Arranging Container Gardens

Large sized containers make a dramatic statement in the garden, but they aren’t always practical or proportionate to the scale of the garden.  In many cases I prefer to use multiple mid-sized and small containers in a grouping.  Clustered containers offer the same visual impact as large pots, but they are more manageable for my aging back and I can transform the look by simply switching a few out.

It’s true that clustering containers is a bit of a no brainer, but my best combinations are those that I put a little thought into.  Here are some tips to keep in my as you design your container gardens.

Start with the right containers. Containers are available in every size, shape and color.  When making your selection, keep in mind the area where they will be displayed. Choose planters that complement the colors and style in the setting.  For instance, bright orange terra-cotta pots may clash with a red brick house, but a gray concrete container would be more harmonious.  While an array of pot styles may  be what you have on hand, containers in similar colors help the collection appear more unified.

Number and size does matter. You don’t have to cover the entire area with plants to make it inviting. A pair of stately pots at an entrance may be all you need.  For groupings, I like to cluster containers in odd numbers such as 3, 5 or 7. And instead of using the same dimensions for all the pots, mix up the sizes with containers that vary in diameters and heights.  One of the most common mistakes is to undersize the containers.  Make sure your pots are the right scale for where you intend to use them.  Three 6-inch pots on a large front porch will go unnoticed and won’t make much impact.

Set the stage. Use clustered containers as design elements around your home. Next to steps, they can signal a change in elevation.  Around entrances, they serve as accents to draw visitors into a garden or onto a deck. They can dress up bare walls, conceal unsightly views or soften empty corners. Placed rhythmically through a flower border or along the edge of a pool or patio, they offer a sense of cadence to your garden design. You can create a tiered arrangement by placing your container gardens on top of overturned pots.  The varying heights will add more dimension to the display. Just be sure the pots you use for platforms are sturdy.

Select the plants. As you choose flowers and foliage to arrange in the containers keep in mind that some plants, such as small trees, shrubs, and perennials have deep roots that require tall containers to accommodate their root mass.  Annuals, on the other hand, often have fairly shallow roots and can thrive in low-profile containers. So make the right match.  Notice the light conditions in the area.  Choose plants that are designed to grow best in those settings.

Color Combinations. Avoid creating a “botanical zoo” by assembling lots of individual specimens that don’t go together.  Too many shades and shapes will appear chaotic and cluttered. It is more effective to repeat a color or plant in the group to tie the composition together. Choose a color theme that works with the setting and stick with it. If the grouping is close to a garden, create color echoes in your container design.  Keep in mind the color of the background behind the containers. White blooms in front of a white house won’t show up.  Use dark foliage and bright flowers against a light-colored house, and use light foliage and pastel flowers against a dark house for maximum impact.

Container Tip
Before you plant, make sure your containers have unobstructed drainage holes in the bottom.  Use a drill to make new holes (use a masonry bit) or expand existing or clogged ones.  To keep soil from shifting out the holes, place a small piece of window screen, coffee filter, or broken pot shards over them.  This will keep the soil in and still allow the water to drain out.  Protect surfaces by placing a saucer under each container.

Make it easy on yourself – Maintenance Ideas

  • Assemble your containers within reach of a hose.  If they are in a sunny location, you’ll need to water once a day during the hottest summer months. Also remember to protect the area under the containers with saucers.
  • Save your back and plant your pots in the location where they will be displayed.
  • Use a packaged soil mix designed for containers. Check the label for ingredients.  The best have lime to balance the pH, controlled-release fertilizer and water retaining polymers.  If these aren’t part of the mix, you can buy them separately and add to the soil.
  • Mulch the top of the containers with shredded bark, gravel, or even small pinecones.  They dress up the tops of the pots and also reduce moisture loss.
  • When you select several different types of plants for one pot, make sure they all have the same sun and water requirements.
  • No time to water?  Investigate self watering containers with built in water reservoirs or drip irrigation systems with emitters that water each container automatically when connected to a faucet with a timer
  • Check the plants regularly to nip problems in the bud early on.  If a plant or container isn’t performing or seems to be harboring pests or disease, remove it immediately.