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Monday, May 24, 2010

Container Gardens and Instant Gratification

Nothing but nothing dresses up a porch, patio or deck better than a big pot of flowers, spilling out in a beautiful jumble of color. A push towards smaller homes and simpler lifestyles has helped make container gardening the rage. Planting flowers in all sorts of pots and containers (almost anything with a drainage hole) is alll about instant gratification, and we at Tagawa's say "hooray" for that! We're here to help.

It's easier than you might think to plant your own containers and have pots
that look like they were done by a pro. All it takes is a few very basic design tips that will help guide you as you choose from the thousands of annuals that fill the benches at Tagawa's to over-flowing during the spring and summer months.

The design concept of "thrillers, fillers and spillers" is fun and easy to follow, and can help you envision your finished container even before you check out at Tagawa's. Here's how it works.

The "thriller" piece of the design puzzle refers to something dramatic for the center of your container garden.... a bold and up-right eye-catching plant to help "anchor" the whole arrangment. Thrillers are often the tallest plant in the pot, but a big, intensely-colored annual can work well, too.

Ornamental grasses make terrific thrillers. Tagawa's brings in dozens of different kinds of grasses every year that thrive in containers. Remember that the grasses may not be at their full-grown height when you plant them, but should grow quickly into their leading role.

"Fillers" come next. They're the plants you choose to surround the thriller... plants that will help give your container garden so much of its form and personality. Tried and true plants like geraniums can make great fillers. Or you may want to try something new, like "Diamond Frost" euphorbia. These airy plants have a non-stop show of tiny white flowers that fill the pot with small points of light. It's not the effect of each individual flower that gives Diamond Frost its well-earned reputation as a "must have." It's the appeal of so many tiny white flowers creating a kind of cloud effect that has won people over. For a pink-tinted effect, go with Diamond Frost's cousin, "Breathless Blush," and wait for the "oohs" and "ahs" that will follow.

The fillers can be two or three of the same plant, or a variety of plants. Just be sure you're selecting plants that will all "play well" together.... plants that share common needs for sun or shade. If you put plants with drastically different needs into the same pot, somebody's not going to be happy.

"Spillers," as you might have guessed, are the wonderful plants that we put against the ouside edge of the pot, so they can spill and tumble out. I'm inclined to think the spillers are often the most important players in a potted garden. They give a fluid sense of elegance... a healthy over-flow
that can make a container garden look lush and full. To me, plants without spillers look incomplete..... a bit as if an important guest missed the party.

The list of plants that make good spillers goes on and on. Cascading petunias are a classic form of a spiller. But there are hundreds of other choices that can make your pots look bold, impressive and professionally-done. Consider the "callies," the challibrachoas. They look like minature petunias, but come in wonderful shades of pink and purple.... red and salmon..... orange and yellow. The callies have a lot of devoted fans, and deserve every one of them.

If you're goal is a "mixed" planting.... a container with several different types of plants... besure to use a variety of foliage and flower shapes and textures. The results will have a lot more eye appeal. Don't forget to include plants with bi-colored or variegated leaves that are grown specifically for their foliage, and may not even have flowers during our short growing season. These variegated accents are another one of those "professional" touches that can make a big difference in the finished look of your container

And don't dismiss the beauty and simplicity of a big pot of a single type of plant.... maybe a few of the wonderful sun coleus varieties and nothing else. Coleus as a mass planting make a big statement.

A large tub of "Bubblegum" petunias can have a lot of punch, too. They're as pink as their name implies, and aside from regular watering, require little maintenance. Last summer, our neighborhood deer herd gave my Bubblegums a crew cut. A few days later, I couldn't tell they'd been munched. My kind o' plant!

The more plants you use in your container garden, the more frequently it's going to need to be watered over the summer. A nice, round number might be perhaps five to seven large plants (about a four-inch pot) in a 16" to 18" container, along with a few small fillers and spillers if you have the room.

Water your containers when the top few inches of soil dries out. Be sure to water thoroughly every time, until you see water begin to drain out at the bottom of the pot. Never leave a container garden (or any plant, other than bog plants) in standing water. The containers should always drain freely.

One last word to help make your containers a success. A lot of plants that are marked "full sun" on the label will struggle in full afternoon sun in Colorado, if they're also getting a lot of reflected heat off of a fence or wall. I think of Colorado sun as "sun-and-a-half." Reflected heat can be a challenge even when a plant is well-watered. If the plants' roots are baking, all the water in the world may not help.

Please bring your gardening wish-list to Tagawa's, and let us help guide you toward the best container gardens your decks and patios have ever had!

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