Creative container gardening in Oklahoma

The Daily Ardmoreite
Pat Neasbitt Master Gardener

It’s the perfect time to make container plantings for the summer. The danger of frost is past, it is raining steadily, and the nurseries and garden centers are getting new shipments of plants in almost daily. The sky’s the limit when choosing containers for gardening. Once you start getting creative with your containers, you’ll be looking at "junk" in a whole new way. Keeping in mind that another definition for a container planting in Oklahoma is a "Crockpot", the following are tips to help make your container plantings fun and successful.

Choose the Right Container

Don’t grow a tomato in a container that holds less than 5 gallons of soil. The bigger the container and the more soil it has, the longer it can go without watering. You can line metal containers with several thicknesses of newspaper before filling with potting soil. This will give the roots some protection from the heat and help hold moisture.

Make sure that you drill drainage holes if the container doesn't already have some. If possible, drainage holes should be drilled on sides of containers about 2" or 3" up rather than on the bottom so they can drain better and not stain your porch, deck, or patio so badly.

Use the right soil for containers.

Good Container soil is important because of the small volume of medium used to support plant growth. Don’t use soil from your garden. A commercial soilless mix with the addition of time-release fertilizer and moisture pellets is the easiest to use.

Make sure containers get enough water. Your plants are totally dependent upon you for their food and water, and containers require more water and nutrients than plantings in the ground because they are leached out with each watering. A time-release fertilizer is the easiest to use in containers. You can also add nutrients with fish emulsion, seaweed extracts, or manure teas when you water every two weeks or so. Water until all the soil in the container is moist and water just begins to run out the drainage holes. Water from once per week to twice per day depending on container and weather conditions. Use saucers or trays to catch excess water. Group pots together to minimize moisture loss. Add a 3'' or 4" layer of fine mulch to the top of every container to conserve moisture, cool the soil temperature, keep soil from splashing on plants, and make containers look nicer. You can run drip irrigation tubing to containers and install a timer to water containers on a regular basis. This works especially well if you are not always going to be available to water plants.

Made in the shade

Containers with plants recommended for "Full Sun" will do even better in part shade in our Oklahoma summers. Eastern exposures or dappled shade from trees or other tall plantings are ideal. Full Sun means at least 6 hours of sun daily; however, a full day of sun in August is often too much for all except the toughest plants in the landscape and is harder still on plants in containers.

Mixed plantings in containers

Mixed plantings look best if they have the following 3 elements in the arrangement:

THRILLER - taller focal point, usually toward the back (in the center if arrangement will be seen from all sides).

FILLER - something to fill in and provide color

SPILLER- something to spill over and soften edges An example of a mixed container planting with plants all having the same cultural requirements of sun and drought resistance is Purple Fountain Grass (Thriller), 'Diamond Frost' Euphorbia (Filler), and Margarita Sweet Potato (Spiller). All 3 of these plants are also OK Proven Plants and look great together in a large container.

Grow something other than flowers.

Vegetables, herbs, or patio fruits can make nice container plantings.

Single-plant containers

Containers with only one plant can also be dramatic, and you don't have to worry about making sure plants are compatible. Some good stand-alone plants are Canna, Bamboo, Ornamental Grass, Hibiscus, Hollyhock, Castor Bean, Crepe Myrtle, Banana, and Vitex. I often plant new shrubs or trees in a container on the patio so I can baby them all summer until they get big enough to plant in the landscape in the fall.

Beautiful glazed containers from garden centers always look good and last indefinitely. They make for a coordinated look for your patio or porch and support your choice of colors. They are expensive and can be added gradually and requested as gifts. You can add whimsy to your container plantings by using unique and unusual containers that are not normally meant for planting.

Look for articles you can recycle. I often see cute magazine pictures of old work boots or other small items with lots of colorful plants spilling out. That might work temporarily, long enough to take pictures for the magazine article; however, small containers only hold small amounts of soil and small amounts of moisture and are just not sustainable for very long at all. More practical items for containers are galvanized metal buckets and pails (these can be painted and decorated but old and rusty is definitely "in"), wicker baskets (these can be painted and lined with plastic with holes for drainage), half whisky barrels, old toy boxes & wooden crates, old chairs (cut out the seat and drop in a container that fits inside - hang several mismatched chairs on a wooden fence for a unique display), dresser drawers painted in bright cheery colors, wagons (choose one that’s deep so there’s plenty of room for soil for the plants to grow or to fill with plants in containers), watering cans, hypertufa containers, bird houses (large with the roof removed and a plant inside) old fashioned bird cage (pot inside) hollowed out stumps & logs, old bird baths, wheelbarrows, old mailboxes (turned on end and lined with a thick layer of newspapers), wooden or metal tool boxes, etc.

Container plantings can become addictive.

You may find yourself stopping at yard sales, grabbing things left on the curb, or dumpster diving. The list of containers is only limited by your imagination and the amount of time you have to water them. Happy Container Gardening!