Color and Design

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Container Gardening
Color and Design

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Pots & Planters

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Container Intro

Container Rules and Overview
Color and Design
Potting and Repotting
Hanging Baskets
Planting Hanging Bags
Vegetables in Containers
Layering Bulbs and Plants
Vines and Roses in Containers

foliagecontainers.jpg (110x150 -- 5381 bytes)You can use containers in the landscape to add or expand color, soften architectural features, accent, add privacy, formalize, define space, and direct traffic.  

To do this well, you will need to be aware of the details - so this page contains the hard stuff. Below are some general do's and don'ts, and Design Principals follow.

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Do's Dont's

Do pay attention to the foliage as well as the flowers - foliage is actually more important since it is always there while plants go in and out of flower.  

Choose a mix of colored, variegated, and green foliage for year-long interest.  

Plant a balance of textures - broad leaves, fine leaves, smooth and lacy ones.  

Pay attention to heights, varying them for interest from tall to trailing.  

Experiment with containers using different varieties and colors of a single plant. Geraniums, for instance, can give you variety in both color and form if you try several varieties.  

Try new and unfamiliar plants. Container gardening is a great way to learn about them.  

Choose flowers with different forms - daisy-like, trumpet shaped or plumed - for textural interest.  

Try this simple formula for interesting container design - tall plant, medium rounded plants, short, trailing plants.

Choose plants that like the same lighting conditions - shade lovers with other shade lovers, sun worshippers with their kin.

Group plants with the same soil and watering requirements into the same container. 

Make sure that your pots can drain freely so the roots don't sit in soggy soil. 

Don't be afraid to use a base of perennials, changing your annual plants seasonally. 

Experiment - if you don't like it you can always change it.  

Don't mix too many variegated plants - your container will look confused and chaotic.

Put a plant that requires lots of nutrients in with plants that prefer a lean, poor soil.

Overlook the usefulness of mulch, both in making your container look attractive and in helping conserve moisture and keeping roots cool in the baking summer sun.

Cram the container so full that the roots of your plants have no room to expand.

Plant tender perennials that will need to come inside during cold weather in containers too heavy to move.

Don't forget that plants in containers need more frequent watering than those in the ground. Check small containers at least twice a day.

Don't mix plants that have different soil and watering requirements in the same container.  One plant is bound to get too much or too little of what it needs.  

Don't forget that some plants are heavier feeders than others.

Don't forget that the soil in your container will lose all of its nutrients quickly. Feed your plants lightly as needed.

Design Principles

groupedcontainers.jpg (150x186 -- 7153 bytes)Any container will work as long as it drains. The deeper the container, the easier it will be to water and maintain over the growing season.

Combine plants that are compatible in needs for light, water and their growth.

Choose textures that blend and contrast well -- spiky against ferny, bold against fragile. That way each individual plant will hold its own in the mix.

Shapes can make or break the arrangement. You don't want all rounded blobs, or all spire-shaped flowers but rather a pleasing mix of different shapes for variety.

Finally, watch proportion. A gigantic fountain grass will overwhelm a fragile forget-me-not and a giant sunflower surrounded by ground-hugging ivy will just look silly. Plants need to be in scale with each other to create a harmonious picture.

Combine plants that fit the scale of the container and each other. Plants taller than one to one-and-a-half times the height of the container may look out of scale with the container.

For interest, a good container will include various plant forms. Plant forms include erect, round and prostrate, or weeping.

Use color to make a statement. Harmonious colors are soothing (same hues and shades of a color). Contrasting colors (opposite colors) are exciting. "Color echo" is using color as a common thread to tie the container design together. Great plant combinations use plants with strong flower power mixed with those used for their foliage color.

Good plant combinations incorporate a variety of textures. Combine plants with contrasting textures. Foliage texture can be coarse, medium or fine.

planted_urn.jpg (113x200 -- 6564 bytes)Arrange plants and accent pieces such as butterfly or bird accents, or when placing a container on a pedestal, so that the container is visually weighted or balanced.

A good rule of thumb is to choose one plant with bold leaves, and mix it with one with finer complex leaves - the two textures show each other off to perfection  Add a spiky-leafed plant and one with a medium rounded or heart-shaped simple leaf form will give you a container that is interesting even without the flowers.

Flowers, can be big and bold, like zinnias, or tiny and fine like candytuft. Some flowers are fluffy, some stark. The mix makes each more exciting. Make sure you also have a good mix of flower-textures - let a few bold ones act as star players with some smaller, finer flowers as supporting players.

If the container is large enough, repeat the use of plants, colors and textures. This gives visually appealing rhythm to the design.

The container should have a focal point, even if it's a plant. In the center you might use a tall plant, metal art, birdhouses or pinwheels.

Plant the container in tiers. Determine the viewing perspective of the containers and their center. From that point, tier downward and outward to the edge.

In some plants, like coreopsis the shape is most apparent in the leaves and the flowers fit right into the shape. The pelargonium, (zonal geranium) on the other hand, is rounded until it flowers, then it is more like two tiers of rounded shapes.

Formal balance is when both sides of a composition are equal. A container with classic formal balance may have a tall shape in the center with the plants that surround it forming mirror images of each other. For example, you might use a group of three Asiatic lilies as your focal point, with six ferns - three on each side.

Informal balance is a bit trickier. Rather than identical plants to surround your focal point, you use different plants of a similar weight and texture so that all sides of the composition seem anchored firmly. You don't want one side to be visually lighter than the other. Here you might surround that same lily with ferns on one side, and astilbe of a similar size on the other.

Consider adding fragrant plants to a container, especially to ones that will be located around decks and patios where people will be able to enjoy the fragrances.

Dramatic container gardens include a combination of three to five varied container types and sizes clustered together.

Periodically prune dead blooms or "out-of-control" foliage. Pruning generally rejuvenates older plants as the growing season progresses.

The more established the container, the more frequently you'll need to water.

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