Container gardens easy to maintain and a joy to look at

betsjukofsky@aol.comMarch 4, 2012 

Container gardening is hot right now. And why not?

Containers and window boxes allow busy people to design and plant a garden in an afternoon.

They're easy to maintain, and the containers themselves add color and style to home decor, indoors or out.

A creative gardener can take any ordinary household object and turn it into a decorative mini garden.

Best of all, the container gardener can have a mini garden of colorful flowers and easy-to-grow, plant-and-pick herbs and vegetables with little outdoor space.

A balcony, a deck or porch that receives a minimum of sunlight allows for easy access to edibles, and brings pleasure of color and fragrance to the gardener.

A visit last week at Sun City Hilton Head with members of the Container Club found me gathering pots of plants -- both store-bought and propagated by me -- for a "show and tell."

The Container Club is a division of the Sun City Avant Garden Club, a large, active group that has formed smaller, special interest groups that meet regularly to learn more about bonsai, houseplants, herbs, orchids and Lowcountry gardening.

GETTING STARTED

I often get carried away in the fall when cooler weather reminds me that it is time to take cuttings of those plants that performed well throughout the blistering hot days of July and August, but have grown too large to bring indoors for the winter months.

Propagation by rooting in plain water is easy and quick when done while days are still warm and you've a place to set the glass or jar outdoors.

If I feel that the cutting might need extra help to root, I place a pinch of root hormone in a cup, dip the cutting in, shake off the excess and plant directly in the container that is filled with sterile soil.

A good rooting soil media is an equal amount of three ingredients: perlite, vermiculite and peat moss. I use this mix when rooting bonsai, cacti and softwoods like hydrangea. Semi-hardwood evergreen cuttings, too, such as camellia, gardenia and holly root best when dipped in hormone powder and then planted within the rooting mix.

This spring I'll plant pots and containers with the two dozen plants I've been watering and feeding indoors all winter. They've grown well; the Alternanthera dentata is flowering, and the dozen coleus plants of various colors have grown so tall I am now taking cuttings from them to make more plants.

The upshot is to plant your container with some perennial plants that will remain in the container after the colorful spring annuals have withered. A few great combos are a flowering hydrangea, planted with a dwarf evergreen and annuals of New Guinea impatiens or petunias. When the impatiens and petunias need to be pulled, replace with dianthus or snapdragons for a fall and winter show. A tall urn looks dramatic planted with ponytail grass, geranium, petunias and licorice vine. The ponytail and geranium are near perennial and should continue to grow.

You'll be seeing more hanging baskets this spring that are planted with several flower varieties. This makes for an explosion of color as in a basket planted with coral geranium, ornamental, purple peppers, blue fanflower and white with rose-colored calibrachoa. We are seeing lots of calibrachoa in many colors in our garden centers. This plant can take weather, both hot and cold.

DISCOVER SUCCULENT, CACTI GARDENS

Fans of container gardens are discovering what the avant-garde in the Southwest have known for years: cacti and succulents can make eye-catching gardens. We are seeing a huge variety of this plant family in pots in garden centers.

Succulents appeal because they have few demands. They don't require ever-present moisture in the root zone; their nutritional needs are minimal; they don't need to be flowering to look their best; and their forms are great without pruning.

Did grandmother leave you a large shallow bowl in a bright color you can't use in your house? Make a succulent garden with sedum, sennecio, encheveria and sempervivum; cover the soil surface with small stones or shells and place on a stand in a sunny spot where it won't receive rainfall.

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