Get garden color with less work by planting in containers | Home/Garden

Most of us crave color in the landscape. Colorful flowers and foliage enliven a landscape and bring interest and beauty.

We typically plant colorful flowerbeds to provide splashes of color. While beautiful, flowerbeds are high maintenance. They require laborious bed preparation and planting. Then comes the continuous work of grooming (deadheading and removing unattractive foliage), watering, weeding and fertilizing.

With the record-breaking heat this summer, it’s been hard to get out and maintain flowerbeds. Wouldn’t it be nice if there was a way to have the landscape color we want without all that labor?

Planting colorful bedding plants in large containers will do just that. Strategically placed where the color will be most appreciated, colorful plants in containers can add the color we crave with much less effort.

The only limit to where you put colorful container gardens is water. It’s best to have a source of water close enough to make watering convenient.

The best places to locate colorful containers include outdoor living areas, like decks and patios. There the color can be enjoyed whenever you spend time outside. You could also place containers of colorful bedding plants flanking your front door. There the color will focus attention to the front entrance and brighten your front landscape.

There are a few things to keep in mind when selecting bedding plants for containers.

The amount of light in the location where the container will be placed must be considered. Choose sun-loving bedding plants for pots in sunny areas and shade-loving bedding plants for pots in shady spots.

The composition of the plants in the pot must be pleasing. Think about what colors you want to combine in the pot and make sure they look good together. And choose plants that have a variety of heights to add interest to the composition.

To help make the composition process easier, you can use a concept originated by Steve Silk in Fine Gardening magazine. A good composition can easily be achieved by using a thriller, a filler and a spiller. That means choosing tall, showy plants to plant in the middle of the container, the thriller. To plant around the tall plants, choose plants with bushy, mounding growth habits to add volume to the planting, the filler. And around the outside of the pot plant bedding plants that will stay low and cascade over the sides, the spiller.

With this in mind, choose bedding plants with the three different shapes in colors that combine, harmonize or contrast pleasingly with each other. And make sure they will grow well together in the growing conditions where the container will be located.

Choose containers that are muted colors and simple in design since brightly colored and heavily decorated pots generally will detract from the colorful flower plantings. There may be certain settings, however, where you feel more elaborately decorated containers are appropriate.

Choose larger size containers; the bigger the better. Small containers are usually out of scale with outdoor landscapes and require more frequent watering. And larger pots give you more opportunity to create a beautiful composition of bedding plants.

Look for drainage holes in the bottom to allow excess water to drain out of the pot when you water. This is critical.

Use products specifically labeled “potting soil” or “potting mix” to fill your containers. Mixes labeled “topsoil” or “garden soil” are not suitable as they are too heavy and will not drain rapidly enough. For the same reason, soil dug up from a garden bed outside also is unsuitable.

Watering plants growing in containers is more important than for plants growing in the ground. While container gardens are lower maintenance than flowerbeds, you will have to pay careful attention to watering.

When you water, water generously until water runs out of the drainage holes. Water again whenever the potting medium begins to feel dry to the touch or the plants wilt slightly.

Fertilizing is an important part of getting the bedding plants to grow and bloom vigorously. The best choices for fertilizing container plants are either soluble fertilizers or slow-release fertilizers. Soluble fertilizers are easy to apply as you water, but they must be applied every two weeks to maintain a constant supply of nutrients. Slow-release fertilizers provide nutrients over several months from one application and so cut down on labor.

Choose well-established plants in 4-inch pots or larger. Make sure the plants you purchase are healthy and vigorous and have been properly cared for. Avoid plants that look wilted, leggy, have poor color or show signs of insect or disease problems. This is not the time of year to nurse struggling plants back to health. Start off with the highest quality plants you can find.

What’s available now

There are lots of choices for planting now.

SUNNY LOCATIONS: Periwinkle, angelonia, melampodium, blue daze, purslane, portulaca, pentas, torenia, perennial verbena, salvias, sun tolerant coleus, lantana, ornamental sweet potato, zinnia, marigold, ornamental peppers, globe amaranth, cosmos, dwarf sunflowers and celosia.

SHADY AND PARTLY SHADY: Impatiens, torenia, begonias, ferns and coleus. I’m sure you are likely to see other great choices available as well.

Garden columnist Dan Gill answers readers’ questions each week. To send a question, email Gill at [email protected].

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