Planting flowers in pots can brighten porches, patios and other garden spaces. Here are three simple tips to help them thrive.
Use a piece of screen or shard of pottery over drainage holes in your flower pots and planters to keep soil from washing out when you water them.
Avoid using ordinary garden soil for planting in containers – it’s too heavy and lacking in nutrients. Instead, use a light commercial potting mix.
Choose the Right Soil
There are several different kinds of potting soil out there. Some are lighter and more organic, while others are more conventional and made of heavier, less organic materials like sand or compost. Many of the light, organic potting mixes have slow-release fertilizer that keeps feeding your plants for a bit. But this is really only helpful if you are diligent about re-fertilizing your flowers as well.
Some potting soils contain extra lightweight ingredients, like vermiculite or perlite. These help to keep moisture around the root ball, but they also restrict oxygen flow and can be hard on roots.
Other potting soils have mulch ingredients, like wood chunks or shredded bark, in them that are meant to help garden and landscape plants retain moisture. But these products don’t work well mixed into flower pots because they suck up available nitrogen as they break down and leave the flowers looking starved. They are fine if used as a top dressing, however.
Check the Drainage
Unlike plants in the ground that have plenty of ways to deal with excess water, pots need a way out. If a plant sits in a container that is constantly saturated, the roots will drown.
Wood, clay or terracotta containers have some porous properties that allow for a little drainage. However, glazed pottery, glass, plastic and other types of containers don’t. For these, a piece of screen, shard of pottery or a coffee filter placed over the drainage holes is a good idea.
When planting a container, consider using an annual flower (such as red geraniums for a sunny porch or pink impatiens for a shady spot) that will bloom all summer. Alternatively, mix in some perennial flowers for added color and texture. To keep mixed containers looking their best, remove tattered leaves and spent flowers — a practice called deadheading. Also, fertilize plants every couple of weeks with an all-purpose or bloom-boosting plant food according to package directions.
Select the Right Plants
When choosing flowers for pots, consider the sun, temperature and nutrient requirements of each plant. If you plan to create a mixed flower and foliage planter, choose varieties that share similar sun and soil requirements so that they will thrive in the same container together.
Begonias, for example, offer a broad spectrum of color and leaf shapes that work well in containers. Many are double-flowered, which makes them especially showy. This versatile annual grows best in partial shade, but does tolerate full sun.
Fragrant nasturtiums are annual trailing flowers that attract butterflies. Their blooms are small funnel-shaped and come in bright colors, including purples, pinks, corals and salmons as well as white.
For a delicate baby’s breath-like filler, try annual euphorbia, such as the species Breathless Blush with burgundy-speckled leaves and airy white blooms. This tough annual performs well in a wide range of temperatures and needs good drainage. It can be planted as a thriller or as a filler in pots and hanging baskets.
Organize Your Space
Planters offer the opportunity to work with different colors, textures and forms. They can be used for a single accent or filled to the brim with blooms that will last throughout the summer.
The first step is to consider the location and size of your container. If it’s going to be in full sun, consider plants that grow tall, like elephant ear or agave. For partially shaded areas, try canna lilies or wishbone flowers.
Choose your focal plant or the largest flower first and place it in the center of your pot. Then fill in the rest of the space with filler and spillers. Fillers are plants that fill in the space hiding the soil and spillers are those that flow over the edges of your container. Be sure to keep plants of similar sizes together and group them according to color. A mix of bright colors will bring cheer, while shades of blue and white will create a more serene look.