Container plantings are a great way to enhance decks, patios or other small spaces. Despite our midwinter gloom, now is a great time to get started.
The upcoming Northwest Flower and Garden Festival, Feb. 7-11 in Seattle, is a great resource for gardeners of all experience levels. Held at the Washington State Convention Center, the show is celebrating 30 years of floral beauty and trends, including container and small-space gardening.
But before you get started, there are a few considerations for container-gardening success.
What is your goal? Year-round color? Low “muss-and-fuss” care? Replanting on a seasonal basis to freshen the look?
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Where will it go? Full or partial sun, or shade? How much space to you have to work with for placing the container?
Lending an assist to container gardeners, the show is hosting the “Great Plant Picks” display, adjacent to the show’s dramatic display gardens. An educational program of the Elisabeth C. Miller Botanical Garden in Shoreline, this year’s focus is “Perfect Plants for Great Containers.” These are outstanding plants specifically selected to do well in containers in the Pacific Northwest’s maritime climate.
“Many of plants selected for GPP can last from one year to the next — providing interest in the container for more than one season,” says Richie Steffen, a member of the Miller Botanical Garden staff and the curator for the display.
Steffen says the GPP plants may form a backbone for container plantings easily complemented with seasonal annuals.
“To help folks think about their containers,” says Steffen, “we highlight three aspects important to creating a beautiful mixed pot: bright colors, stylish forms and tactile textures.”
For bright colors with brilliant foliage, long-lasting flowers or bloom at an unusual time of the year, a “hot pick” is the sizzling acid-yellow leaves of Corylopsis spicata ‘Golden Spring’, gold-leaf winter hazel. This has bright, pale-yellow dangling flowers in late winter, with stunning oval-shaped leaves that hold their color through the growing season.
Some great, long-blooming choices for pots are hardy fuchsias (more upright than the typical tender fuchsias used in hanging baskets). Steffen particularly likes the compact cultivar Fuchsia ‘Dying Embers’, with dark-red flowers blooming from midsummer through the end of October.
Stylish forms focus on plants that have an unusual shape, including dwarf conifers well suited for containers.
According to Rick Peterson of the Miller Botanical Garden, interesting textures tie the other elements together, and invite one to touch and experience the mix of plants.
For adding texture to containers, top picks include a few small trees that thrive in a container and have a luxuriant feel. One example is the cut-leaf vine maple, Acer circinatum ‘Monroe,’ ideal for a shady spot. Its finely-divided foliage turns a clear primrose yellow with the arrival of autumn.
Ferns offer fine textures, and two tough evergreen species that are stellar in containers are Dryopteris erythrosora, autumn fern, and Polystichum setiferum ‘Divisilobum’, the divided soft shield fern. In sunnier locations a simple container with the variegated boxwood, Buxus sempervirens ‘Variegata’, is hard to beat for elegant beauty.
And for a larger pot (24 inches plus), the slim weeping form of Cupressus ‘Van den Akker’ is a dramatic addition.
Once you’re ready to enjoy the finished product, you’ll want to avoid the No. 1 killer of container plants. According to Marianne Binetti, host of the show’s “Container Wars” DIY competition, the culprit is either too much, or too little, water. She suggests the simple “finger test.” Sink your index finger 1 inch into the soil. If it comes up dry, it’s time to water.
Whether you’re living on the ninth floor, or simply have a small space you want to spice up, a container adds year-round beauty to your home.
Quick tips for container success
Syndicated columnist and “Container Wars” host Marianne Binetti offers these additional tips for successful container gardening:
- Plants in containers require extra fertilizer. For beginning gardeners, slow-release plant foods are excellent: you apply once at the beginning of the season. Worked into the top inch of soil, the fertilizer is released in small amounts each time you water.
- In our wet climate, adequate drainage is a must. Elevate the container using pot feet (available at garden centers), or arrange plastic bottle caps under the container to create space for air flow and drainage.
- Watering needs may vary, depending on the type of container you select. For example, small clay pots require more water; plastic or foam pots retain more moisture.
The Northwest Flower & Garden Festival runs 9 a.m.- 8 p.m. Feb. 7-10, 9 a.m.-6 p.m. Feb. 11. Early Bird admission (purchase through Feb. 6) $19; adult (at the door) $24; ages 13 to 17 $7; 12 and younger free.