Making Beautiful Containers

Tom Holm, WCROC Greenhouse Manager

Calibrachoa Minifamous Neo Orange+Red EyeWe often get compliments on the hanging baskets and planters at the West Central Research and Outreach Center (WCROC), both in the Horticulture Display Garden and around the WCROC grounds.  Making your own beautiful containers can be relatively easy and enjoyable.  In a few simple steps, you’ll have beautiful containers to showcase: selection, plant, water, fertilize, and deadhead.

First, select a planter to match your location.  If you have a lot of brick on your home, you may want to use a more formal planter.  Otherwise, a planter can be anything from an old shoe to an old watering can to a purchased container from a nursery or greenhouse. 

Generally, the larger the container, the easier it is to care for the plants since they have more room to grow. If you have small planters, succulents can be a great choice. 

Second, when planting, match the plants for the sun or shade location where you plan to put the container.  Also, pick plants that need the same water and growing conditions.  Be careful when using aggressive growers and match them with other aggressive growers or be prepared to have them take over by the end of summer. If you are going to do a combination planter, remember the terms – thrillers, fillers, and spillers.  The thrillers are centerpiece plants that are tall or upright plants that draw attention.  This could be a coleus or grass that is perfect for the center (or backside) of a planter and will draw attention because of its color or height. Next, gather fillers which are the supporting plants.  These are mounded and fill in the stem area around the thriller plants, usually being of medium height.  Last, are the spillers which trail over the edge of the container.  You may also want keep warm and cool colors in mind when deciding your color scheme.  Cool color combinations include purple/black/chartreuse or blue/white/pink combinations.  They give the impressions of calm and relaxation.  Warm color combinations include red/yellow/purple or orange/yellow/red which are bright and vibrant. 

Impatiens SunPatiens Spreading Shell PinkNow that you have your plants and container picked out, you are ready to plant.  Do not use straight garden or field soil for your planting.  If you do, I can guarantee, the soil will be rock hard and your plants will be unhappy or dead.  Instead, either mix in peat, perlite, and vermiculite, or better yet, buy a commercial bag of potting soil.  Your plants will do much better in potting soil specially blended for containers and many of these mixes do contain fertilizer as well, which brings me to the next topic - fertilizer.  Even if you use a mix with fertilizer, I recommend you still fertilize throughout the summer with a water soluble fertilizer like Bloom Booster or a similar product. 

Early in my horticulture career, an old time grower told me that if you want to have a planter that grows like an elephant, you want to feed it like an elephant.  Plants are like teenagers – hungry all the time.  At the Horticulture Display Garden, we fertilize once a week, and I recommend that for home use too.  I know some people mix up a half strength fertilizer and use that every time they water or every other time for good results. Water often, especially on hot windy days.  This is when having a larger container helps as they don’t dry out as much.  Be careful, though, if you have calibrachoa or other water sensitive plants in your planter as these can rot if they stay too wet.  

Finally, be sure to deadhead.  Pick off the old blooms and don’t be afraid to give the plants a pinch to keep them from getting long and lanky over the summer.  Let your creative juices run wild and have fun planting containers that you will enjoy all season long!