WaPo – Container gardening – The rules to know, and the rules to break



  • May is the month to assemble pots and containers for the rest of the growing season
  • popular formula for composing a garden in a pot is to observe the mantra of “thriller, filler, spiller.”
    • single upright specimen (thriller)
    • annuals that trail over the lip (spiller)
    • others that fill the remaining gaps (filler)
  • any clear concepts that help people compose with plantings are useful
  • plantings that prioritize leaf ornament and texture above flower show offer stronger designs / easier to maintain
  • look for annuals that have been branded as superior performers:  petuniascalibrachoas and verbenas
  • container plant’s overriding need for regular watering – every day in 90 degree weather
  • Blending: integrated tapestry with two or three varieties – one might be a foliage plant along with big bloomers
  • Stand-alones: Sometimes just one starring plant – dramatic in its growth or upright or sculptural or cascading
  • Discover end-of-season size before picking its pot
    • palms, papyrus, elephant ears (alocasias and colocasias), banana “trees,” angel’s trumpet, cordylines and bromeliads
  • If the plant is somewhat bare at its base, it may look better with a planting around the edge of the pot
    • Lysimachias, trailing small-leafed tradescantias, dichondra and sweet potato vines
  • scented geranium, oregano, foxtail agave, cupheas are ideas/examples
  • Nesting: assemble plant combinations — but in separate pots – cluster of containers with each holding its own plant (3 to 5 pots with mixed sizes) – clear starring pot (avoid same sized pots)
  • Succulents: popular for their shapes, colors, low cost and ease of care
    • succulents are low-growing and look at home in shallow dish planters
    • sedums, echeverias and haworthias, yuccas (fears leaf tips), aloes, agaves
  • pot size – drives the quantity of plants and how well the plants do
    • larger pots place less stress on plants and soil temps are cooler – but are heavy – assemble where they will remain for season – use large amounts of soil mix
    • Metal pots usually too hot for plants in summer
    • terra-cotta pots can wick moisture away from the soil 
    • essential that pots drain to avoid rotting roots
  • Watering
    • best irrigated with a watering can or with a wand attached to a hose
    • Water at the base of the plant and try to avoid getting leaves wet to minimize fungal diseases. (strange…as I’ve read elsewhere that some plants take in much of their moisture from leaves…if plants get lots of sun, likely not an issue)
    • leave an inch of space between the soil line and the lip of the pot to irrigate the container until the water level rises to the edge before soaking through to the bottom
    • By late summer, the root systems can clog a drainage hole … soak pots till see water running out of bottom
  • Soil
    • Do not use pot soil left over from last year (though I used several bags which were unopened and they have worked great this year)
    • Do not use soil from the garden (???)
    • Do not use bags of topsoil or seed-starting mix (this person must own stock in companies like Miracle Grow…what about my nice homemade compost?)
    • many gardeners will fill the bottom third or half of the container with foam peanuts or other inert bulk material but professions advise against. (perhaps adding larger stones, at bottom could help both with drainage and still allowing natural items)
    • Succulents need amendments for drainage – chicken grit is excellent, builder’s sand, perlite, gravel/grit
  • Planting
    • root systems of new plants should be teased open – be gentle
    • After planting and watering, the surrounding soil may have receded – add more soil as necessary

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