We’re all getting impatient for spring, but the season has been slow to arrive this year. So, while Mother Nature takes her time making the garden bloom, we can bring out the garden pots and create some color of our own.
It’s all about scale
“Consider the pot first,” says Terese Palaia as we began creating an early spot of color at her Blue Moon Garden and Nursery (formerly Hangman Valley Garden and Nursery) in the Hangman Valley area of Spokane.
Does the pot fit the scale of the place you want to put it? Pots that are too big or small for their space won’t lend themselves to a pleasant arrangement. If you plan on using a terra cotta pot, be prepared to water it more often than a plastic or glazed pot. And the pot must have drain holes.
We decided on a dark green glazed pot about 20 inches wide and 2 feet high for our project.
The right mix
Use a good quality potting mix.
“You want a soil that has a little perlite in it to allow for good drainage,” says Palaia. She recommends that you resist putting pot shards, packing peanuts or pine cones in the bottom of your pots because they interfere with the pot’s ability to drain away excess moisture. Palaia hasn’t had positive experiences with adding water-retaining crystals to her pots, either.
“If they dry out, they steal moisture from the soil.”
You will want to add a timed-release fertilizer to the soil.
Thrills, fills and spills
Planting spring pots takes some creative license because it’s early for many blooming plants. For Palaia, this means looking at all kinds of plants, even small shrubs and evergreens, for your containers. “Think leaf color as much as flower color,” she said.
Planted containers should have a bold, tall “thriller” plant surrounded by some midlevel “fillers” and some “spillers” that trail down the sides of the pot.
Our pot dictated that we use a plant about 2 to 3 feet high. Because it is early in the season, we settled on a narrow Green Tower boxwood shrub as our thriller for the center of the pot. The green boxwood had yellow overtones, so we decided to stick to a color palette of muted yellows and burgundies with a touch of pale orange and purples. All this went well with our green pot.
We then began adding our filler plants: a chartreuse Angelina sedum, a burgundy-leafed Amethyst Myst coral belle (heuchera) and a slightly variegated green leafed Kimono foam flower (heucherella).
“Plant in triangles,” said Palaia. “You want your eyes moving around the pot from one plant to the next.”
All of these plants are perennials that can be left in the container through the summer.
Our filler layer was a mixture of very early blooming brilliant yellow pansies from Palaia’s huge outdoor bed and some pale yellowy orange African daisies that were blooming early in the greenhouse. We finished the layer with a sun-tolerant yellow, red and orange leafed coleus. While the pansies will finish early, the others will grow between 6 inches and a foot tall over the summer. The pansies can be pulled out and replaced with a summer blooming alternative.
Our spillers turned out to be purple trailing petunias, yellow creeping zinnia, some African spur flower (plectranthus) with bold leaves and unusual purple stems and a chartreuse-leaved Marguerite sweet potato vine.
Play it safe
Early plantings are not immune to late frosts, so put your containers in a protected spot where you can cover them with a sheet or some floating row cover if a frost threatens. Palaia recommends feeding the plants in your container with a half-strength liquid fertilizer every two weeks and watering when the top inch of soil is dry.
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