Growing Big in Small Spaces

19 Jun 2023

Enjoy blooms all year long with these container garden ideas

By Teresa McLamb

Magic in a pot might be a more appropriate name for container gardening. Contained blooms can bring beauty in the midst of winter, and plantings on the patio or carefully sited in the garden lend interest and color year-round.

We asked two of Boulder County’s well-known gardening shops to give us pointers. Both have container gardens at home as well as the shops.

“Container gardens are really great for people who don’t have much space,” said Kim Jackson of The Flower Bin Garden Center & Nursery. They can use the balcony or patio and grow flowers well.” Containers on a table or bench are also a good option for people with limited mobility, she added. “It’s a great way to get instant gratification.”

Containers in a clearing or under trees in the yard can create a calming focal point. “Pick a space where you want to add interest, drawing the eye,” said Jackson, adding to be sure that there’s a way to get water to the plants, beyond what the irrigation system can do. 

Planting in containers works for each season, says Brian Wheat of Lafayette Florist, Gift Shop & Garden Center. “Now you have cold weather plants that can take the late freezes.” He added that people often put out summer plants too early. “In the middle of May, we can get a heavy snow or hard freeze.” It’s best to wait until after Memorial Day for summer plants. 

Wheat uses container plantings at home. “In March, I planted pansies and cold weather plants like ornamental kale and cabbage. Those are early color. It’s been a long winter, and I’d like something bright.” 

What to plant begins with the season, but size is important especially if you’re considering a shrub or tree. “Be careful of how big it will get,” Jackson said. “We’ve had people try it, but this is not for a ponderosa pine or spruce. Eventually it has to get out of the pot.” 

Wheat suggests a dose of realism about maintenance. “Sometimes people don’t have time to water every day, but you can make the container beautiful without high maintenance.” He suggests combing portulaca or lantana with a taller plant that requires less water. 

Choosing containers can be a lot of fun. “Everything to some extent works,” Jackson said. “We’ve had people plant in an old rain boot.” Keep in mind that terra cotta will dry out faster than plastic, that concrete breaths a bit and that wood will absorb water. A galvanized pony trough with a few rust holes for drainage is ideal for a large center plant surrounded by seasonal color.

Good drainage is also critical, Wheat noted. In summer, daily watering is probably needed. “You don’t want the water to be building up in the bottom, so the roots drown. People check the top and don’t know if there’s too much water in the bottom,” he said. A good potting soil that drains well is part of this equation, he said. Garden soil is too heavy for containers; the soil must hold water and drain, he said.

There’s a formula for designing the containers, Jackson and Wheat agree. “You don’t want these patio pots to be one-sided. You want them to look beautiful all the way around,” Wheat said. The middle gets a spike, a tall plant such as a King Tut papyrus, Dracaena, cannas or cordyline. The next layer fills out the middle height of the pot. For full sun, Wheat suggests geraniums, zinnias and marigolds. Shade is welcoming to impatiens, coleus, fuchsia and tuberous begonias. 

At the edge is a plant that spills over the edge and down the side. At The Flower Bin, posters identify plants that will work well in each position so customers can select with confidence. “You’d be surprised by the number of people who feel really intimidated trying to put together a pot,” Jackson said. 

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