Simple Steps to Create Your Best Container Garden

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I admit I have a problem.  My daughter recently said that, "Some families save money for college, but our family saves money so mom can buy her flowers every spring."  Oh boy, that might be a sign I need intervention. 

I love plants and sitting outside on my patio, drinking my coffee, surrounded by beautiful flowers just makes me happy!  I have always enjoyed gardening, but because our yard is so big,  it can sometimes be overwhelming. Ahhhh, that's why gardening in a pot is perfect!  I never have to weed and it's just so easy to maintain... which is why my love of container gardening took on a life of its own.

Container gardening has so many benefits.  The beauty of creating a garden with pots is that you always have the option to move the the garden around.  Once a plant is placed in the ground, it's an ordeal to change its location.  I often rearrange my containers as summer goes on and I love being able to have that option.  The lack of long term commitment also allows you to rethink your design every year, changing based on what was a success and what needed redesigned, which is difficult to do with perennial gardening. 

Container gardens also allow you to group the planters in areas of your garden or patio that are otherwise dead spots with no real visual interest.  They make it possible to create outdoor rooms and add a pop of color to any area that needs brightened.  

Here are some tips I learned along the way, to make your container garden your very own masterpiece.

Find The Look You Love and Use it as Inspiration

Look through magazines, scour the internet, or look at the gardens around you.  Take notes, or pictures of what you love, groupings that catch your eye, or color schemes that you are drawn to.  After a while, you will begin to see some themes.  Maybe it's a color that keeps cropping up in all the designs, or you love terra-cotta pots?  Whatever it is, make sure you incorporate that into your plan.  

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Use Similar Colors, Plants and Containers

Each grouping of planters can be different, but the planters in the same area should have a similar feel, which adds an element of cohesiveness.  For instance, if you love terra-cotta pots, make sure all the pots on your deck are terra-cotta, so that when you fill them with a variety of different plants, the pots will not be fighting for your attention as well.  They can be different sizes and shapes, but similar color schemes will help tie the space together.  The beauty of container planting is that you can use one type of pot in one area, and use totally different ones in another area.  I use cement colored pots on my patio, but black urns in the front of my house. 

This same thought can be applied to the plant selection.  When you put a group of planters together, use a couple of the same type of plants throughout the grouping, and keep to a specific color family.  When I have a grouping of say 3 or 5 pots, I make sure to tie in several plants that reoccur in the pots, so that visually, they will all seem to be one grouping, instead of 5 individual pots thrown together.  

Decide how many pots you are going to put in the grouping and plant them at the same time so that you are able to really think about the plant placement and symmetry which will tie the grouping together.  

Look at the Groupings from Different Locations

This is especially true for walkways.  The goal is to have a walkway that is inviting and unified.  If you have several different groupings that can be seen from different areas or walkways, try to have a specific plant or color that ties them together.  

I love ferns and coleus, so I use those two types of plants to tie several grouping together on my patio.  As you walk toward my back, the similar shape of the ferns, and the colors of the coleus, make the space feel cohesive.  Walk around your patio and yard, looking at your pots from different angles and check to see that they blend from one grouping to the other.  

  I just got this table and didn't love it until I added the ferns, which tied it in nicely with the rest of the patio.   (The table is from Grandin Road - click here to see it)

I just got this table and didn't love it until I added the ferns, which tied it in nicely with the rest of the patio.  (The table is from Grandin Road - click here to see it)

Use Moisture Control Gel 

This piece of information can save you tons of money!  The most difficult part of container gardening is the need to keep them watered frequently.  The worst thing that can happen is spending all the money on beautiful plants, and then not giving them enough water and having them die, or just not reach their full potential.  

If you only take away one piece of information from this article, this should be it.  Adding moisture control pellets to the soil will make the biggest difference in the beauty of your plants, and it will also give you a much less stressful summer.  How many times have you arrived home late on a hot summer day and needed to run out and water your plants?  Or have you been gone for a couple of days and come home to a half dead, wilted mess.  The moisture control gels retains water and helps keep the soil moist even during the hottest weather.  I think of it as an insurance plan for the investment I made in the plants.  I use the Miracle Gro variety (you can find it here on Amazon), but there are other varieties I am sure.  I also use the moisture gels for all plants I put in the ground, it helps tremendously with transplant shock.


Get Plants That Give You Bang For Your Buck

There are several plants that are completely reliable and make a statement but don't cost a fortune to purchase every year.  Let's face it, perennials are purchased with the hope of what they will provide during future summers, but annuals are for one season only, so if I am going to use them in a garden, they better be worth my investment.  I include these plants below in most of my groupings because you can always count on them providing a show.

Potato Vine

  Purple and green potato vine spilling over the edge of the planter.

Purple and green potato vine spilling over the edge of the planter.

This plant is a show in and of itself!  It spills over the from top the planter or urn and grows like crazy.  In a very short time, it provides a pop of color that will add dimension to your containers.  It can usually be purchased for under $5, and in a variety of colors.  I use all the varieties, but my favorite is the lime green.  This color works especially well in the urns in the front of my house, they offer great color that can be seen from a distance.  By the end of summer, these can get huge.  

Latium (Dead-Nettles)

  The slivery leaves of the Lamium add light to the shady area

The slivery leaves of the Lamium add light to the shady area

This is another spreading plant that you can use to spill over the front of your planters.  Unlike most of the other plants that are used in containers, this plant is actually a perennial the can be removed from the pot after summer and planted in the ground.  I love Lamium!  It has a silvery leaf that contrasts well with almost any other plants and adds dimension to the groupings.  It works very well in shady areas where the lighter leaves reflect the light and offer some brightness in a usually darker area.  

Red Cordyline

  Red Cordyline steals the show in the center of this urn

Red Cordyline steals the show in the center of this urn

Spikes have long been a favorite of many gardeners, but their green color often gets lost with the rest of the plants. There is a saying for the three elements of container plants, which is to use "thriller, fillers, and spillers" - well red cordyline falls squarely in the thriller category.   It  adds a splash of color and interesting texture to the container, and is definitely worth the investment.

Impatiens and Petunias

  Impatiens fill in the spots around the coleus that will eventually grow larger

Impatiens fill in the spots around the coleus that will eventually grow larger

The beauty of these two flowers is that they are so reliable and they are inexpensive.  I always purchase extra of these to use as filler for when I first plant my pots.  I have some large planters, and I know eventually the other plants will fill in, but I hate seeing the brown dirt until they do, so I stick these in where I need to fill open spaces until the other plants begin to grow.  Even as a filler, these little plants grow great and sometimes surprise me how much color they offer.  The planter above was just newly planted, but had lots of open area that would eventually fill in, until that time, the impatiens will fill the space and make the container look complete.

Coleus

  There are actually 7 individual pots in this grouping, with the coleus acting as the perfect back drop.  

There are actually 7 individual pots in this grouping, with the coleus acting as the perfect back drop.  

Coleus are thrillers AND fillers!  They give a container great color and dimension for very little cost.  I can't stress how much I love coleus in every color and shape!  I plant two huge containers every year that are primarily different varieties of coleus, and that grouping always ends up being my favorite.  Remember to continue to pinch them back all summer long so they get bushy.  The variety of coleus is astounding, and trial and error will help you decide which ones work best for you. 

Don't Be Afraid to Add Some Fun

Each one of the examples below has added something of interest to the centerpiece, everything from interesting sticks and pussy willows, to a watering can spilling over with a succulent.  Let your imagination run wild and have some fun!