Articles by Jim Gainan

As published in the Billings Gazette

Empty gardening pots take center stage for the "spookiest" season

JIM GAINAN Growing Up | Posted: Sunday, October 25, 2009 12:00 am

A couple of weekends ago while representing the store at a wedding show held at the Moss Mansion, a friend asked me "what to do with all of the pots" on her porch now that the annuals have started to fade. I stumbled around trying to think of some original idea for her and came up pretty empty-handed. I've spent the last few days really trying to come up something amazing and then I looked to the old blue pot on my front step for inspiration. Part creativity and part laziness has kept this pot where it has sat since the day I brought it home.

In the spring, I always plant a tall grass in the center and surround it with hardy pansies that can withstand cold nights better most other annuals.

After the first frost, I remove the pansies and replace with some sort of tropical green plant and impatiens or dragonwing begonias and a couple of ferns.

By early late summer/ early fall pansies and kale replace the summer flowers. It's at this point that the old blue pot sits until a pre-lit Christmas tree is set in the frozen soil mid-November.

This year, I changed things up a bit and skipped the kale and pansies. Instead, after this year's surprisingly early snow storm, I removed the summer plants, took half of the soil out and waited for an idea.

The next day I was cleaning out the area south of the garage. I call it the graveyard because it is where I plant perennials and bushes that don't appear to have any hope for survival. The area is a small section of both sun and shade and it's hidden from almost every angle of the house. During my frantic attempt to clean the whole yard during the four hours of sunshine we had on Monday, I stumbled along a 'Curly Locust' that sat all summer long (despite extreme horticultural intervention) in its black plastic pot dead as a doornail.

The locust tree didn't ever 'bud out' this year. I could tell early on that would be the case, but this spring I felt it was too unique to throw away. Now that curly locust is the centerpiece of the old blue pot.

I took out the summer plants, removed half of the soil from the pot and placed the old curly locust right in the center. Later, I dressed the top of the pot with leftover small and medium bark. This dead tree sat all summer waiting for its chance to take center stage for the "spookiest" season of all - Halloween.

A whimsical cat, bat and ghost with bells on their wire arms clank lightly in the wind and will surely add a "fright" to trick-or-treaters who 'dare' to approach the front door. Little hanging glass vases with flickering votives will adorn the curly locust and I'm hoping a few "homemade" bats and ghosts made by the kids will make their way to the twisted branches before the 31st.

If you don't have a dead tree hanging around your yard, here are a few ideas for you: Instant color can be added by removing dead annuals and replacing with vibrant hardy mums and kale. Certain grasses are also available and will look great all winter long - even after they died. It's hard to believe, but these hardy plants can survive until we are deeply into winter.

Another idea is to poke a few stems of red-twig dogwood or curly willow in the center of the pots and top dress the with Spanish moss. As the season progresses, you can add evergreen pieces, artificial "icy branches", red ilex berries and lichen branches. Closer to the holidays a few mercury balls hanging from the branches will add a little sparkle and extend the use of the design. After the holidays, the mercury balls can be removed and the remaining materials can be left in place until or even through the spring pansy stage!

If you leave your pots outside and they are made of any material other than plastic or resin, you must take at least half, if not all of the soil out for the winter. If you leave the soil in the pot, water that is in the soil and whatever accumulates in the soil during the winter cycle of freezing and melting snow can expand during the deep freeze periods of winter and crack or erode the pots.

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