Published on 06/19/08

Container gardens perfect for annual color

By Sharon Omahen
University of Georgia

A flower bed bursting with colorful annuals is the summertime dream of many gardeners. But many don’t have the space or time to care for them. With a bit of planning and good choices, flower-lovers can enjoy their favorite blossoms in containers.

First, select a good pot. They are available in a variety of materials like foam, fiberglass, plastic or wood, said Krissy Slagle, a program assistant with the University of Georgia Master Gardener Program.

“If you’re going to use plastic, make sure it’s double-wall plastic,” she said.

Containers made of low-quality plastic or wood will deteriorate quickly. To extend the life of a wooden container, line it with heavy-duty plastic, she said. Spray black plastic pots with plastic-friendly paint to make them more attractive.

Use clay pots only in partly shady areas. “They dry out quicker,” she said. “So, I put them in afternoon shade or fill them with succulent plants.”

Concrete containers retain moisture and crack in the winter. “Plus, they are almost impossible to move,” she said.

Over the years, Slagle has seen gardeners select some very unique containers like bathtubs, toilets, wheelbarrows and children’s wagons.

The next step is soil selection. Use a soil-less mix for good drainage. Regular garden soil can have disease and be heavy, she said.

Don’t be scared to replace old soil or to pay for good soil. “It’s better to spend the money on soil than to be disappointed by plant losses halfway through the season,” she said.

Fill up the container with soil to two inches below the rim. This will allow you to water the plant without soil spilling out of the container.

Once you have selected a container and soil, pick a good location for the container. Plant selection is often based on location.

“Every container garden should have a thriller, a filler and a spiller,” Slagle said. “The thriller is the focal point, the filler fills the container and the spiller spills over the edge.”

She recommends cannas or elephant ears as thrillers, coleus or ornamental peppers as fillers and sweet potato vines or petunias as spillers.

“Coleus has been rediscovered by gardeners,” she said. “It comes in some many colors and leaf shapes.”

Use tall plants to attract attention or a small statuary as a focal point. Slagle says mixing plants with different textures will also create an interesting affect.

Gardeners who like to change out plants frequently may choose to place a pot in the center of their container garden. “This way you can swap out flowering colorful plants as often as you’d like,” she said.

When it comes to color selection, Slagle says this is a personal choice. She prefers plants that flower in the same color scheme. Others prefer blending opposites, like pairing plants with blue flowers with plants that produce orange flowers.

“Neutral colors like white, black and gray add depth,” Slagle said.

Keep plant proportions in mind, too. Small containers should have plants that are small and will continue to be so.

“Persian shield is very popular now,” she said. “It may start small, but it can grow to four feet.”

Make sure all the plants you select have the same water and sun requirements, Slagle said. Don’t combine shade-loving plants with plants that require five hours of daily sun.

Despite all the choices involved in creating a container garden, Slagle said remembering to water your garden is the hardest part.

“One way to use less water is to plant in big pots. The bigger the better,” she said. “The soil doesn’t dry out as quickly in larger containers.”

Sharon Omahen is a news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.