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5 Tips for Stress-Free Monoculture Containers

By Heather Blackmore for Proven Winners
Photographs courtesy of Proven Winners

Container gardening should be fun and rewarding. However, it can be anything but that if you are stressing over which plants to use. It’s a challenge when some are more vigorous than others and light and water requirements vary among varieties. Couple that with a plethora of possibilities and it’s no surprise you might be struggling to decide what to grow this year.

Here’s a simple solution: plant a monoculture container grouping. Instead of combining a variety of different plants in a single container, use only one type in each vessel. This design technique takes the guesswork out of pairing plants, plus it simplifies your watering and feeding schedules. Since each one has its own container, you can give them all exactly what they need without compromising the rest.

Here are five tips to get you started with creating your own eye-catching monoculture container garden.

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The containers used in this full sun monoculture grouping are related in color but vary in height. Included are (clockwise from top) Colorblaze® Rediculous® coleus, Angelface® Perfectly Pink summer snapdragon, Silver Bullet® wormwood, Sweet Caroline Bewitched After Midnight™ sweet potato vine and Supertunia Mini Vista® Hot Pink petunia.

Coordinate Your Containers

One handy feature of monoculture container groupings is that you can use a variety of smaller containers that are easy to set into place and move around, if needed. Bear in mind that small containers will require more frequent watering, especially when temperatures soar. Consider using self-watering AquaPots® or WaterWise® drip irrigation if you go this route.

Here are a few techniques to try when coordinating monoculture container groupings:

  • Choose containers in the same color family. Even if the containers have unique designs and textures, their harmonious colors will unify them into one cohesive grouping.
  • Vary the container heights. A multi-tiered grouping will have far greater impact than one where all the containers are the same height. If the containers you own are all about the same size, use plant stands to raise some of them up higher.
  • Any planter material will work. When it comes to containers, anything goes. You might use a variety of terracotta, ceramic, wood, metal or fiberglass pots. If you live in a cold climate, be sure to move your terracotta planters under cover for the winter to avoid cracking from moisture and temperature fluctuations.
  • Try sticking to a limited color plant palette. You might try using variations of a single flower color like pink or create a grouping of plants that fall under a warm or cool palette. Using a limited set of colors helps the plants’ unique textures and forms stand out, which can make the grouping more visually engaging.

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Growth Habit Is Important

Pictured above is an example of a single remarkable variety, Snow Princess® sweet alyssum, doing some spectacular things in a hanging basket. Often used as a filler/spiller in mixed containers, this plant’s growth habit and extra-vigorous nature make it an ideal candidate for monoculture hanging baskets. Other plants that could give you a similar look are Supertunia® petunias and Superbells® calibrachoa. The key is to select a plant with a mounding or cascading growth habit so once it fills in, all that will be visible is a lush floating sphere, not the basket.

How do you know a plant’s growth habit? On the plant tag or in the online description, you’ll see “Habit” and words like trailing, mounded or upright. Sometimes you’ll find a combination of these words. They indicate the shape of the plant when it is mature.

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Perennials Are for Containers, Too

Containers aren’t just for annuals! Perennials like Fun and Games® ‘Eye Spy’ foamy bells, pictured above, come with a two-for-one perk. Once you’ve enjoyed and gotten to know them for a season in your monoculture container, transplant them into your landscape where they will live for many more years. Growing perennials in containers first allows you to move them around your space to find their preferred light conditions before you plant them in a more permanent spot.

Best grown in part shade to full shade, Fun and Games® ‘Eye Spy’ adds a pop of bright chartreuse all season with the bonus of pollinator-friendly pink blooms in late spring. It is perennial in USDA Plant Hardiness Zones 4-9.

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Sweet Caroline Upside™ Black Coffee is a climbing sweet potato vine that will quickly scramble up a trellis or trail over the edges of a deck rail or hanging basket.

Dissect the Thriller, Filler, Spiller Recipe

A standard container recipe uses thriller, filler and spiller plants all in one large pot. In monoculture container groupings, you can use the same plants but with each one occupying its own container. A variety of container heights works best to achieve this look.

This is where a little extra attention to the plant habit pays off. For example, in the photo above, a large container outfitted with a bamboo trellis is a fitting support for an eye-catching thriller like Sweet Caroline Upside™ Black Coffee climbing sweet potato vine. A single pot of Lemon Coral® sedum acts as the spiller element.

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Planted individually, this monoculture container grouping of (from left) Big Leaf creeping wire vine, ColorBlaze® Newly Noir™ coleus and Angel Wings sea cabbage offers a lush play on color, contrast and texture.

Play with Shapes and Textures

If you study the image above, you will notice that each of the three plants has a different size, color and texture of leaves. Creeping wire vine forms a wiry mass of tiny, glossy green leaves. The dark-leaf coleus has a rugged, matte texture and medium-sized leaves. It stands tall and in stark contrast behind the large, velvety soft, silver leaves of Angel Wings. When arranged together, they form a striking trio.

If they had been grown together in a mixed container, these same plants might not have achieved their full potential since coleus prefers more water than the rest. Also, competition among plants in a container recipe can cause some to outperform others. By giving each their own space, you can make sure that each receives the water and feeding it needs to live its best life.

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Patent Information: Angelface® Perfectly Pink Angelonia USPP29270; Sweet Caroline Bewitched After Midnight™ Ipomoea batatas USPP29858 Can5778; Supertunia Mini Vista® Hot Pink Petunia USPP29664 Can6057; Snow Princess® Lobularia USPP21594 Can4189; Fun and Games® ‘Eye Spy’ Heucherella USPP30532 Can6220; Sweet Caroline Upside™ Black Coffee Ipomoea USPP35148 CanPBRAF; ColorBlaze® Newly Noir™ Coleus scutellarioides USPP34111 CanPBRAF; Angel Wings Senecio candicans USPP28830

Heather Blackmore is a Chicago-area gardener, writer and speaker who hopes her passion will inspire others to find their way to a happier, healthier life in the garden. 

All articles are copyrighted and remain the property of the author.

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