Container gardening provides year-round color for homeowners
by Marie Nesmith
Sep 04, 2011 | 2760 views | 0 0 comments | 15 15 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Kate Posey, president of the Bartow County Master Gardeners, attends to one of the container gardens in her Kingston yard. To provide a variety of textures and heights, Posey has selected a grouping of plants, some of which include Angelonias and petunias.  SKIP BUTLER/The Daily Tribune News
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Even though September's forecast features highs in the 70s and 80s, months of soaring temperatures and minimal rainfall have taken a toll on Bartow homeowners' once vibrant flower beds.

According to local gardening experts, container gardens are an option for area residents who want to introduce color back into their drought-stricken yards.

"It's been almost a month since we've had any significant rainfall in Bartow County," Bartow County Extension Agent Paul Pugliese said. "So a lot of landscapes are looking really dry. A lot of plants that normally would survive two to three weeks without rain, it's finally starting to catch up with those plants. If you're not watering them, they're probably going to succumb to the drought stress pretty quickly at this point. So if you haven't been keeping an eye on those ornamental plants in your landscapes, getting out there and watering them now would definitely be the time to do that.

"I wouldn't say necessarily that [container gardens are] low maintenance. They do require quite a bit of maintenance actually, but the advantage is that you concentrate your efforts into a small area. So in comparison to large landscape beds that require a lot of plant material and a lot of cost to install and maintain, a container garden would be more economical in some ways and still give you a high impact and the color and the focus that you want or the accent that you want in your landscape."

For Kate Posey, president of the Bartow County Master Gardeners, container gardening is an ideal way to introduce bird-friendly plants that vary in texture and color. On her backyard patio, a grouping of containers feature three pots with trellised green peppers; two with red geraniums, vinca and dusty miller; and two with Cedrus deodara and curly ivy around its base.

"If it's something that you want to have green year-round then you need to get some kind of evergreen or fir tree as your main ingredient that will grow tall in the middle," Posey said. "Then you need to have something that's colorful and then something that will spill over the sides.

"[An example of this is] I have a clethra [in another container] which is like a shrub. It has red or white spikes at the top and then I have Angelonia, which is pretty resilient in the sun. These are all sun plants. They can keep on growing right through the summer and stay colorful all summer round. They come in white and blue -- the Angelonia. And then I have petunias that kind of spill over," she said, adding she plans to switch out her annuals in the fall with seasonal plants like chrysanthemums.

The basic technique for arranging a blooming container garden is known as thrillers, fillers and spillers, Pugliese said.

"Your thriller plants would be something tall and spiky that would give you some vertical elements to that pot," he said. "The filler plants would be things like pansies, to fill in the space at the base of that planting. Then the spiller would be a vine-type plant that would go over the edges and spill over like a cascading waterfall. With these three elements, you've got a lot of different heights and textures and colors that will all go together and look nice and fill out that pot very well. ... If you're wanting to change [some plants] out every year and have new color at the different seasons, [annuals are] ideal. That's one of the nice things about using annuals is they are intended to be replaced.

"They're temporary and you'll always have color out there. Of course you may want to mix it up, too. You can always throw in some perennial plants that are evergreen. An example of that might be rosemary, if you want something that's an herb that will survive in a container. Now rosemary can get very large but you can prune it and maintain it and keep it a small size and that can be your background plant. Then you can put your annual color around that inside the container. So you'll have one plant, like your rosemary, that will stay year-round. Then all your color that would complement that, [you will] change it out seasonally."

When starting a container garden, he said, three of the most important factors to consider are selecting the right soil, fertilizer and container.

"You've got to have well-drained soil. That is the most important part of container gardening," Pugliese said. "You can't just go out and dig soil out of your backyard because containers, they need to drain through and let that water out to avoid root rot and diseases. So that well-drained soil is important and, of course, there's a lot of commercial potting soils on the market. We call those soilless media. They're basically artificial soil mixes that have either peat moss or perlite or pine bark and that sort of thing mixed in there to provide really good, well-drained soil.

"Those media components are also considered sterile in that they don't have any diseases or pathogens that would infect your plants like soil from your backyard might. So that's the advantage of using those as well. But a lot of people don't realize the drawback of those artificial soils or those potting soil mixes are that they have no nutrient value to them. So if you put plants in there without any fertilizer, they're going to die. They need to be fed. So that's the second most important thing -- keeping your plants on a continuous fertilization schedule. When it comes to fertilizer, there's several different ways that you can fertilize in containers. Some people will use liquid fertilizers. Those would need to be applied the most often. ... Usually you would do those once every week or every two or three weeks at most throughout the growing season."

In addition to liquid fertilizers, other options include granular or timed-release fertilizers. For granular fertilizers, Pugliese said gardeners should use a half teaspoon per gallon of soil mixture every three or four weeks. Timed-release offerings should be dispersed one teaspoon per gallon of soil, which will last three to four months.

The third factor to consider is the type of container one wants to use. Pugliese recommends using a large pot, which will hold more soil and moisture. To ensure proper drainage, containers also need to have holes at the bottom. If the pot is not fashioned with drainage holes, gardeners are encouraged to drill openings into the container.

For more information about container gardening, contact the Bartow County Extension Office -- 320 W. Cherokee Ave. in Cartersville -- at 770-387-5142 or visit www.ugaextension.com/bartow/.