TO PORTABLE GARDENS
Hayes is currently the Horticulture Specialist for the Department of
Horticulture and Crop Science at Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio. Part of his duties include organizing
and managing the Annual Bedding Plant Trials at the University.
Bart is a
prolific writer and public speaker.
His articles have appeared in trade publications and he has spoken to
groups as varied as industry professionals and garden clubs.
article, Bart explains the easy way to build a container of flowers or foliage,
from the pot up. You can learn how
to mix colors in a pleasing way, how and when to fertilize, and when to water
and how to know when to water.
Using the correct soil-less blend and putting same needs plants together;
all of these are recipes for success.
K Moore August 7, 2009---
Bart Hayes, Horticulture Specialist
Department of Horticulture and Crop Science, Ohio State University
Mixed containers have become a huge portion
of the garden business. Their
success is due to many factors:
Ease of construction, ease of maintenance, the ability to move from one
place to another easily, and the big impact they can have in a landscape. There are a few basic guidelines for
planting your own mixed container combination, but it really is hard to make a bad
Photo: These succulents do well in pots. They detest clay soil. Plants: Euphorbia tirucalli 'Sticks on Fire', Echivera 'Topsy Turvy', Sedum adolphii, & Cactus species.
thing to consider, before choosing plants, is the container itself. I go on and on about investing in a
good container, but for good reason.
The pot makes up half of the combination, so it needs to blend in and
not draw attention away from the flowers. Even better, it should add to the overall beauty; beautiful
plants in a great pot is the same idea as a beautiful painting in a great
the pot has a drainage hole and is heavy enough to keep a tall plant
combination from blowing over in the wind. Other considerations, which are important but really rely on
your own personal preferences, are the color of the pot, its shape and material,
and how these factors work with the plants.
thing to consider is soil and fertilizer.
I mention the two together because they both rely on each other. A light, free draining mix, free of
sand and gravel, will grow a healthy plant. Some of the drawbacks of having a mix like this are that the
containers will need to be watered more often and they will not hold fertilizer
like growing-in-the-ground garden soil.
way to compensate for this fact is to mix a slow
release fertilizer into the soil. That way the plants will have a constant little dose of
fertility always available. I
still suggest using a well-balanced liquid fertilizer (the numbers on the label
read 15-30-15, or something similar) when you water once every 2 to 4 weeks for
that extra kick to make your plants explode with blooms.
If you do
not use a slow release fertilizer, then you should be fertilizing about once a
week or every third watering. I
would avoid using regular garden soil, as it can have weeds and diseases that
can adversely affect plant growth.
Plus, it is heavy and, if it happens to get too dry, gets as hard as a
rock. Plants can't grow in a rock.
talk plants. Where to start? The sky is the limit when it comes to
what you can put into a combination
planting. Annuals, perennials,
tropical plants, succulents, trees, shrubs, and artistic, non-living things
like cut branches or pieces of art all are container worthy. I hesitate to tell you what to use,
only that you should use what you like and think will look good.
The plants should be in balance with the
container, meaning not excessively large or small for the size of the pot. Remember, the plants will grow after
you purchase them, so read the label for a good estimate on the finished size
you can expect.
Now for a
little advice: The pot should be
about one-third the finished height with plants making up the other two thirds. This makes for an appealing and
appropriately balanced combination.
Also, take into account the way the plants grow; the plant habit. Some plants are narrow and very
vertical, some are low and trail over the edge of the pot, most are somewhere
in between, sort of a half-sphere shape.
Photo: A great combination for part shade; the palm
and Frieda Hempel caladium are the ''taller'' plants, the Non-Stop Bright Red
begonia is the ''baller'', and the chenille plant (Acalypha
pendula 'Firetail') is the
are making a combination, one of each of these plant habits in a container will
give each of the plants room to grow, without interfering with each other. A good way to remember this is ''a
thriller, a filler, and a spiller'', or as I prefer to think ''a taller, a
baller, and a faller''. As long as
we are discussing design, I will mention that there are some tricks, outside of
your own taste, that can be used.
When picking the color of the plants you
want to use, try to match up different colors that either compliment or
contrast each other. Remember back
to high school art class and the use of the color
wheel: Colors across from each
other contrast; colors next to each other complement. And don't forget that green is a color, too. Use plants with different leaf textures
and shape to provide even further interest.
have planted your combination, the maintenance should be relatively easy. Mixed containers require more
maintenance than a planted flowerbed, but they are much smaller, so the time
investment is less. The key to
taking good care of your combination has three important parts: Water, water, water.
is the most challenging aspect of plant care, even for professionals. You need to find the ''Goldilocks
level'', not too much and not too little.
A trick that I use at work and at home is to lift the pot. If it feels heavy for its size, then it
probably does not need watered, if it is light, then a drink would be a good
pot is too big or heavy to do this, put your finger about 3 inches into the
soil, about 3 inches from the edge of the pot. If it is cool and moist, you have enough water. Plants will also ''tell'' you when they
are dry. Some plants have leaves
that will lighten in color and become whiter, like Boston ferns and Begonias. Most will start to wilt.
occasional wilt is not a bad thing, but too much too often will result in less
flowers and sick looking plants.
When you do water, with or without fertilizer, you want to water
thoroughly, but infrequently.
Keeping the soil saturated all of the time is not good. The roots need air too, not just
until you actually see it coming out of the drainage hole. Be patient! This may take awhile; you may even have to water it, stop,
and then water again. I can't say
when to water again because so many factors go into how much water is available
for the plant. The size of the pot
(a smaller pot needs more water), the kind of plants that you use (a cactus
uses less water than a petunia), and where it is located (in full sun or in the
shade) determine how much and how often you need to water your
combination. All I can do is tell
you that it is OK for the soil to dry out a little; it encourages the plant to
grow healthy roots.
A container garden can do many things. It can brighten up a dark spot where
you cannot plant something in the ground.
It can enhance an outdoor living space, make a great gift, or simply
allow you to enjoy gardening without having to do more work than you are
willing or able to do. I like to
move my containers around when I have company or when I get bored with how my
yard looks. It is an easy fix for
hiding bad spots or enhancing good ones.
No matter how you use your mixed containers, I am sure you will enjoy them;
all it takes is an artistic eye, a love for plants and to garden smart.
PHOTO: Shade container using mostly foliage colors
(a monochromatic complimentary scheme) brightens up a shade corner. Golden
Boston Fern (Nephrolepis exhaltata
'Rita's Gold'), Begonia 'Marmaduke', Lysimachia 'Walkabout Sunset', and Guzmania Hybrid