Graf Growers

Container Gardening Tips and Tricks

From the desk of Lisa Graf…

Container gardening is one of my favorite types of gardening because you can grow and enjoy plants in places that plants might otherwise not grow. Furthermore, it is a fun way to create interesting combinations and try new plants without the heavy digging and manual labor. Each year containers of mandevilla with bright pink or red flowers climb up narrow trellises on either side of my garage door and pots overflowing with flowers line my steps which provide beautiful curb appeal and a welcoming entrance.  Neighbors always ask me about them as they walk by with their dogs. I have found it to be a great “ice breaker” in getting to know my neighbors.

In addition, container gardens can hang from a porch, add a focal point to a garden or make a deck or patio area more pleasant. One other thing you might consider is creating a miniature fairy garden in a pot with miniature shrubs, creeping moss, & fun miniature accessories. If you are a bit more practical, you might consider planting an herb pot or tomato plant for a kitchen garden on your deck. A pot of lettuce can be cut & enjoyed many times during the growing season.  If you have a patio, deck or doorstep that needs a little boost you might consider adding a few container gardens to your landscape this year. Whether this is your first time for creating a container garden or if you’re more experienced, here are a few tips and products that help make container gardening easier.


When planting your container gardens, consider the overall design you are looking for. Would you prefer a simple pot with all one type of plant or a mixture of upright and trailing plants? A good rule of thumb is to use a THRILLER for a focal point. Most commonly, people use spikes or grasses for this, but there are so many other choices. Consider the large leaves of Colocasia or the airy asian look of Cyperus ‘Baby Tut’ or even a canna for a tall spiky plant. One of my favorite thrillers is a plant called Ensete which looks like a banana tree but it grows much faster.

Colocasia with Begonias

Next, consider SPILLERS which are the plants that grow trailing over the edge. There are so many choices for this. Some varieties like sweet potato vine and english ivy are for the foliage, however, there are many choices with lots of blooms. Vining verbena and supertunias are great choices available in many colors for sun or vining torenia and bacopa are good choices for the shade.

Verbena with Sweet Potato Vine
Verbena with Sweet Potato Vine
Verbena with Sweet Potato Vine
Verbena with Sweet Potato Vine

Finally, FILLER plants fill out the midsection of the arrangement. The most common FILLER is geraniums, however lantana, sun coleus, calibrachoa (looks like a miniature petunia) and new Guinea impatiens are other great choices.


In addition to the THRILLERS, FILLERS and SPILLERS, you will also want to consider texture and colors. Colors opposite each other on the color wheel or dark colors combined with white or a very light color have the strongest contrast so they show up well from a distance. Colors near each other on the color wheel like pinks, blues, violets or yellow, orange red are softer combinations and will be very pleasing to the eye. Just have fun mixing the colors so that they are pleasing to you!


Flowering annuals are usually used to create container gardens, however evergreens, shrubs and perennials can add an interesting element to container gardens.  Later in the season you can plant perennials and shrubs in the ground permanently. ‘Endless Summer’ Hydrangeas will bloom all summer long in a container and they look nice underplanted with impatiens and a trailing vine. In addition, tropical hibiscus, mandevilla and others can make a stunning statement in containers.

Perennial Heuchera and Sedum
Perennial Heuchera and Sedum
Arborvitae planted with sweet potato vines
Arborvitae planted with sweet potato vines

When you begin potting, be sure to use potting soil (do not use topsoil) because it will not compact in the pot and the roots will be able to breath. If you travel or take long weekends, purchase a potting soil with moisture control granules or purchase a product called Soil Moist™ and mix it into the soil before you plant. Soil Moist is a polymer that absorbs and retains water then releases the water to the plant slowly over time. This will reduce the amount of watering needed for your pots. Add Osmocote™ slow releasing fertilizer to keep plants strong all season long You may need to add a water soluble fertilizer like Bloom Booster by Jack’s Classic later in the season to give them an extra boost.

If you have wire hanging baskets or trough planters you can line them with sheet moss or purchase pre-formed cocoa liners. The cocoa liners will last several seasons & they they are quick & easy to use. Some gardeners prefer the look of sheet moss liners. If you are using sheet moss we recommend that you soak it in water so it will stretch when putting it in the basket. In addition, we suggest you line the inside of the moss with a plastic liner made from a garbage bag so they do not dry out as quickly. Be sure to cut a few slits in the bottom for drainage.

Be sure all outdoor containers have drainage holes so they do not fill with water over time. If you have pots that sit flat on the ground consider boosting them up to improve drainage with “pot toes”. They are inexpensive plastic wedges that lift the pots up to allow better drainage.

Hopefully these tips will inspire you to get started. We invite you to bring your containers this Saturday, May 28 or next Saturday, June 4 and join us at the potting table from 10AM-4PM. We’ll help you make selections and then we’ll help you plant fabulous container gardens. The soil and osmocote fertilizer is FREE & we’ll clean up the mess. What a deal!

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