Digger and Gina McLean
Tips for Planting Summer Containers
the Southern U.S. we have had a wet, cool spring and are just getting into our spring planting time. I'm a huge fan of planting flowers in containers, and have been doing it for many years. I've generally had good success with flower containers, so I thought I'd share some tips if you're just getting started.
Plant summer containers well before summer. In the U.S. South, this is usually April. This means pulling out your spring annuals while they are still beautiful. It's sad, but if you wait until the spring flowers die, it will be too hot for your summer flowers to get established. Pull those beautiful babies out!
Identify what containers you will be planting. Make sure they are deep enough to provide room for roots to grow. My favorites right now are the large, plastic 20" diameter pots. They make a big statement and are easier to plant than a lot of smaller containers.
Plan how many plants you will need for the containers you have chosen. A small container may only hold two or three small plants, whereas a 20" container will need one or two 6" pots and 12-14 smaller plants that come in three packs. Count up approximately how many plants you intend to buy based on your budget. You want your containers to be fairly full, but it's better to buy too few than too many. You'll have to find a home for those extras when your containers are full.
Plan how much soil you will need. I always remove the top 8"-10" of soil from containers, put it in the compost pile, and replace it with fresh soil. I prefer a complete soil that has slow release fertilizer for the whole season, so I just have to keep them watered and not worry about anything else. For me, it kills the enjoyment of growing if I have to keep to a 2 week fertilizer schedule. I know I'm not good at that, so choosing the right soil makes it easy for me. If I'm starting a new container, I always put a rock over each drainage hole to prevent the soil from falling out the holes. Also, I put a cheap soil or soil amendment in the bottom half of the container, with my Digger's Delight Premium Potting Soil or Digger's Delight Professional Planting Mix in the top 8"-10".
Head to your local garden center for plants and soil. I prefer annuals for containers. Annuals have a longer bloom season than most perennials and I'll have to find a home in my crowded flowerbed for the perennials when the containers are finished for the season. Try not to have specific plants in mind when you go to the garden center, because the plants you want may not be available. Keep an open mind and walk around the annual section for a few minutes to see what catches your eye, what colors you like and what plants you are loving before you choose anything. When choosing plants, always read the tag to make sure you are picking plants with the same sun and water requirements. If your containers will be under your porch, it's best to choose flowers that like shade or can tolerate some shade. If containers will be in full sun, choose flowers that can tolerate being in full sun. My flower choices are usually based on what flowers they have in a 3 pack or a 6 pack because they are more cost effective than buying 4" or 6" pots. Start putting flowers with colors you like in your cart. Check the sun/shade requirement too. For sun containers, I love geraniums, vinca, zinnia, petunia (double petunia if they have them), and sun loving coleus. For shade, my favorites are impatiens, polka dot plant, and shade loving coleus or caladiums.
Choose plants that will give your containers some interest. You can make a whole container of the same plant, or find plants that look good together. A small ornamental grass or a coleus can add some visual interest to your container. Look at the tag to see how tall and wide they will get. If plants are too tall or get too big, they may outgrow the container, fall over, or squeeze out your other plants. Try different color combinations until you are happy with what you've chosen.
Choose your soil. It pays to spend a bit more on soil, maybe something in between the cheapest and the most expensive. Your plants will have to live in the soil you choose for the whole season and you will get what you pay for. So many people spend money on plants and then buy the cheapest soil to plant them in. Don't be that person...
Decide where your containers are going to go and plant them. Try some different layouts until you are happy with how the container will look when it is finished. Be sure to plant deep enough so the top of the soil the plant came in is below the top of the container soil. It's also a good idea to loosen the roots gently before you plant them, as plants can become root bound in the small containers they come in. Water immediately after planting.
Keep your containers watered. Shallower and smaller containers will require more frequent watering. When the summer months get really hot, I mulch my containers to conserve moisture. Any type of mulch will work. Apply about a 1" depth in the pot around your plants. Deadhead any spent blooms to keep your containers looking fresh. If plants get leggy, you can trim off the leggy parts.
Digger and I hope this helps you to grow and enjoy some beautiful summer containers.
Dig It? It's Grow Time!