From the June/July 2011 Issue:

Pots with Staying Power

    Writer: Mary Vinnedge |

Container gardens can beautify your landscape 365 days a year.

Article Photo
enlarge | A tangle of ‘Diamond Frost’ euphorbia erupts from a patio pot. Courtesy of Proven Winners
Most gardeners haul out their pots in spring, stow them in the fall and enjoy some annuals in between. But if you choose the right plants, your container garden can brighten your landscape all four seasons.

Sound impossible? Not at all, says Peg Reynolds of Reynolds Garden Shop and Reynolds Landscaping Inc. in Manahawkin, who shares the outside scoop on year-round container gardening. Of course, the challenge is winter. And Reynolds’ mainstay for cold weather is ornamental kale/cabbage. In fall, she adds this winter-hardy annual, noteworthy for its purplish or cream-colored flowerlike foliage, to the permanent plants—if any—in pots.

Then Reynolds augments the living plants with seasonal decorations such as gourds, mini-pumpkins, store-bought cuttings of bittersweet, and red bows along with cuttings of the homeowners’ evergreens. She says to push the cut ends of pine, spruce, magnolia, boxwood, holly and red-twig dogwood into the soil to make an arrangement. “The cuttings will usually last a few months,” Reynolds says.

Getting started
No matter when you start your year-round container plantings, begin with a clean pot that provides drainage. To enhance drainage, place rocks, chards from clay pots or even small upside-down plastic pots—perhaps the store containers for your starter plants—over the drain hole.

You want 2 to 3 inches of soil under the root ball of each plant so it has growing room, Reynolds says. And stop the soil line about 2 to 3 inches below the rim of the pot for ample, easy watering.

Use a lightweight, airy-textured soil mix. Reynolds favors timed-release fertilizer pellets such as Osmocote (often mixed into commercial potting soils) to cut the feeding frequency. If your pots will be in a windy area, consider mixing Soil-Moist beads into the soil to help retain water, she advises. Self-watering pots with wicks also can reduce maintenance.

Reynolds generally recommends combining plants of different heights, growth habits and textures in one pot, although matching pots containing a single topiary apiece—perhaps a juniper — can be an attractive, formal touch flanking a door. She also suggests keeping a pot of culinary herbs such as sage, thyme, parsley, basil and rosemary near the back door so you can make some quick snips during meal preparation.

When combining different plants in one pot, all must have similar water, fertilizer and sun/shade needs. After you’ve checked plant stakes for compatibility, “use what you love, and your containers will turn out nice,” Reynolds says.
Test the arrangement of your starter plants in the store in the shopping cart or wagon or, once you’re back home, in the container you’ll use (place crumpled newspaper in the pot to raise plants to a realistic height). Once you’re happy, install the plants.

Article Photo
enlarge | Mandevilla climbs a mini-trellis inside a large pot while deep-coral portu­laca and lavender scaevola mix it up underneath. Photo by Tanek H. Hood/Reynolds Landscaping Inc.
To keep your plants healthy, Reynolds recommends pot feet to aid drainage. Never let the pots sit in a saucer of water, which can lead to root rot and fungal diseases.

Keep flowers deadheaded and pinch back or prune plants that become leggy.After the roots mature, you may wish to prune plants for a fresh start, and you may need to fertilize, or fertilize more often, depending on the needs of your plants.

As individual annuals mature and fade (coleus, caladiums and basil, for example), you may want to replace them piecemeal with seasonal choices (mums, asters, ornamental cabbage), but staples such as ivy, juniper and perennial ferns may remain in the pot year-round.

Reynolds’ choices for shade, sun, and dry climates, along with her comments in parentheses, are in the Peg’s Picks box.

Peg's Picks
Early to Midspring: Sun
• Juniper (keep in pot year-round)
• Leaf lettuce such as ‘Red Sails’
• Ornamental cabbage/kale (should still be attractive)
• Pansies
• Parsley
• Primrose
• Ranunculus
• Snapdragons (tall)
• Stock (tall, fragrant)

Early to Midspring: Shade
• English ivy (keep in pot year-round)
• Ferns (some are perennial)
• Pansies
• Ranunculus

Late Spring to Frost: Sun
• Angelonia (tall)
• Asters
• Bacopa
• Calibrachoa ‘Fall Magic’
• Calibrachoa ‘Million Bells’
• Chrysanthemums (add in late summer/early fall)
• Cordyline
• Coleus (Solar series for sun-tolerance/tall)
• Dappled willow (“hardy as a weed”)
• Dwarf pampas grass
• Eugenia (tropical shrub)
• Herbs
• Lantana (yellow and orange types bloom longest)
• Millet grass
Pennisetum setaceum ‘Rubrum’ (ornamental grass/tall)
• Ornamental kale/cabbage (add in fall)
• Ornamental peppers
• Potato vines
• Tropical flowering hibiscus (tall)
• Scaevola
• Verbena

Late Spring to Frost: Shade
• Begonia (Nonstop series)
• Caladiums (some varieties tall)
• Campanulas
• Coleus (tall)
• Cordyline
• Double impatiens
• Elephant ears
• Euphorbia ‘Diamond Frost’
• Heuchera/coral bells (‘Plum Royal’/purple foliage)
• Heuchera/coral bells (‘Peach Melba’ and ‘Crème Brulee’/orangey foliage)
• Hydrangeas (favorite: small, pink-blooming ‘Bella Anna’)
• Lobelia
• Millet grass (purple)
• Passionflower vine
• Potato vines

Drought-tolerant Options: Sun
• Cordyline
• Hens and chicks
• Lantana
• Portulaca
• Sedums
Pennisetum alopecuroides ‘Little Bunny’ (ornamental grass)
P. setaceum ‘Rubrum’ (ornamental grass)