containers for year round interest

why containers

Containers are great for decorating decks and patios. Also there are other strategic reasons to put plants in containers:

• To accentuate or direct the eye towards something, like an entry or path.
• To create a destination or focal point.
• To hide or draw attention away from something ugly, such as a utility box.
• For places that are difficult to plant, like areas with poor drainage or dense roots.
• To add interest to a planting bed that is out of season.
• For special events – to dress up your house for a holiday or visitors.
• For plants with special needs like extra water or being brought in for winter.
• Because you have no yard or have run out of space in your yard. 


For plants to be containerized for more than several years, it’s best to plant them alone in a container. You can still make exciting and dynamic designs:
• Use interesting containers.
• Group several singly planted containers with plants that look good together.
• In a grouping, use containers of differing sizes that match or look good together.

If you prefer a container filled with lots of plants, keep in mind:
• Every planting will change over time as it grows. When picking out plants, try to imagine what they will look like in 3 months, 6 months, 1 year, 2 years, etc.
• Expect that you may need to make changes (remove, prune, or replace plants) about every year, or more often if using annuals.


Start by selecting the biggest item(s) and work down towards the smallest ones.
• Step 1: Find a container: If you already have a container, bring it with you when shopping for plants. If you can’t, bring measurements and a photo.
• Step 2: Pick the largest, central element. For year-round interest, go for an upright plant that is evergreen or has at least three seasons of interest.
• Step 3: Pick the supporting cast: plants that add variety and interest to the main focal plant, yet have enough color similarities to look good together.

• Repetition of color: Use a limited color palette and repeat colors.
• Variety in leaf texture, size, and shape
• Variety in overall plant size and shape (upright, mounding, trailing, spikey, etc.)

Look very closely at the leaves of your main, central plant. Try to evaluate what colors are there besides green. Look for undertones and secondary colors. These are colors that you can look for when picking supporting plants. As you add more plants, repeat this with each one to help you pick the next ones. Try to keep the color range somewhat restrained.

Use any flat surface to decide on a planting arrangement before you purchase.
• Step 1: Decide if you want your focal plant in the center or towards the back.
• Step 2: Try some different arrangements with your supporting plants.
• Step 3: After you have an arrangement you like, if it will be viewed year-round, remove the deciduous plants so you can see what you’re left with in winter.

Simple, geometric, symmetrical patterns are an easy way to make a great looking container. In the examples below, each shape represents a plant:


• Watering: Water thoroughly until the entire contents of the pot are well soaked. Wait until the top few inches of soil dry out before watering again.
• Fertilizing: Use organic fertilizer each spring and then fertilize sparingly if needed. Organic fertilizers are more expensive, but they have lower nutrient levels, encouraging growth at more healthy, sustainable rates. They include micronutrients and microorganisms needed to create a live, healthy soil ecosystem for your plants, allowing your plants to live longer, healthier lives.
• Winter weather: With ceramic pots, buy ones that are “frost proof”. To protect tender plants on very cold winter nights, wrap the container and/or the plant with thin fabric – just remember to remove the covering during the day.


• Container size: Large containers (at least 18” by 18”) provide more root space, are less affected by heat and cold, and don’t need to be watered as often.
• Which containers should I buy? Invest in a few large containers that look good together, and go with the style and color of your house and outdoor furniture.
• What about tiny containers? They are best for small, single plantings and shallow-rooted, drought tolerant plants like sedums or hens and chicks.

• Drainage holes: All containers (except those for water plants) need drainage holes, preferably several, at least ¾” diameter. If there aren’t enough, drill more using the appropriate type of bit (ex. use a tile or glass drill bit for ceramic pots).
• Pot feet: Put pot feet, gravel, bricks, or some other object under all containers so air and water can travel freely underneath.
• Saucers: If using a saucer, put gravel, marbles, or pot feet on the tray so the container is not resting in standing water. Its easier to just skip the saucer.
• False bottom: If your container is larger than needed or has small drain holes, use an “Ups-a-Daisy” to reduce planting space and increase drainage. Or make one yourself using wood or heavyweight plastic.

Fill only with potting soil: Fill the entire container with potting soil to provide as much root space as possible. Any commercial potting soil should be fine. Do not use any garden soil, because it does not provide good drainage. Do not add rocks, pot chards, or other materials since this actually reduces drainage. 

• Light: Only select plants that do well in the amount of sun that will be available.
• Water: Select plants with similar water needs.
• Go organic: Use organic potting soil, organic fertilizer, and fertilize sparingly.
• Stick with hardy plants: Remember that generally, plants lose about 5 degrees of hardiness in a container.

• Step 1: Fill the container with potting soil up to about 6-8” from the top.
• Step 2: Thoroughly wet the soil and press it down lightly to remove air pockets.
• Step 3: Start with the largest plants and work down to the smallest. Remove each plant, loosen the roots, and place it on enough soil that the soil level of the plant is about level with, or just below, the edge of the container.
• Step 4: Backfill under and around each plant until the container is full. Water and press the soil lightly into crevices.