Contain Your Plants, Unleash Your Imagination

Looking for a way to spice up your landscape without a whole lot of work? One way is to use pots filled with plants as striking accents. Even one or 2 well-placed containers filled with plants of striking colors or unusual growth habits can turn a dull spot into an instant focal point.

A colorful grouping of mixed containers, all watered by an automated drip system

One of the homes on this year’s Smith County Master Gardener sponsored Home Garden Tour had many tastefully planted and located containers full of interesting and attractive plants, complimenting the well-maintained landscape. And, all were watered by an automatic drip system.

Container gardening is a hot trend in gardening these days, and has been for several years. This may be because folks have broken out of the mold of growing just one type of plant per pot. Mixed containers can contain upright shrubs, bright foliage or flowering tropicals or annuals, and usually are spilling over the edge with cascading or trailing greenery. They are indeed, mini-gardens, meant to be enjoyed in the same way as a well-designed landscape.

For folks living in apartments with a small balcony or porch, and small garden homes, container gardens are the perfect answer. Potted gardens let you grow for beauty and food for those with limited garden space.

In a minimalist setting, a Japanese maple in a green ceramic pot highlights the end of a narrow area planted in dwarf mondo.

Gardening in containers lets you grow things according to your surroundings, whether for the sun or shade, for wide or narrow spaces. Pots are portable, and can be kept in an out-of-the way spot until the mini-landscape is ready for display, or moved indoors in case of a sudden outbreak of freezing weather.

Selecting containers can be half the fun. Whimsical containers can create special focal points for the garden. Anything that provides drainage and sufficient root volume can be used. Old bathtubs, washers, wash pots, rusting wheelbarrows, old shoes and boots, whisky barrels – just about anything can be converted into an attractive container. Even broken large pots can be used – when placed on their side and planted to give the effect of the plants spilling out onto the ground.

A trio of blue glazed ceramic pots of different shapes planted in succulents are striking for this full sun exposure.

Perhaps you desire a more formal look. Many attractive, highly glazed, colorful containers are available to choose from. Consider a grouping of similar colored pots with varied heights and widths. Terracotta containers still are great choices, and plastic terracotta style pots look like the real thing, yet are a whole lot lighter both empty and filled with soil.

Keep in mind that small pots will need more frequent watering than larger and deeper containers. Don’t forget, any container you use must have a hole(s) for drainage.

A dramatic focal point created by this variegated agave in a ceramic pot atop a brick column.

Special attention should be given to the soil mix you use for potted plants. A coarse, porous soil that provides perfect drainage is essential. Peat or composted pine bark, along with sharp sand, perlite and/or vermiculite form the basis for good potting soils.  Do not use dirt from your garden, or inexpensive, heavy bagged soil – besides carrying disease organisms and nematodes, garden soil does not provide the right kind of drainage containers require. Don’t skimp on the quality of the potting soil!

Plants growing in containers will need more water and fertilizer than those grown in open ground. So, regularly give plants a thorough soaking with a diluted fertilizer solution. The addition of slow release fertilizer prills makes providing nutrients even more carefree.

Small pots and plants whose roots have occupied every inch of pot space will dry out much more quickly than newly established plants and very large pots, and thus will require more frequent watering and fertilization.

A dramatic contrast of dark red foliage canna with golden creeping Charlie

Plant Selection: What plants you put in the containers is limited only by your imagination and the size of the pot. A colorfully and attractively glazed container may only need one type of plant for a tasteful accent. As mentioned earlier, combinations of plants are very popular, letting you express your creativity.

For tall upright accents, a few options include ornamental grasses, papyrus and umbrella palm, elephant ears, tall, narrow shrubs, small times and vines trained on a support. For color use annuals, perennials, or tropicals.

Lettuce is an easy crop to grow in a container garden

Herbs and vegetables are great candidates for growing in containers. Many cool season vegetables have attractive and edible leaves, such as lettuce, kale, collards, parsley and Swiss chard.

A trio of pots with succulents marks an entry way

How about a dry container garden for a sunny spot in the yard?  Yuccas, sedums, kolanchoes, aloes and cacti are a few to consider. Use a coarse, gravelly soil mix, and even though you will need to water less frequently, an occasional soaking will keep the plants healthy and growing.

For shade, try leatherleaf or Japanese mahonia, Japanese fatsia, aspidistra, ferns, caladiums, coleus, inland sea oats grass, begonias, impatiens and other shade loving annuals and perennials.

Attractive terracotta pots with plant texture and flower colors that blend well with the home’s brick.

There are many interesting, hardy container plant possibilities to choose from for the limited garden space including small shrubs, trees and perennials. For example, dwarf hollies, Japanese maple, liriope, junipers, Japanese black pine, holly, clumping bamboo, dwarf nandina, bananas, windmill palm, and dwarf crape myrtle are just a sampling of options. Try mixing upright growing trees or shrubs with sprawling flowering annuals or perennials like ‘Georgia Blue’ veronica, trailing lantana, verbenas, sedums, or trailing petunias or violas.


A group of potted water gardens


The exception for containers having holes would be for growing water-loving plants, kinds which do not mind growing in saturated soil. Examples include colocasia (elephant’s ear), acorus (sweet flag), Louisiana iris, carex (ornamental sedges), or umbrella papyrus.

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