Would you like to perk up your backyard a bit or add some oomph to a deck or patio? Containers could be the answer. Planting flowers, shrubs and even trees in pots gives you the freedom to indulge in plants and flowers which do not normally grow in your yard. Containerized plants create an immediate visual effect and provide an opportunity to introduce new textures and colors to your outdoor landscape. Planters are also versatile in that they can be moved from one area of your yard, porch or patio without interfering with your permanent plantings.
First, choose your containers. Be creative – anything from an old boot to a claw foot tub can work. Make sure the containers you choose have adequate drainage so that the soil does not get waterlogged and jeopardize plant health as roots rot in overly moist conditions. Porous materials like clay, terracotta or wood lose moisture quickly in dry weather while non-porous materials like plastic, metal or glazed finishes hold moisture longer. Smaller containers dry out faster than larger ones requiring more frequent watering.
For a weathered look on clay pots, try rubbing a thick layer of plain yogurt over the exterior and leave it to dry outdoors for seven to ten days before planting. A greenish patina will gradually develop.
Use good quality soil for the planters but don’t dig up soil from the back yard. There are good commercial potting mixes available from your local garden center. Adding slow-release fertilizer granules provides an even feed to plants for several months while hydrogels, water-absorbing crystals, slowly make moisture available to plant roots preventing water stress.
Determine whether your containers will be located in the sun or shade and choose plants that suit the light situation. The plants you choose should be compatible, so don’t put sun lovers together with shade lovers or arid types with moisture lovers.
With a seemingly endless range of plants to choose from, think simple and bold. A fussy mix of small-flowered plants in muted colors won’t do much for the oomph factor. A classic urn filled with hot tropical colors will draw attention, while just as dramatic would be dazzling white petals set against a dark background. If you have full sun, try creating a stylized architectural effect with Phormium tenax, the New Zealand flax. The bold, sword-shaped leaves are available in a variety of beautiful sunset colors. For a tropical theme in full sun or dappled shade, look for Musa, the banana, with palm-like leaves and tubular flowers. Other interesting choices include Hedychium, a ginger, with dense spikes of fragrant, showy flowers offset by lance-shaped leaves and Alocasia (elephant ears) with handsomely-colored foliage. Any of these plants can be featured solo or used as a focal point in a container.
Many grasses are suitable for containers by themselves like Miscanthus sinensis ‘Little Zebra,’ a dwarf form at two feet achieving three feet in bloom. Shorter species of grasses like Imperata cylindrcia ‘Rubra’ can be used as fillers. To produce a sumptuous scene, try placing the variegated Canna ‘Pretoria’ in the center of your container complemented by annual fountain grass, Pennisetum setaceum ‘Rubrum’ with arching, dark purple leaves. Underplant with a golden Scotch moss, Sagina subulata ‘Aurea’ or licorice vine, Helichrysum petiolare ‘Lemon Licorice’ spilling over the sides.
Place tall plants in the center of the container or towards the back, and fill empty spaces with smaller plants interspersed with trailing types at the edge that flow over the sides. A riot of vivid colors can be overwhelming, so tone down the palette with green foliage or lighter shades of the same color. Container gardens are a fun way to experiment with the variety of offerings at your local garden center, but don’t forget about tried-and-true petunias and other common annuals which seem to bloom forever.