Container Gardening 101

By Cory Collins, Conservation Garden Park

We all love annuals and the pop of color they bring to our yards, but using them in our landscapes isn’t a great idea for several reasons. Container gardens are the perfect solution! Container gardening not only puts your annuals on perfect display, but they also wake up your senses and let you know summer has arrived!

Although it varies from year to year, the most reliable planting date for containers is Mother’s Day, after which temperatures rarely drop below freezing at night. Nurseries and box stores are generally stocked with dozens of beautiful annuals by this date as well.

That’s the standard advice, but here’s my little secret: you can get started on your planters now IF you can remember to cover them or bring them into the garage if it’s going to freeze that night. Plant selection is also a bit better if you beat the rush!

Where do you begin to create festive container gardens that will provide color all season? First, you need the perfect container to showcase your bright blooms. In Utah, our winds and arid climate can dry out containers quickly. Look for non-porous containers and go for the largest size that will work for your setting. Another fun look is to use all different sizes of containers and group them together with a coordinating color theme in both the pots and the plants.

Potting soil can be expensive and you don’t really need more than 12 inches of soil depth for annuals. Stretch your budget by filling the bottom of the containers with something other than soil: the plastic 6 pack that your plants came in (upside down), chunky bark mulch, empty milk jugs, or other space-filling item(s). These space fillers take up volume and help with drainage so you are not having to add so much soil. This technique also reduces the weight of the container, making it easier to move around.

Next you need a good potting soil. The best kind for our climate has coconut coir or silica beads right in the mix, which will keep the soil moist longer. One thing I have learned in all the years I have been planting containers is that the bigger the container, the more plants will thrive in them and they won’t need nearly as much water!

When selecting plants, consider the final locations of the pots and combine plants with like needs (sunny locations get sun-loving plants, etc.). A good rule of thumb is this: “Thriller, spiller, filler.” The thriller plant goes in the middle and stands upright (think ornamental grass). The spillers go around the edges and spill over the sides (think sweet potato vine, Swedish ivy, or other “flowy”-type plants). The fillers go in between and can be whatever you like.

Keep container gardens happy with a little water every day, pinching them back here and there. Happy summer to you! Learn more at Conservation Garden Park.

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