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Planting Outdoor Containers

The art of gardening has evolved over the last decade or so, and it is no longer unusual to see several containers overflowing with colourful plants in any given landscape. The popular practice of creating attractive living areas in the outdoor landscape has led to people spending more time in their gardens. Decks and patios have become larger, and more effort and expense is invested in them, so the inclusion of decorative containers filled with plants has become integral to the creation of our “outdoor living rooms.”

Creating effective containers requires preplanning and some considerable thought about what plants to include and how the planting will be done. Firstly, like any other garden area, the soil must be of good quality. The best planting medium for containers is a soilless mix because it is lightweight and does not pack as garden soil does. Good drainage must be provided. Secondly, attention must be given to the exposure so that suitable plants can be chosen; sun-loving plants will not be happy on a shaded deck while shade-loving plants will not survive a patio location that receives strong afternoon sun.

What plants to choose? Containers are often positioned close to living areas and so are under close scrutiny; plants therefore need to be attractive all season and not be the kind that creates mess. Annuals that have a neat growth habit and that bloom all season, such as marigolds, petunias, blue salvia, nasturtium and ageratum come to mind. The nursery industry has responded to the increase in consumer demand by developing a myriad of new container plants. Coleus (many for sunny locations), various perillas such as “Merilla Perilla,” and tall blue salvias such as “Mystic Towers,” are some examples.

When choosing plants for a container, it is important to keep in mind height, growth habit (upright or trailing), bloom colour, foliage texture and colour and water requirements. Just as plants that demand shade would not be included in the same container as ones which require full sun, so plants that must be kept moist should not be paired with drought-tolerant plants that object to overwatering.


After selecting the colour combination you want, the plants are arranged in the container to create a pleasing display. A taller plant should be placed at the back if the container is to be located in a corner or against a wall or fence, but in the centre if the container is going to be viewed from all sides. The colours of the flowers should complement each other and it is often wise to limit the number of colours to create a sense of unity. Other plants are added, including some trailing ones around the perimeter to allow them to trail down over the edge of the container.

Good trailing plants include annuals like lobelia, Kennelworth ivy, plectranthus (Swedish ivy family) and Euphorbia “Diamond Frost”; these plants will act as fillers to occupy any empty spaces in the planting. Perennials also can be utilized and often can be obtained from the outdoor garden. Creeping Jenny performs well in a container and will soon send trailing stems sporting bright-yellow blooms cascading from the container. Using some plants with variegated foliage adds colour and interest to the planting as does including plants with unique texture, such as grasses. Plant things close together to create a nice, full effect but do remember to allow some space for the plants to grow.

One of the handy things about container gardening is if a plant doesn’t perform well, it can be replaced with something else during the growing season. New containers can be potted up and added to the garden throughout the season, and if a container flags, it can be replanted completely. Containers also can be moved around to add new life to the garden or to assist maintenance – moving all containers to a shaded location if you are going to be away for a few days will help the plants to survive without being watered. Containers are indeed a great addition to any landscape.– Albert Parsons writes from Minnedosa, Manitoba

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