Tag Archive | Containers

Ornamentals for Flair (and they’re delicious!)

Trying to decide between growing flowers or food? With these pretty choices, form and function go hand in hand. They’ll fit right in amid your garden blooms.



Gretel Eggplant

Gretel Eggplant (Solanum melongena ‘Gretel’) – grown as an annual. This 2009 All-America Selection produces clusters of white eggplants on 3-foot-high plants. The mild-flavored fruits can be harvested when they reach 3 to 4 inches long. The eggplant is susceptible to cold, so wait for the soil to warm and the danger of frost to pass before you plant outdoors.


Ornamental Pepper (Capsicum annuum) – annual. Unlike their kin, which hang beneath foliage, new cultivars of ornamental peppers produce upright clusters of fruit that face the sky. As peppers ripen, a single plant may sport three or four different shades, from yellow to orange, red, purple, or brown. Ornamentals may be super-hot or exceedingly pungent, so be sure to choose cultivars that suit your taste buds and growing area. Also, be sure to keep the plants out of the reach of small children or pets. These work really well in containers. The ‘Black Hawk’ variety was a 2016 All-America Selection.



Scarlet Runner Beans

Scarlet Runner Bean (Phaseolus coccineus) – grown as an annual to zone 7. Draw in hummingbirds and butterflies to your garden with scarlet flowers on vines that grow to 20 feet. Plants bear 6- to 12-inch pods holding purple and black hued beans. Support vines with a trellis, arbor, fence, or teepee.


‘Purple Ruffles’ Basil



Purple Ruffles Basil (Ocimum basilicum ‘Purple Ruffles’) – annual. Frilly, flavorful purple leaves make this herb a great choice. Growing to about 18 inches high and wide, this simple-to-grow, cold-tender herb can be used in containers or mixed in a sunny perennial or annual border.



Papaya Pear Squash

Papaya Pear Squash (Cucurbita pepo ‘Papaya’) – annual. You’ll get lightbulb-shaped yellow squash with this semi-bush plant, which was a 2003 All-America Selection. Pick the fruits when they measure 3 inches long and wide to encourage plants to set more squash so you can enjoy it all season.


Bright Lights Chard (Beta vulgaris ‘Bright Lights’) – annual. This easy-growing choice brings rainbow hues to any garden. Reaching 20 inches tall, Bright Lights produces large mild-flavored leaves on thick yellow, red, orange, and white stems. When harvesting, cut the biggest leaves about 2 inches from the crown to encourage this 1998 All-America


‘Bright Lights’ Chard

Selection to put out new leaves. (Note: I learned this the hard way when I grew it in a tub on the ground that was not quite tall enough to discourage the rabbits. While they ate what was there, it did grow back and I had a lovely harvest from the tub that I had moved to a higher spot!)

All-America Selections is an independent non-profit organization that tests new, never-before-sold varieties for the home gardener. After a full season of anonymous trialing by volunteer horticulture professionals, only the top garden performers are given the AAS Winner award designation for their superior performance.

For further information about AAS, and to download a complete list of all selections, click here.




Container Gardening — Finding the Right Soil

by OCMGA Master Gardener Tammy Borden

There are many ways in which we display our plants: indoors, outdoors, in pots, hanging baskets, and many more. Depending on your situation, there are different considerations when choosing the soil or growing medium you will use. Below are some basic rules of thumb.

Starting Seeds

Use a sterile soil-less seed starting mix. One brand name example is Jiffy Mix. However, there are others available. In fact, I used Fafard Super Fine brand mix this year and absolutely loved it. As its name suggested, it was super fine without clumps or filler. I tried Schultz brand seed starting mix and found that it was too lumpy and my finer seeds like impatiens and nicotiana had a hard time germinating in it.

Outdoor Potted Plants/Hanging Baskets

Once your plants have germinated in your seed starting mix and have a couple true leaves you can transplant them into a container with potting mix. Do not use straight seed starting mix for your transplants because it has very little nutrient value, and as your plants grow they need nourishment. Also, do not use regular garden soil. It is too dense and can smother you’re seedlings, plus it may contain weed seeds and unwanted disease and pests.

downloadA proper soil mixture is important for potted plants because the roots are restricted by the pot and not free to spread. It’s important to find the balance between good moisture retention and good drainage. There are standard potting mixes available at garden centers, or some potting mixes come with fertilizers already in them. One common brand is Miracle Grow. However, there are generic brands available as well. If you prefer not to spend the extra money for the fertilizer type, you can mix in about 1/4 – 1/3 compost and peat moss into your mixture for an added boost. Or you can add in your own time-release fertilizer. A little sand or perlite added to the soil will also improve aeration and drainage.

There are some potting mixes that tout “moisture control” as a feature. I personally do not like them. All they’ve really done to attain this is add more filler like wood chips, then charge you more money for it! If I am concerned about keeping my outdoor potted plants from drying out, I use a product called Soil Moist and mix it in the soil. It is a granular moisture absorbing product that has worked great for me. It is especially useful in hanging baskets which seem to dry out quickly. I have even used it directly in the garden bed around those plants that prefer wet feet. It’s important to not use more than the recommended amount or you may actually drown your plants.

Indoor Potted Plants

Much of the same directions apply to indoor potted plants as outdoor potted plants. However, there are some things to avoid. Do not use compost or manure in your indoor pots. The reasons may seem obvious, but in addition to the potential odor, you may be introducing unwanted disease and pests into your home. Also, since your indoor environment is a controlled atmosphere, elements like wind, rain and fluctuating temperatures are not a factor. So, the use of moisture retentive products is unnecessary. Even more crucial than with outdoor plants, always use a container with a drainage hole in the bottom to avoid root rot and disease. To avoid disease and pests, you can sterilize your growing mix in an oven at 400 degrees for an hour. This kills most bacteria, larvae, weed seeds and insect eggs.

Cactus Mixes 

Cacti require much more drainage and aeration than regular house plants. You can imagespurchase a pre- packaged potting mix especially formulated for cactus. However, if you want to concoct your own mixture, try the following simple recipe: Equal parts commercial potting soil and builders sand. You can add a tablespoon of lime to a gallon mixture of this as well. They prefer an alkaline soil. Cacti prefer to be in unglazed clay pots with a layer of course gravel and charcoal in the bottom. Most Cacti have far ranging lateral roots so a shallow, wide clay pot is preferred. Put a thin layer of crushed gravel on the top of the soil surface to help stabilize the plant as well.

Keep these tips in mind for the next time you’re transplanting your favorite plants. Give them the right conditions and they’ll thrive!

Container Gardening: Thrillers, Fillers, and Spillers

by OCMGA Master Gardener Holly Boettcher

container-garden-design-ideas-uk-idea-gardening-cubtabThe curb appeal of a well-designed flower container shouts WELCOME to you and your guests! It is this time of year that gardeners flock to local garden centers in search of that perfect plant combination to adorn the entrance of their home.

A quick stroll through the plant selection can turn an exciting adventure into a frustrating disappointment, because you just don’t know where to begin with plant selection. Let me share a few tips to keep you smiling.

Sun or Shade

One of the biggest mistakes people make, is to forget to consider if the container will be placed in sun or shade. Sun lovers will not do well in shade, and shade plants will wilt in full sun. Always read the labels.


Begin by selecting a Thriller! This plant is the star of the show and should be somethingCosta-Farms-summer-container-garden bold, sexy, and beautiful. Find an interesting plant that will be your tallest and most exotic in your container garden. Some good picks: Canna, Banana Plant, Elephant Ears, or Purple Fountain Grass.


Next you need to look for a plant or several that will fill up the space. Search for something with interesting foliage or blooms. These plants should complement and not overpower the Thriller. Some examples are Coleus, Begonias, Heliotropes, and Lantana.


Now the fun part is selecting for example a Sweet Potato Vine, Creeping Jenny, or Nasturtium that will literally spill over the edge! Think of the Spiller as a plant that tumbles over and reaches out to anchor your pot to the ground so it looks like it belongs there!

Final Tips for Success

 Experiment with color, texture, and shape to make your container POP! Remember, this is your creation, so enjoy experimenting with different combinations before you finalize your plant selection. Arrange the plants in a cluster inside your cart so you can visualize how they will look together once you take them home. When planting, don’t be afraid to select a unique container but be sure it has ample drainage, and use a good potting soil mix. Once planted, use your finger as a moisture meter because most containers need water everyday once plants are established. Push your index just below the surface of the soil. If it is still moist, do not overwater since that can cause your plants to develop diseases. Also consider an all-purpose fertilizer once a week to keep them at optimum performance.

Good luck with your trip to the local garden center! Plant your container garden, and ENJOY the SHOW!

Let’s Have Window Boxes!

Are you looking to dress up the rather plain front of your house? Or, maybe you just don’t have room for containers around your property? Window boxes bring color and spirit to barren areas, as well as considerable pleasure to those who tend them. Measure the width and length of your sill, then check garden shops or hardware stores for boxes in the appropriate size. (If you shop at a store with helpful clerks, you can get plenty of free advice about window-box attachment.)

0e0c7d074ababaf1dca315898593b718Depending on your house style and budget, you can choose from wood, cast cement, molded terra cotta, plastic, or fiberglass. Avoid metal boxes, because they will very likely rust in a few seasons, and if placed on sunny sills will transmit heat, which burns roots.

Make sure the box is securely attached with wire or bolts. Don’t count on just gravity, no matter how wide the support is. Prepare for planting by covering the bottom with a layer of landscape fabric or plastic screen. This will hold the soil in place while allowing water to drain.

Fill the box about three-quarters full with any all-purpose potting mix, then stir in several trowels each of perlite and organic matter such as leaf mold, aged manure, or compost.

There are no design rules to planting, but contrasting leaf sizes should be a goal, as should contrasting plant outlines. Use bushy plants for bulk, tall plants for a vertical accent, and pendulous species for a graceful cascade over the side. Window boxes almost always look better if there is something draping over the edge, and for sheer drama, you can’t beat drapery that hangs in long streamers well below the box.25137678954_1ef58273fe_b

Unfortunately, although there are many summer stalwarts that will swag down nicely for 12 to 18 inches or so, not many plants are willing to dangle unsupported for much more than that. Plants that will include ivy (Hedera helix), ivy geraniums (Pelargonium peltatum), nasturtiums (Tropaeolum majus), ornamental sweet potato (Ipomoea batatas), trailing lantana (Lantana montevidensis), and vinca (Vinca spp.)

The list of likely trailers is short because most lax-stemmed plants are vines, and most vines would rather hang on than hang down. If they can’t climb straight up, they’ll climb any which way — on themselves, on the other plants in the box, on the brackets that hold the box up, etc. The end result is a tangled mass instead of graceful tresses.

That said, if you have a situation where vines can’t get a grip on anything, these are also worth a try: canary bird vine (Tropaeolum peregrinum), climbing snapdragon (Asarina spp.), grape ivy (Cissus incisa), and passionflower (Passiflora spp.)

If you have only part sun, try these plants for your window box: ageratum, basil, bay, bee balm (Monarda didyma), begonia, caladium, dwarf Chinese astilbe (Astilbe chinensis pumila), ferns, four o’clocks, fringed bleeding heart (Dicentra eximia), lady’s mantle, lantana, lobelia, and wishbone flower (Torenia); and English ivy, mint, or vinca to trail over the side.

No direct sunlight at all? That’s no excuse for not planting a window box. Assuming you get at least bright reflected light, there are quite a few plants that will endure. Many of the best are perennials with comparatively short blooming periods, but if you choose plants with handsome foliage, the box will be attractive even when there are no flowers.

The delicate, ferny foliage of Jacob’s ladder, for example, contrasts nicely with the scalloped round leaves of coral bells, and both remain fresh looking all summer. The Jacob’s ladder will give you blue flowers for a few weeks in late spring. The coral bells will bloom (at least briefly) a short time later, in red, white, or pink.jardinière-de-balcon

If you are determined to have flowers all summer long, you can try shade-tolerant annuals, but keep in mind that even tolerance has limits. You’ll probably have to experiment a bit to find which will perform under your conditions. Choices include wishbone flower (Torenia), with its small purple, snapdragon-like flowers; begonia, both tuberous and wax, available in white and every shade of read and yellow from pale pink to screaming orange; and the ever-faithful impatiens, in a spectrum much like begonia’s.

And don’t forget to plant a trailer. Vinca and English ivy will both do fine.


Fall Container Gardening

by former OCMGA Master Gardener Jess Wickland

Fall-Containers_100450460_webI remember climbing the steps of my grandma’s house when I was little, examining the containers on her front porch. In summer, she had the typical spike, red geraniums and vinca vine. Once fall rolled around, the declining summer annuals were replaced with splashes of maroon or yellow mums, or sometimes some purple asters. I love my grandma dearly, but sometimes you have to break away from the mold and explore other options. (sidenote: this year she planted begonias — livin’ on the wild side!)

I have seen a lot of creative container ideas each year, some better than the last. One particular display I was very impressed with used pumpkins and squash in the larger containers, planted between flowers, and they were set on hay bales to give it that autumn feel. Some people like to use corn stalks to decorate their front doors; why not use that as a back drop and carefully place some containers around them? It’ll still let you have the vertical appeal of the corn stalks, but adds a little extra color. Some people even prefer to use different colored pots for fall decorations. There are greens, blues or blacks for summer arrangements, but as the autumn colors peak on the trees, the maroon, copper or even terra cotta pots come out to hold the vibrant fall arrangements.

What plants can be used in these arrangements in the fall? Some may prefer to use the stand-by: mums or asters. Mums now come in a rainbow of colors, and asters are a few shades of pink, purple or lavender. However, if you want to have plants that are bolder and don’t resemble my grandma’s fall containers, there is quite a selection to choose from at garden centers these days. My favorite plant for fall containers is the temperennial rudbeckias. Their blooms are much larger and showier than the perennial ‘Goldsturm’ we are accustomed to seeing, and are now being hybridized to be available in maroon, with green centers, or with bicolored petals. Ornamental peppers are making their way to the top of many homeowners’ lists, too. Most have small fruit that start out green and change to red or yellow as the nights get cooler. However, a newer variety has purple peppers on it if you prefer the darker colors or want to create a container with asters or kale. Speaking of kale, it’s a wonderful addition to the fall landscape. Many times, if we have a milder fall, kale can be seen “blooming” until Christmas. The colors become more pronounced as the temperatures get colder. There are a lot of different types of kale — some are more upright, while others are shorter and resemble small cabbage heads instead.

If corn stalks aren’t your cup of tea, but you still want a vertical accent for your fall arrangements, consider using ornamental grasses. CabagecontainerThere are quite a few varieties that will do well in this climate and can be planted into the perennial gardens (Calamagrostis ‘Karl Foerster’ or Miscanthus purpurescens are just a couple of examples); however, there are some shorter grasses that still pack a punch, such as Toffee Twist. If perennials are what you prefer to use, fall blooming Sedum may be the way to go. One favorite of mine is called Sedum sieboldii, or October Daphne. It’s foliage is a small rosette of blue succulent leaves, and the flowers are round pink balls that open in late September or October. You can use this one to trail over the edges of pots.

Of course, there are the tried-and-true uprights like ‘Autumn Joy’ or ‘Autumn Fire’, if vertical height is what you need. Another great perennial for fall container gardens are coral bells (Heuchera). With so many colors on the market, you’re sure to find the size and shade you’re looking for. Breaking free of the mold is something that a gardener needs to do from time to time. Why not start a trend and try to incorporate gourds, squash or pumpkins in with your fall blooming plants. Try something new — you may be pleasantly surprised!