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Seven savvy ways to get the most out of container gardens

May 11, 2011

The Mother's Day hydrangea my son gave me obviously needs repotting.

Credit: Doreen G. Howard
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Did you get a container garden or potted plants for Mother’s Day? I did. The hydrangea my son gave me needs repotting.

It’s way too big for the tiny 6-inch pot and not hardy enough to survive in the ground in my Zone 4b climate. But, it will be a gorgeous anchor for a large container, under-planted with trailing purple verbena.

Enhance the entry to your home and welcome visitors with a collection of containers.

Garden centers are full of annuals and tropicals this time of year, perfect for creating stunning containers. However, little things can doom them, but attention to details will guarantee perfection. From a red-leafed banana paired with chartreuse helichrysum petiolare ‘Limelight’ in a tub to hanging baskets full of ‘Snow Princess’ alyssum and red begonias, all container plants benefit from the tips below.

Grouping containers filled with similar colors adds impact to your display.  Bring in the banana container before the first freeze and put it in a sunny window for Winter.

Smart Container Garden Tips

1. Clean old containers thoroughly before using them for a second season. Add bleach to the wash water and use a scrub bush to get into cracks and crannies. A clean pot won’t transmit diseases to new plants.

2. Lighten the load by filling the bottom quarter of huge pots with recycled foam peanuts that come in shipping cartons. Then fill with potting mix. The peanuts create big air pockets and increase drainage, both things that encourage strong root development.

3. Mulch container surfaces to prevent soil compaction or root damage. Heavy rains and high-pressure hose blasts can dislodge potting mix and damage roots or pound the surface creating a hard crust through which water has a difficult time penetrating. Sphagnum moss, aquarium gravel, pebbles and shredded cedar bark are all attractive barriers that thwart these problems. Cedar bark has an added advantage. It contains a resin, which gives it a pleasant aroma that repels many insects. So does cocoa bean mulch.

4. Pinch annuals when you plant to force branching. Impatiens and begonias especially benefit from an early pinch. Plants grow bushier and produce more flowers of better quality. Pinch again about six weeks later, after the first heavy flush of blooms is spent for another spectacular show.

5. Deadhead old flowers to promote new flower formation and to prevent seeds from forming which stops the bloom cycle. Geraniums (Pelargonium), dahlias, nicotiana, verbena and osteospermum, particularly, need deadheading.

6. Be a neat housekeeper and remove plant debris from containers. If left, decaying leaves and blooms often foster diseases and invite insects.

7. Keep trailing and climbing plants in check by occasionally trimming them. Otherwise ramblers like dichondra, ivy, helichrysum petiolare and even petunias will climb over and smother their neighbors.

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Doreen Howard has written for The Old Farmer's Almanac All-Seasons Garden Guide for 15 years and is the former garden editor at Woman’s Day as well as a photographer. She has grown more than 300 varieties of heirloom edibles and flowers in the last two decades.

In stores now!

Look for Doreen's newest book, Heirloom Flavor: Yesterday's Best-Tasting Vegetables, Fruits and Herbs for Today's Cook. Find in stores everywhere including Walmart and on the Web including amazon.com.

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