By Marty Ross
Inspiration is in full flower in the wide aisles of the garden department -- gardeners in the Midwest are standing in line to plant right now. A few pots of annual flowers dress up a garden the minute they are planted, and they keep on blooming all summer long, just like the zinnias, above.
Don’t worry if you don’t know the names of all the new flowers, or if you have never designed plant combinations for flowerpots. Walking up and down the flower aisles with a shopping cart, you can have fun putting together your own combinations. Read the plant labels and look for plants that thrive in the same conditions. Flowers that love sun, such as geraniums and lantanas, flourish together. Begonias, impatiens, and other shade lovers can share another pot.
Cool days in spring and early summer are perfect for transplanting annuals into pots. Verbenas, zinnias, marigolds, and other annual flowers are ready to grow right now. They make an easy transition from their nursery pots into big flowerpots in your garden. These calibrachoas (sometimes called Million Bells or Superbells) are no exception.
Don’t skimp on the pots: Large flowerpots have more visual impact than small pots, and they’re easier to take care of. They hold more soil, which gives roots more room to grow, and better access to moisture through the hot summer months. You may still need to water every day, but if you plant in a big pot, your flowers don’t wilt between waterings.
Make room for striking foliage plants in your pots too. The silver leaves of dusty miller (Senecio cineraria) look pretty with just about any flower. The multicolor leaves of coleus make a festive combination with wispy ornamental grasses.
If your pots are by the kitchen door or the back porch, season them with fresh herbs: Slip some parsley, basil, or dill plants among the flowers. Herbs not only add fragrance but also texture -- and when you grow them in pots, they’re always within easy reach.
Petunias are among my favorite annuals for pots in sunny spots. The flowers look delicate, but petunias are long-blooming plants that stand up to the challenges of summer weather in the Midwest. This year I’m growing cheerful pink ‘Vista Bubblegum’ petunias with blue lobelias, and I made room for a sparkling white ‘Diamond Frost’ euphorbia at the back of the pot. To one side I added dusty miller -- a little silver polish to put the finishing touch on this romantic combination.