Walker: When planting in pots, mix foilage color, texture and orientation

University of Idaho Master GardenerApril 25, 2013 



About 10 years ago, a friend gave me three beautiful pots as a gift. Ever since, I've tried different things in those pots. For several years, I planted only warm season annuals and let the pots sit empty during winter - their beautiful royal blue was a splash of color when nothing else was in bloom.

For the past few years, the pots have been filled with perennial succulents. Now the succulents are looking a bit ratty, so I'll plant them around the garden where they'll come back to life. Since I didn't start any annuals this spring along with my veggies the pots will be a good excuse to visit local nurseries and plant sales.

So what will I put in my pots?

When deciding what to put in my pots, I first visited the library to check out some container gardening books. The Boise Public Library has a few dozen books on this subject.

The basic traditional container recipe calls for "something tall and spiky." How tall? I don't want something so tall that it looks like the pot might tip over. I'm guessing the height should be no more than twice the diameter of the pot. When shopping for the right specimen, the plant tag will say how tall and wide the plant will get.

The flowering plants in the pot need to complement each other - and be shorter than the tall and spiky plant. Because I have three pots to fill, I can fill one with the same species of flower in three different colors. Another can be filled with three different flowering plants with complementary colors.

Why three? An odd number of plantings is more pleasing to the eye and a color scheme should contain no more than three colors.

Leaf texture and color is another thing to think about when filling a container. I'd like to have something with bright lime green foliage, but there are plants with light gray, yellow, reddish and dark maroon leaves as well.

It's nice to have a plant that will drape over the edge of the pot to soften the look. One of the plants I tried in one of my pots was Kenilworth Ivy (Cymbalaria muralis). It's not really an ivy, but it hangs over the pot very nicely and produces a tiny white flower with a yellow center. Some of this plant "jumped ship" and rooted next to the porch. In that location, it makes a nice ground cover and hasn't spread prolifically.

Pots can be planted for use in only one season. One of my neighbors has several pots filled with fall blooming chrysanthemums. The pots don't appear until they start to bloom in late summer. A pot full of spring flowering bulbs is nice, too. Once they stop blooming, the foliage still needs full sun to produce again the next spring. So off to a sunny corner of the back yard they go.

Container plants need to be in good quality potting soil. They also need to be fertilized more often than plants in garden soil. About once a month, add some liquid fertilizer to your watering can to keep plants looking good all season.

If watering by hand gets old, there are drip kits on the market especially for pots. You have to be in the mood to experiment to make sure each pot gets enough water while not overwatering others. Larger pots need less water to stay hydrated than smaller pots. In our dry climate, drip irrigation may be the way to go since pots may need to be watered twice a day in the hottest weather.

To keep the containers looking nice, spent flowers need to be deadheaded on a regular basis. Deadheading will keep flowering plants blooming all season.

If you have very large, deep decorative pots, you may want to use plastic containers that will sit inside the larger pot (use scrap wood, bricks, pavers or whatever for the inner pot to sit on). This will keep the weight down in case the pot needs to be moved and fall cleanup will be easier by removing the inner pot.

And don't forget - many types of vegetables do well in containers.

If you have particular questions about gardening you'd like to see addressed in this column, send them to highprairielandscapedesign@yahoo.com.

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