Flower Show Judge, Master Gardener, National Garden Club Instructor for Gardening and Landscape Design School Beth E gave plenty of tips at our September A&M Garden Club meeting on making container gardening easy, despite Texas summer high temperatures. Watering containers at the same time each day with the same amount of water helps. This can be easier if a drip irrigation system on a timer is set up to water all your containers. Including a coleus plant or plants in one or more containers also helps with watering because it wilts when the soil is dry and signals that all the containers need to be watered. Coleus recovers from wilting quickly after being watered. Use larger rather than smaller containers. Hanging baskets can be challenging to keep watered enough during our Texas summers.
When setting up a combination of plants in a container, the classic inclusion of a plant to thrill, a plant to fill, and a plant to spill is still recommended. Be cautious about including more than one variegated variety as it can be distracting. Sweet potato vine is an example of a commonly used “spill” plant in containers, but there are many others. Consider putting in some landscape cloth at the bottom of the container to keep dirt from escaping while allowing for drainage. Some gardeners recommend adding a layer of rocks at the bottom of pots to help with drainage. Before adding plants to a combination planter, soak the small pots with your plants you will add to a larger container in water for about 2 minutes. As you assemble your plants in small pots for your combination planting, consider taking the plants with soil around the roots out of the pots they came in after soaking the whole thing and setting the plant with soil aside briefly while you nestle the empty smaller pots around in the larger container to mark where plants will go and so there is space for them after you fill in soil around the empty pots nestled in the larger container. After lightly packing down soil around the empty pots in the larger container, you are ready to quickly add your thrill, fill and spill plants once you lift out the empty pots. Giving the empty place marking pots a slight twist helps as you remove them from the larger container to make way for your transplants and keep the space ready for the plants you are adding.
Some plants to think about growing in containers all by themselves because they just do not do so well with other plants in the same container are grasses and rosemary.
Succulents are especially popular as of late and a tip to make their containers more attractive is to put chicken grit, which can be purchased at feed stores, on top of the soil to make it neater and help your succulent to really stand out visually. Some crafty ideas for making a snazzy looking container for your succulents is to spray paint a pot you already have or spray paint a large PVC pipe end cap that has holes drilled in the bottom for drainage. If you have not visited the spray paint department at your favorite hardware store lately, you’ll be delighted at the variety of multi-color and textured spray paints available to jazz up your craft projects, including succulent containers.
For gardeners entering judged flower shows, there are things you can do to make your specimen more blue ribbon worthy such as covering the surface of the soil with something like chicken grit, using a real pot as opposed to a black plastic pot or putting the black plastic pot inside a real pot making sure the inner pot sits below the top of the outside pot, cleaning your pots of all dirt and grime and price tags, removing dead leaves or trimming damaged leaves in the same shape of healthy leaves.
One last tip about container plants that might be surprising to some is to under pot rather than over pot. What this means is that it is better for plants to be root bound than have extra soil.
Time to get planting.