After months of planning, it’s time for the best gardening job

Erin Schanen


Months of planning all lead up to this week. It’s time to do my favorite gardening job — plant the containers.

The process begins in January when I start making notes about plant combinations for different pots. This might be based off of what worked well the previous year or a new plant I want to try. Often it’s a complete departure from what I grew in the past because few things are more fun and require less commitment than experimenting with container designs.

This year I’ll be repeating a combination I loved last year, something I almost never do since I have a firm belief that life is too short to plant the same thing twice. But the combination of an upright salmon-colored begonia, a silver Plectranthus with fuzzy leaves that stand more than 2 feet tall and a trailing Dichondra ‘Silver Falls’ was just too good in the bright shade by the garage to not see it again.

I’ll also be using the annual purple bell vine (Rhodochiton atrosanguineus) in at least three pots because it was such a fabulous performer last year.

I like to try to find one or two plants that are common to all the planters in the same field of view to create some cohesiveness among otherwise disparate designs. It’s rarely something as bold and bossy as pink petunia. This year it will be Plectranthus ‘Silver Shield’ (assuming I can procure some, which is proving more difficult than I anticipated) and a new sweet potato vine from Proven Winners called Sweet Caroline Medusa Green. It has deeply lobed leaves, giving it an almost feathery appearance, and lacks the tendency to devour all the other plants in a pot like some aggressive varieties.

I greatly prefer using large planters, not just because I can pack more plants in them for a bold display, but also because they need to be watered much less frequently. It’s usually the end of August before I need to worry about watering daily.

One thing I’ve learned the hard way with containers is that you can’t skimp on the fertilizer. I mix in a slow release fertilizer before I plant (even if the planting mix I use already has it), then when the plants start putting on good growth in three to four weeks I start using a water soluble fertilizer every one to two weeks. Annuals are hungry plants whose sole purpose is to bloom their heads off for a short period of time and they need a steady diet to keep up the pace.

When I finish every container, there’s always a little bit of trepidation, because even with all my planning, you never really know how it’s going to work out. Will one plant take over the container? Will the color combination not come through the way I expected it would? Like so many things in gardening, there’s nothing to do but wait until that perfect moment, usually around early to mid-August, when all the plants have filled in but haven’t yet gone rogue to look at it closely and pass judgement. If it’s a success, I’ll get out the camera. If it’s not, well, there’s always next year.



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