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Upper Midwest Gardening: Small Shrub for Big Potted Impact

Brought to you by Lowe's Creative Ideas

An upright arborvitae makes a good anchor plant in spring containers, providing instant impact in Upper Midwest gardens.

Tree planter
arborvitae shrub for container planting

Mother Nature has been taking her sweet little time to sprinkle a bit of spring in the Upper Midwest this year. Despite the lingering effects of winter, I'm managing to get my hands dirty while filling my head with ideas. That's why I like walking aisles of a garden center looking for shot of inspiration. 

I found inspiration in a small, sweet arborvitae shrub (Thuja occidentalis 'Smaragd'); the variety is called 'Emerald Green'. I love its narrow, columnar, pyramidal shape. When it is all grown up, it's great for tight corners in the landscape. But its petite size right now makes it a perfect candidate for my copper pot! I'll take it! And while I'm at it, I add to my cart vinca vine, Million Bells petunias, and bright-yellow violas that say "spring is here," even if it doesn't quite feel like it!

separate roots before planting

New potting soil is the first step to success--it's the number one ingredient in a successful, healthy pot. I use soil enhanced with water polymers (which absorb and retain moisture), and timed-released fertilizer. The polymers are my water insurance if I miss watering a few days, and the fertilizer helps take out the guesswork of feeding. Now I'm ready to get my hands dirty!

Container plants can be root-bound, so it's a good idea to separate the roots before planting. For tightly packed roots, cut through the root ball to loosen them up. You can even shave a bit from the bottom to stimulate new root growth. Plant the shrub in your container as deep as it was in the container it came in. Then fill in around the plant with soil.

trailing vinca vine in container

Dress up the base of the arborvitae with trailing vinca vine, Million Bells petunias and some sweet, spring-fresh yellow violas. The violas give the arborvitae a pop of color until they collapse from summer heat; then the white Million Bells petunias will take over, creating a white-dotted veil of flowers that drip over the container sides. Vinca vine ties the grouping together.

Container gardens can dry out quickly, especially when summer heat takes over. A daily drink keeps all the plants hydrated. And every few weeks I supplement the plants with water-soluble fertilizer diluted to 50 percent strength. In late summer, about mid-August or early September, I will transplant the arborvitae into the landscape to give it enough time to get established before winter sets in. This is smart gardening--and big bang for the buck!

Check out my video to learn how to make this easy container.

Hey, what are you digging?  Share your ideas with us, send us your pix!