There’s nothing more relaxing than sitting on your patio or deck, cool beverage in hand ,and being surrounded by the beautiful life emerging from your containers and baskets. I say “life” because what could be in and around those pots are flowers, foliage and veggies and even all the bees and butterflies that visit them. Aaahhh.
Then reality kicks in and you realize that at the current moment you’re looking at just a few deck chairs, a table or two and an umbrella sans the beautiful and bountiful containers that your mind’s eye just pictured (ahem, that’s my situation, actually). I’m about to change my current view by adding in some colorful containers. You should, too. It’s as easy as grabbing a pre-planted hanging basket at the local garden center or as creative as mixing and matching the eye-candy plants on their benches and creating your own.
What To Do Before the Containers and Baskets
It’s tempting to just run out to the garden center or nursery and purchase the prettiest items on the benches. But before you do, you need to know a few things about whatever space you’re about to fill with florals and foliage.
Location. What kind of light does your patio, porch or deck receive during all phases of the day? All sun? Full shade? Half and half—and which half is which? This all matters! It matters because some flowers (and especially vegetables) won’t flower if they don’t receive enough light. It also matters because full sun locations will cause your plants to lose water more quickly. Which leads us to …
Watering. Keep in mind that because these plants are in containers, they have a restricted amount of soil from which to draw water; i.e. your plants in containers will dry out more quickly than your plants in the ground. It’s science. Before purchasing containers, ask yourself, how will I water these plants on a regular basis? Is there a spigot nearby? Will you need a watering can? Do you want to invest in a drip irrigation system meant specifically for containers?
Space. Plants (hopefully) grow. And they get bigger! It’s tempting to purchase plants for the space you have now, but you’ll have less room as the plants grow to fill the space. Also, will you need saucers or “pot feet” under your pots to protect your deck or patio surface? Hangers for the baskets?
Containers and Soil Considerations
If you’re buying a hanging basket or a pre-planted container, you’re all set with the container. However, if you’re buying individual plants and potting them up yourself, you’ll need containers and a soil mix. Keep these in mind:
- Terra cotta dries out faster than plastic and glazed pottery. Fabric pots are great, too, plus they are so easy to store over the winter.
- If it’s not a fabric pot, your container will need a drainage hole so your soil doesn’t get soggy.
- A saucer to catch the water from the pot is a good idea, or pot feet to raise the pot off the deck. If you’re doing baskets, remember to position them somewhere so they don’t drip on your furniture or the people sitting under them (you only do that once).
- Use some of our Organic Mechanics Container Blend Potting Soil. Compost, pine bark (aged forest products), coir, earthworm castings and rice hulls come together to create a media that both holds moisture but also drains well. All sorts of plants do well in this mix. Maybe the best thing about it is you can reuse it for planting a second round of seasonal containers—just remove the plants and root mass, fluff it up and plant up some fall flowers. Because potted plants use water more quickly, having a potting soil that holds moisture is the key to you worrying less about your plants.
- Fertilizer. Add some fertilizer at the time of planting and that should keep your flowers and vegetables productive for a while. If your potting soil doesn’t contain fertilizer (like most Organic Mechanics products) and you don’t add it at the time of planting, have a plan to add some on a regular basis through the growing season.
Ideas for Quick Mixes
As for what to plant, we’ll not go that far. But we will suggest some types of pairings.
Monochromatic. A pairing of different varieties of plants with the same colorations is classy. Think white alyssum, white verbena, white stock and white snapdragons, for instance.
Bicolor mixes. Whites and purples, or yellows and reds, or even reds and oranges are a few combos that seem to be popular.
Add dark elements with light elements. In this photo, the dark leaves of these lettuces and dracena really makes the white alyssum and yellow pansies pop. (Containers were photographed at Cantigny Park in Wheaton, Illinois.)
Thriller, filler, spiller. Height brings drama, cascading elements add relief and those plants tucked into the middle? They stabilize the eye.
Add texture. A funky, spunky foliage-heavy plant pairs well with pretty much anything.
Pair annuals with veg! Most veg—kale, chard, lettuces, fennels and all the herbs—add both elements of texture and pops of color. (Containers were photographed at Cantigny Park in Wheaton, Illinois.)
All veg, all the time. Founder Mark Highland did a tricky thing with this container—he started the leafy greens in early spring, then added a tomato transplant as the weather warmed. Once the greens are gone, the tomato already has a strong footing in the container for the summer season.
Truth be told, my favorite mixed containers are ones that look simple and child-like in their creation. A marigold here, an ageratum there, a zinnia, a “circus tent” petunia, maybe vinca for something that hangs. There’s just such an irreverence in it, a colorfulness to it and the overall sense of “gosh, I just really love all these plants separately so I’m really going to love them all together.” In other words, plant whatever you like!