Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Plan Now! Annual Flower Container Ideas

February is always a great time to go back through garden photos and think of warmer, sunnier days yet to come and enjoying time in the garden.  Just seeing the angles of the sun in the photographs can transport me.  I love the garden, with all the planting, weeding, pruning, and cultivating of both perennials and annuals.  Today I'm sharing some of my tried-and-true annual container combinations for a full sun garden.

I live in a USDA Zone 7a climate - we get all four seasons, and our last threat of frost is typically no later than April 30.  I like to have all my containers planted no later than just before Memorial Day weekend (end of May).  I usually plant three pairs of like containers, and then one or two single containers.

I interpret the "filler, thriller, spiller" adage loosely in my containers.  For example, here's a typical combination I'll use outside of my sunroom doors:
These are containers with coral geraniums (filler), a center spike, or dracaena (thriller), and a delicate, white "diamond frost" (spiller).  These are fiberglass pots, filled in the base with styrofoam peanuts (a secret to filling the container and saving soil) and gravel (a secret to providing weight during storms).

Another combination for containers flanking our hot tub:
This is a combination of coral geranium, center spike (dracaena), blue lobelia, and sweet, white alyssum.

One year, I overwintered red twig dogwood branches I had stuck in the dirt for simple, winter interest, and my containers resulted in this after adding annuals the following spring:
Container with over-wintered, variegated, (leafed-out) red twig dogwood branches, sweet potato vines and hot pink penta flowers.

All of the containers shown so far are ones I place in my courtyard.  I usually place the third pair within the yard landscape, wherever there seems to be a need for some color.  Here's an example of one year's look:
This container did not have a tall plant, simply red geraniums with white vinca.

Another year, the pair in the landscape looked like this:
This is a favorite combination of mine:  dark purple "Marguerite" potato vine, central, tall purple Indian grass, and wonderfully scented purple heliotrope flowers.
I've also planted the same as above, but added the white, delicate "diamond frost" to the mix.

Here's a look-see of the container from late spring (when first planted);
To late summer, when fully grown:
I love when the Indian grass gets its plumes!

Here's another look-see of a late spring, newly-planted courtyard container, this time with potato vine, dracaena spike and hot-pink pentas:
And how the container looked later in summer:
One of my single containers usually gets a simple planting, typically lantana.  Just one little plant such as this:
Will grow to this in just a few short weeks:
Sometimes, I'll combine a few plants into this container, usually when I have leftovers from other plantings:
In this case, the plants are heliotrope and diamond frost.
The trick to nice container plants is fairly simple:
  • Find plants that are rated for your growing zone.  In my case, full sun winners are:  geraniums, pentas, heliotrope as fillers; purple fountain grass, dracaenas as thrillers (tall); lantana, lobelia, diamond frost, potato vines as spillers. Any combination of these are a good start for a sunny container, but there are many others.  Visit your local nursery or big-box store and check the tags in plants for your sun exposure options.
  • Use a good potting soil mixture such as Miracle Gro moisture control potting mix.  Use styrofoam peanuts and gravel to fill the base of huge containers to save soil (I place at least 12" of soil in my containers, and use filler for the remaining base).
  • Place the plants in a clean container so that it's balanced, with the tallest specimen central to your pot. This will allow you to regularly rotate the plant so that you get even growth and a symmetrical look to your container.
  • WATER, WATER, WATER!  In the case of my examples, these plants need watered EVERY SINGLE DAY THROUGHOUT SUMMER.  Without watering, container plants will go limp and dry up quickly.  If watering daily is simply not in your schedule, either assign the chore to a family member, look for shade options or forego containers altogether.  It's just too expensive to plant and let die.  Another option is to purchase self-watering containers - an expensive proposition in the beginning, but can provide some relief to the watering regimen.  I have used self-watering containers inside, but never tried them outside.
  • Use Miracle Gro Plant Food once a week for the first few weeks as an option to get full, lush growth in the early stages.  When you fill the spray attachment with the crystal pack and attach it to your garden hose nozzle, it's an easy job.
  • Prune gangly vines and dead-head spent flower heads.  This will ensure continued blooms and fuller growth all season long.
  • Once the growing season is over, be sure to empty dead plants and either compost or trash.  Clean your containers with a wire brush and mild soap and/or diluted bleach, rinsing well.  Store containers.
Happy growing!