Containers offer a very versatile and flexible approach to growing plants outdoors. Sure, virtually every home has its palms and shrubs, the in-ground plants that provide a range of colors and textures in a landscape. Think of containers as an opportunity to expand your garden with minimal labor and provide an expression of your personality to accent the rest of the landscape.
Container gardens add a touch of nature to otherwise hardscaped spaces, such as lanais, balconies and front doorways. Containerized plants may not survive every season, so you have an opportunity to refresh the look at nominal cost by simply trading out a portion of the plants in your design from time to time.
THRILLERS, FILLERS AND SPILLERS
You decide the design. A single specimen plant set on its own makes a bold statement. Or you can treat design like making a flower arrangement, with combinations of flowers and foliage complementing each other.
A classic approach is to add a Thriller plant as attention getter, one or more Fillers, and a Spiller that cascades. Some stores sell pre-designed combos, but why not deploy your own unique creativity by choosing amongst the myriad options of texture and color. Feel free to pack in the plants tightly. After all, who wants to see dirt? You can easily trim them back as they grow, perhaps taking a bouquet indoors to enjoy.
SAME PLANT NEEDS
Many plant types can thrive in pots, including small trees, palms, and edibles. Think in terms of choosing plants that have the same cultural requirements, especially in the amount of light required. The pot-in-pot approach allows for some variation in water requirements if you bury an accent plant’s pot within the rest of the foliage but above the soil line, so you can water differentially, as well as more easily swap out some plants seasonally.
An important design consideration is the container or pot. Do you want it to stand out, like the highly colorful Talavera pottery? Or have a more earthy look, such as with Terracotta? Perhaps a hanging basket is ,ore your style thing. Visualize how the plants and container will come together to create the right scale and visual appeal, and then go for it.
For large pots, consider plastic to reduce weight. Any larger container can be partially filled at the bottom with light material such as empty plastic bottles (with caps on), wine corks or similar filler material, packed down in the bottom so the soil doesn’t sink later. For most plants, you only need enough soil to give existing roots a few inches to expand.
Good drainage is a “must have”, so look for drainage holes. Don’t use saucers that can trap water, but do consider pot risers to elevate pots at least an inch or two, allowing air circulation below. Container material and size impacts moisture evaporation. Consider that plastic or glazed surfaces will slow evaporation — good for thirsty plants, but less so for succulents.
DON'T FORGET TLC
Be clear eyed about the realities. Container plants need all the nourishment you’d expect any plant to need – high quality potting soil, light, moisture and fertilizer — and probably a bit more care. Landscape service companies typically don’t take responsibility for plants in containers, so don’t depend on them to notice pests or add fertilizer like they do for in-ground landscape plants. Containerized soil will usually dry out faster, especially in hanging baskets, requiring hand watering unless you install drip lines or position them near an existing sprinkler system.
Investing a little time communing with your container garden plants can serve as a form of meditation. Step outside, take a few deep breaths, and get just a little closer to nature than you typically would with your in-ground plants. You may not experience physical nourishment like the butterflies and bees, but they are not the only creatures who benefit from the glories of nature.
Joyce Laubach is a Florida Master Gardener, volunteering for the Charlotte County Extension Service. She also is a PGI Green Thumb and a committee member of the Punta Gorda in Bloom initiative.