By Marty Ross
The strengthening sunlight of cool spring days brings gardens back to life. In the Midwest it’s still too soon to set out tomato plants or heat-loving zinnias and petunias, but the timing is just right for filling flowerpots with spring color. Welcome the new season with cheerful pots, placed where you can enjoy them every day.
For container displays with tremendous substance from the very start, try planting cool-season flowers with hardy shrub roses or great-looking dwarf evergreens. Pansies, violas, dianthus, and other cool-season annual flowers thrive in spring weather and keep blooming until summer temperatures soar.
To plant two large flowerpots you need two shrubs and four six-packs of annual flowers. Even if you plant two flowerpots that are exactly the same size and color, the plants do not have to match. Instead of mirror-image pots you can create balance and dynamism with complementary plantings.
Garden roses come into bloom when summer gets a little closer, but they’re already in bloom at Lowe’s. Knock Out roses, full of flowers and buds, were among the first flowering shrubs I saw this year in the garden department at my local Lowe’s. They’re terrific specimens in a pot because they keep blooming from spring through frost. Knock Out roses are also easy to take care of: You can prune them with snippers or hedge shears. In fact pruning encourages more flowers.
Start with large pots that can sustain your plantings all the way through the growing season. Make sure they have drainage holes. Plastic pots typically do not have holes in the bottom when you buy them, but drilling holes is easy. While you shop for plants and potting soil, pick up a 3/8-in drill bit for the drainage holes. Make one hole in the center of the bottom of the pot (the spot is usually marked), and drill several holes around the rim.
Fill your pots about two-thirds full with fresh potting soil. There is no need to place potshards, foam peanuts, or any other filler in the bottom of the pots. The plants should have as much room as possible to send down roots and tap moisture all the way to the bottom of the pot. Don’t worry, potting soil does not drain out of the holes.
Remove the shrubs from their containers and loosen their roots with a trowel or with your fingers. This encourages the roots to spread in the pot. Place a shrub in the middle of each pot. The shrub should sit with its crown just about level with the rim of the pot. Fill in with potting soil but don’t pack it in too tightly.
Now, remove your pansies, violas, or dianthus from their cell packs and place them around the rim of the pot. Make small holes for these plants with your fingers, and firm the soil around them as you work your way around the rim. To give your planting a trimmer appearance, moisten some sheet moss or sphagnum moss, and press bits of it onto the soil around all the plants.
Now, water well. To encourage more blooms you can lightly trim a dianthus planted with a Knock Out rose through the summer. The plants might take a break in hot weather, but they come back into bloom in the fall. Colorful violas or pansies planted with an evergreen shrub fade in summer’s heat, but it’s easy to replace them with a six-pack or two of Wave petunias, trailing lobelia, lacy alyssum, or other heat-loving annual flowers.
The pots you plant with low-maintenance shrubs this spring should look great for several years. Move the pots to the garage or basement in late fall and bring them out again next spring. Or take the shrubs out of their pots in early fall, plant them in the garden, and start over next year with brand-new combinations for your colorful spring pots.
Container gardening isn’t just for summer. Try on some of these ideas from Lowe’s 10 regional gardening contributors.Learn More