By Lori Murray, Cameron County Master Gardener
PREPARING THE CONTAINER
Once you have chosen your container you will need to prepare it. Clay pots should be soaked for several hours before you plant.
(Since they are porous they’ll absorb a lot of the moisture from the soil if you don’t soak them first.) Other types of containers need to be scrubbed clean inside and out. Putting a layer of pebbles in the bottom will provide better drainage; filling the bottom of a very large pot with Styrofoam peanuts will keep it from weighing too much. A coffee filter or pea gravel in the bottom of a pot will keep the soil from running out during watering. Usually we plant in a large pot because it won’t dry out as quickly as a smaller pot, so bear that in mind in selecting a pot that will hold a combination of plants.
SELECTING YOUR PLANTS
This is the fun part! You can fill a container with all the sametype of plant or you can combine an assortment of plants. If you choose to combine plants, be sure they all have the same light and water requirements. Sun-loving and shade-loving plants don’t mix unless the sunloving plants provide an umbrella for the shade loving plants. This can be tricky without experience, so begin by using the same types of plants in your container.
Combination gardens might include herbs and flowers, herbs andleafy vegetables, ferns andcolorful foliage or dainty blooms, ornamental grasses surrounded by very low-growing blooms, dwarf trees withtrailing groundcovers, or you might just want to mix somecontrasting colors of the same flower. You can grow annuals, perennials, bulbs, dwarf trees and evergreens, cactus, herbs, groundcovers, roses, succulents, vines, and vegetables in any combination provided the plants have the same requirements.
I have a mandevilla staked in a large pot with trailing lantana. Both will take a lot of sun and the lantana visually anchors the pot to the ground. I also have a plumeria “anchored” by artillery fern. Other successful combinations have involved tall grasses with crotons and coleus for color.
If you decide to mix and match, don’t be shy about mixing and matching right there at the garden center. Choose the plant you would like to start with and carry it around looking for one or two others that please your eye. One rule of thumb is to have “a thriller” to draw the eye upward, “a filler” to fill in the space within the pot, and “a spiller” to trail out of the container.
Plant placement depends on where you will use the container. Very few containers are looked at from all sides, so there is usually no need to center your thriller. Usually it’s best placed toward the back of the pot. The filler should be spaced around it, and finally the spiller is woven into the filler plants. See next week’s article for hints on how to effectively place and plant the contents of your big pot.
Not all three types of plant need to bloom.Go for foliage first and find other plants whose look pleases you in combination. Keep textures and shapes in mind and try to vary both for interest.
Color is an important consideration. If an area receives a lot of hot sun, you may want to choose some “cool” colors such as white, lavender and green with only splashes of the brighter warm colors. If you enjoy being outdoors at night, you might want to choose white flowers for the visual effect and addsome fragrant blooms (i.e. night bloomers like jasmine) Remember that too many containers of mixed colors can be disturbing. Plant several pots with solid colors and fewer pots with combined colors. Use the combination planters for interest close to a chair, bench, door, etc.
Above all, choose colors that are the most appealing to you. Later, after you have experimented with pots and plantings, try to plan your garden so that fresh color comes in when other colors begin to fade. With a little planning, you can have color all year.