Q. Last year I planted flowers in containers located by the front entrance to our new home. The flowers started out OK but fizzled out during the summer. What can I do this year to make things better?
A. Gardening in containers can be a great way to draw interest to the front entrance to a home. In our area, one can “change out” flowers in a container to lengthen the season.
In my opinion, an optimal container is at least 18 to 24 inches wide and deep or larger. The smaller the container, the more frequent the watering.
Drainage holes are vital regardless of the container you are planting in. Root rot is a major issue with plants planted in poorly drained containers.
Many folks place clay shards, stones, screens in the bottom of the container to prevent clogging of the drainage holes. I have also used crushed up cans or bags of packing peanuts in the bottom of larger containers to reduce the amount of soil needed to fill the container.
Soilless mixes are best used in containers because they are lighter and provide an optimal environment for the plants. They are pasteurized so – unlike regular soil – contain no pathogens or weed seed. These soil-less mixes are often sold as Professional grower's mix or Metro Mix at garden centers and local greenhouses.
The soil mix must be changed yearly, and the containers must be disinfected with a 10 percent bleach solution, or any environmentally friendly disinfectant before filling with soil.
I usually fertilize with a liquid soluble fertilizer or compost tea every two weeks after planting.
Watering frequency will vary (usually every one to two days). Try not to water in the late afternoon or evening, as this can promote disease.
To lengthen the season of flowering, one can plant cool-season annuals in late March or early April. Pansy, Jonny Jump ups, Flowering Kale and Cabbage are usually available at garden centers at that time.
Swiss Chard is an attractive vegetable one can plant as an ornamental. Annual Dianthus and Snapdragon are cool season annuals that work well.
In mid- to late-May, pull the cool season annuals and plant warm season annuals. Some of my favorite summer annuals include: Begonias, Wings Begonia, Geraniums, Ivy Geraniums, Trailing Verbena, Coleus, Celosia, and Sweet Potato Vine.
One can also plant the standard Petunias, Marigolds (French and signet), or even ornamental peppers and herbs.
Some tropical annuals such as African Daisy, Scaveola, Million Bells and Fuchsia are less heat-tolerant and require a bit more TLC to thrive in our climate.
In early September, some folks pull the summer annuals and change out to mums. The perennial mums are treated like an annual in container situations.
Many folks place too many plants in a container. Try to research how much space each plant will need. Use trailing plants on the edges, with taller and massing plants in the center. Containers can provide a full season of interest and color in your home landscape.
The Plant Medic, written by Ricky Kemery, appears every other Saturday. Kemery retired as the extension educator for horticulture at the Allen County branch of the Purdue Extension Service.