Articles by Jim Gainan

As published in the Billings Gazette

Growing Up: Outdoor container gardens a great low maintenance option

JIM GAINAN Growing Up | Posted: Sunday, May 23, 2010 12:00 am

What a difference a couple of nice days and a day off from work can make in the garden!  I was like a pig in mud on Monday enjoying nearly perfect weather. My only problem was starting too many projects all at once.  It's amazing how good it feels to be outside when the wind isn't blowing and the skies are clear.  As I sat down to write this column I checked the weather forecast for Sunday.  When I read the words rainy and cold, it occurred to me that today would be a great day to write about outdoor container gardens. 

In fact, whenever the whole garden seems like a little bit too much to tackle, these fun gardens provide the same experience but require much less time and maintenance. They can be planted in a garage and set in place without spending hours in the rain.   If you have an area on a patio or near a door that lacks color, these little gems are the ticket.  In fact, you can even plant many types of vegetables successfully with this efficient method. So for me, today will be about planting a few little color spots.  When I place them outside, the rain will give them a nice welcoming drink in preparation for a sunny and warm WORK week.  Somehow that just seems wrong to me.

Planters and pots should be treated as smaller versions of the flower border with the same design principles applying.  Use up to 3 colors together with the taller plants in the center or rear.  Plants that trail over the edge, such as vinca, lotus vine, sprengeri or lobelia, will help give the planter unity with the surroundings.

A general rule of thumb to follow when selecting plants for your planter is that the eventual height of the tallest plants would be as tall as, or up to 2/3 the height of the planter.  Dracaena (spikes) are often added to the center of the planting to achieve this extra height.  Tall flowering annuals such as cosmos, pentas, dahlia, canna or salvia look great in large whiskey barrel sized planters.  You might also want to consider using a short trellis in a large pot.  Vining plants such as morning glory, sweet peas and black-eyed susans can create an impressive planter in a short time.

Planters and pots must have drainage holes.  Use only packaged potting soils to fill your planters.  Garden soil is not recommended, since it usually does not drain fast enough. 

During the hottest days of summer, you will probably have to water your planters daily.  Mixing root watering crystals, such as “Soilmoist” into the soil can decrease the time you spend watering by 50%.  The crystals absorb many times their weight in water and release it slowly to the roots.  Your plants benefit by having a constant water supply to draw on, instead of a wide fluctuation of moisture.

Jim Gainan is VP/Shareholder of Gainan's Flower and Garden Center in Billings