By Carol O’Meara, Colorado State University Extension
Admit it, when you dream of summer entertaining you envision your patio or deck looking magazine-perfect, complete with a grill, shaded cushioned seats and enough potted plants to rival the botanic gardens. As guests drop in they admire the lush oasis, which, in your dream, you casually shrug off as ‘just a little gardening to keep the green thumb happy.’
The beauty of a container garden adds a special touch to summer relaxation, so building and caring for them shouldn’t take all your spare time. With a little planning and the right plant choices, you can surround your friends with foliage.
Container displays can be planted in anything that isn’t copper, from terracotta or glazed pots to tin cans, old boots, or any item that holds soil but has drainage. Use your imagination and let the pot become part of the display, reflecting your style: formal, whimsical or color coordinated.
When choosing your container, make sure it has drainage holes in the bottom or drill a hole in the center before you fill it. Use fresh potting mix each year for planting to avoid buildup of salts in the soil. Mix in a granular fertilizer before you plant, and feed your containers two times per month with a balanced, liquid fertilizer.
Before diving in and filling up your containers, assess the space where it will reside. Large containers are a bear to move about, often needing a dolly, so place your container carefully with eye to how it fills the space and plan to leave it there.
Locate the containers near to a water spigot on the house, or pop in an automatic drip system specially designed for containers and available at local garden centers. These drip systems save you time and water, and can be customized to provide different pots with different amounts of water.
Give in and go big and bold for at least one large container, and step down in size for other pots around it. Larger containers allow for more plants and greater impact, or display a single trophy specimen well. Tree roses, such as Polar Joy, work extremely well in big pots; unusual, airy-leafed Cyperus papyrus ‘King Tut’ adds a touch of the Nile; or go southwest with ornamental Maize for quirky displays.
Cannas make excellent focal plants in large containers with their big, tropical looking leaves and bright colors. Plant with strong-colored coleus, burgundy and chartreuse sweet potato vines, and sun daisies (Osteospermum), to add drama to semi sunny locations.
Colors play a role in containerized plantings. Soft colors are soothing and relaxing, while bright, saturated colors brighten the area. When planting, place tall plants in the center, medium sized plants around the sides and vines, such as trailing petunias or vincas, to tumble over the edges.
For easy-care beauty, geraniums are excellent choices. There are many wonderful varieties of geraniums to please every designer’s eye. Look for geraniums to cascade over pot edges or add depth to centers of medium sized pots, in colors of pink, salmon, rose, white or lavender.
If you’ve over-wintered geraniums, return your plants to an outdoors environment after the average last spring frost. Place geraniums in a protected area away from sun and wind. Quickly drag them back inside should frost threaten, or cover them with a blanket.
Look for specials at local garden centers for perfect annuals for your containers. Many of our greenhouses and garden shops are ready to help with planting plans for the design-challenged, or ready-made combinations for instant beauty on the patio.
Jazz up your entertaining this summer with a bevy of potted beauties. Your friends will envy you, your family will be proud, and you can relax.
Colorado State University Extension, provides unbiased, research-based information about consumer and family issues, horticulture, natural resources, agriculture and 4-H youth development. For more information contact Extension at ext.colostate.edu/index.html.