennials and annuals such as spiderwort (Tradescantia), garden phlox (Phlox suffruticosa), and mulleins (Verbascum).
Echinaceas produce seeds that are perfect bird forage, so you may rethink pruning their seedheads back.
Different plants favor different deadheading regimes. Some perennials require minimal deadheading other than a hard pruning back to their basal foliage as their last flowers fade. Among these are columbine (Aquilegia), Delphinium, most catmints (Nepeta) and Salvia, most perennial geraniums, lungwort (Pulmonaria), mountain bluet (Centaurea montana), and lamb’s ear (Stachys byzantina). Many of these will send up a second round of flowers later in the season.
Numerous long-blooming perennials – including bellflowers (Campanula), balloon flower (Platycodon), Jupiter’s beard (Centranthus ruber), Shasta daisy (Chrysanthemum × superbum), bee balm (Monarda), most Veronica, garden phlox, and daylilies (Hemerocallis) – do best with frequent deadheading of individual flowers or flower clusters. In most cases, the cut should be made just above the next bud or leaf below the spent flower(s).
Similarly, most long-blooming annuals benefit from regular, light deadheading, although heavier pruning may be necessary if growth flags in summer (as sometimes happens with diascias, sweet alyssum, and others).
Shrubby perennials that flower relatively briefly (e.g., goatsbeard and Cimicfuga) usually require nothing more than a single tip-pruning after they bloom.
Some plants are better not deadheaded, particularly if their seeds are valued for ornament (as with nigellas and shrubby Clematis), bird forage (e.g., echinaceas and rudbeckias), or self-sowing. Knowing when not to prune is also important!
Lamb’s ears always look better when the old bloom stalks are removed.
Deadheading is not the only type of pruning that benefits perennials. A good early-summer (or late-spring) shearing can do wonders for large, late-blooming species with unruly habits such as asters, Joe Pye weed (Eupatorium), and perennial sunflowers (Helianthus). Left unchecked, the statuesque stems of these perennials topple under the weight of their flowers.
A far better solution than trussing them with stakes and string after they flop is to cut them back halfway in June. Shorter, sturdier, swoon-resistant plants will result. Flowers may be a bit later and smaller than those of unpruned plants, but they’ll also be abundant and upright.
June is also the ideal time to prune lanky early-blooming perennials such as moss phlox (Phlox subulata), Dianthus, and perennial candytuft (Iberis). Sheared back halfway immediately after flowering, they’ll produce fresh basal growth and possibly a few repeat blooms. Straggly stems of lavender, sage, and other woody-based perennials respond well to pruning in early spring, before bloom.
Blanketflower will bloom until frost if you keep the seedheads clipped off.
And then there are shrubs. Weigela, mock-oranges (Philadelphus), Deutzia, and other shrubs of similar growth habit should be cut back hard to vigorous new lateral shoots that break growth as the flowers fade in late spring and early summer. These new shoots will eventually provide next year’s floral display. Unpruned shrubs from this group decline into a lanky mass of leggy stems topped with old, unproductive wood that chokes out new growth.
Numerous other spring-blooming shrubs (including rhododendrons and lilacs) exhibit a somewhat different growth pattern, bearing relatively short new shoots mostly at their tips. Consequently, they generally do best with a relatively light early summer pruning, with care taken to preserve as much new growth as possible (which will give rise to next year’s flowers).
Whatever the plant – shrub, perennial, or annual – it will respond well to a post-pruning application of a nutrient-rich compost such as Fafard Natural & Organic Compost. Fertile soil and proper pruning make for happy plants (and gardeners!).
Love-in-a-mist flowers are airy, colorful and long-lasting. Their pretty puffy seed heads can be dried for winter everlasting arrangements.
Some of the prettiest flowers for cutting are annuals that grow and bloom fast and thrive in cool weather. Growing them is a snap. Start them in early August, and you should have lots of pretty flowers for cutting by late September or early October.
‘Towering Orange’ sulfur coreopsis is a tall variety that is perfect for fall cutting!
Planting Cut Flowers for Fall
If you are someone who already plants summer cut flowers, you will likely still have zinnias, tall marigolds, and purple cosmos in the garden, but these tend to lose steam towards the end of the season. Removing declining summer cut flowers and filling in the holes with fresh, cool-season bloomers will pay off. Just be sure to turn, smooth, and clean the ground before planting, and top dress with a good, moisture-holding mix that will allow your new cut flower seeds to germinate easily. Fafard Ultra Outdoor Planting Mix is a great choice.
Once your area is prepared, sprinkle your seeds of choice over the soil, and then lightly cover with some additional mix and gently pat the area down. Annuals with larger seeds, like sweet peas, will need to be planted at least an inch below the soil. Keep newly sown spots evenly moist with daily misting or watering.
Most annuals germinate quickly, in a week or two. Once new seedlings have emerged, continue providing them with needed moisture, and be sure to remove any weed seedlings. Feed plantlets every two weeks with a little water-soluble flower food. This will help them grow and flower at top speed.
Five Cut Flowers for Fall
1) Sweet Peas
Sweet peas (Lathyrus odoratus, 74-85 days from seed) are some of the sweetest smelling cool-season cut flowers, but they require light trellising. This is easily done by securing strong, firm stakes into the ground and lining the spaces between them with trellis netting that the peas can climb up with their tendrils. Renee’s Garden Seeds carries loads of exceptional sweet peas for cutting. The antique ‘Perfume Delight’ is especially fragrant and a little more heat tolerant, which allows them to forge through unexpected warm days. (Read Renee’s article “All About Sweet Peas” for more information about these pleasing flowers.)
Colorful bachelor’s buttons (Centaurea cyanus, 65-75 days from seed) come in shades of richest violet-blue, pink, white, and deepest burgundy. Most agree that the blue flowers are the most remarkable and prettiest in a vase. There are lots of compact varieties, but these have short stems. Long-stemmed selections are the best for cutting, but they must be staked for reliable upright growth. ‘Blue Boy’ is an old-fashioned, large-flowered heirloom with tall stems that are perfect for cutting.
3) Sulfur Coreopsis
For fiery color, few cut flowers grow faster than sulfur coreopsis (Coreopsis sulphureus, 50-60 days from seed). The long-stemmed ‘Towering Orange’ produces billows of tangerine orange flowers that will last a long time. These look beautiful in a vase with ‘Blue Boy’ bachelor’s buttons!
Extra fragrant, colorful blooms are the selling point of ‘Perfume Delight’ sweet pea sold by Renee’s Seeds. (photo care of Renee’s Garden Seeds)
Uniquely lacy flowers make love-in-a-mist (Nigella damascena, 63-80 days from seed) especially charming in the garden or a vase. The dried seed pots are also visually interesting, allowing them to double as dried flowers. The flowers come in shades of violet-blue, purple, white, and pink. One of the better Nigella mixes is provided by Johnny’s Selected Seeds.
5) Annual Baby’s Breath
No flower arrangement is complete without a frothy filler flower to add loft and interest. Annual baby’s breath (Gypsophila elegans, 45-50 days from seed) is the standard choice, and ‘Covent Garden Market’ is a tall, airy variety that will bloom until frost. It is very easy to grow, and its small, white, cup-shaped flowers make more colorful blooms stand out in a vase.
Cut flowers brighten our gardens and homes, so consider planting some of these traditional beauties in August for fall bloom. You’ll save money at the farmer’s market and impress your guests.
Comments Off on Fanciful and Fun Container Gardening
Used shoes of galoshes make very cute containers for flowers and succulents. (image by Maureen Gilmer)
Gardening, no matter what or where you plant, should be fun. Container gardening has an overwhelming fun quota because experimentation, creativity, and even mobility are part of the experience. Planting in pots is also a great equalizer. The smallest children can start seeds in paper cups, as can seniors, the disabled and just about anyone else. The idea that some people are born with a green thumb is a myth. The contagious fun of growing flowers or edible crops in interesting containers has been known to turn even lifelong black thumbs bright green.
Interesting containers, like interesting people and ideas, are everywhere. Look around the house, apartment or garage. Are you harboring an out-of-commission tea kettle? Fill it with boiling-hot-colored portulacas. Up to your eyeballs in plastic detergent containers? Cut them off to form bright-colored oval planters and pot up some of the currently fashionable succulent plants like hens and chicks (Sempervivum). Put a miniature African violet in an orphaned teacup from the local antique shop. In some parts of the country, people have been making “crown tire” planters out of bald tires since rubber began hitting the road. The tires can be decorated to suit your fancy. If your neighbors will be offended by a front-yard tire display, put it in the rear.
A pink Kalanchoe blossfeldiana looks seaside-ready in a turquoise shell container.
Avid container gardeners are always on the prowl for unique planters. Yard sales are a good source, as are dollar stores. Check out local curbsides on bulk pick-up days. People discard an amazing number of plant-worthy containers.
Repurpose existing receptacles. A picnic caddy, designed to hold plates and cutlery for outdoor dining, also makes an interesting, portable herb planter. Make an ultra-fashionable statement by making a container garden in an old purse or insulated lunch sack. Plant a gaudy croton in an old wastebasket. Once your mosquito-repelling citronella candle has burned down, take out the leftover wax and use the candleholder as a plant pot.
Doing It Right
This old picnic caddy is filled with fragrant, ornamental herbs.
Once you have found your planter, get your supplies. Create simple temporary plantings by sinking nursery-potted specimens into imaginative containers lined with plastic. Disguise unsightly edges with sphagnum moss. For more permanent plantings, check the bottom of the chosen container. If it already has drainage holes, you are all set. If not, and the vessel can withstand being pierced, create holes in the bottom. If making drainage holes would ruin the container, create drainage room by covering the container’s bottom with a one-inch layer of fine gravel before adding the potting medium and plants.
Good potting mix is essential. Most plants benefit from an excellent all-purpose medium like Fafard® Ultra Potting Mix with extended feed with Resilience™. Depending on the types of plants in your containers, you may need specialist planting media, like Fafard® African Violet Potting Mix or Fafard® Cactus & Succulent Potting Mix. Differences among the various potting mixes are determined by the amount of drainage material incorporated into the mix, as well as the addition of nutrients specific to different plant types.
An old fountain is repurposed as a beautiful succulent container garden. (photo by Maureen Gilmer)
Pick plants for containers the same way you select garden plants—right plant, right place. Container specimens in small to medium-size vessels are easy to transport, so it is sometimes easier to match light requirements to plant types. Sun-loving plants, including most flowering varieties and many edibles, require full sun, which means at least six hours of direct sunlight per day. Shade lovers, like begonias, can get by with as little as a couple of hours of dappled sunlight.
No matter whether you plant a miniature blueberry bush in an old spackle bucket or an entire small vegetable garden in a leaky wheelbarrow, be sure to water regularly. Container plants tend to be more thirsty than those grown in-ground. Fertilize regularly as well, especially if your plantings are nutrient-hungry annuals.
While we have made every effort to ensure the information on this website is reliable, Sun Gro Horticulture is not responsible for any errors or omissions, or for the results obtained from the use of this information. All information in this site is provided “as is”, with no guarantee of completeness, accuracy, timeliness or of the results obtained from the use of this information.