24 March 2010

Mixed Planters

We plant and grow many different mixed containers in our greenhouse. Many times I just create as I go, placing whatever suits my mood at the time. We sell a lot of ready-made containers, but we also have a lot of gardeners coming in to purchase plants for containers they wish to design themselves. I am asked all the time which plants work well together, how should the containers be planted or what do I think looks good together?

I want to start out by saying this is YOUR chance to be creative and get your juices flowing. I certainly don’t mind telling customers what I think looks good, but it’s their container garden and I want to know what they might like. It is easy to be overwhelmed when you visit your local garden center or greenhouse, so it helps to have some idea of what size planter you need, what colors you need and whether you are placing the container in a sunny location or shade. Take a look at your home or wherever you are placing your container gardens. In front of a larger home you can probably use a larger planter. Take note of where the sun is at different times.

I sometimes try to stick to a color scheme if I am doing containers for a particular holiday. For instance, on Independence Day I may try to stick to a red, white and blue theme. Sometimes I will plant variations of one color in a container garden, such as different shades of yellow or red. It is also fun to create containers with many different colors.

I generally will take a taller plant and use it as a focal point either at the back of the container or in the center. I will then take medium height plants, either flowering, foliage or a combination of the two, and plant them in front of or around the taller plant. Lastly, I will take “spiller” plants, (plants that trail or cascade) and plant them around the edges of the container.

Some tips:

Before planting, try different arrangements to see which looks best. That way, you don’t have to uproot the plants to move them around.

Don’t be afraid to mix annuals with perennials in the same planter. It will extend the life of your container garden.

By mixing in foliage plants, it will break things up a bit and keep the container garden looking fresh while the other plants are going in and out of flower.

Add some slow release fertilizer to your planting medium or use a liquid fertilizer when you water. Plants need to eat, just like people. We sell our own planting mix with nutrients already in it, but you should still add fertilizer on a regular basis to keep your plants lush and full.

Don’t be afraid to experiment and most importantly, have fun!

12 March 2010

Correction Made

In my last post, I mentioned that Argyranthemum would be a good early spring choice for cooler area gardens, but after discussing it with my husband, we decided maybe not so I struck it from the post and added a few other plants he suggested.  The list that is now there should give you a wider range of plants to chose from and also be more hardy to the colder weather.  I hope that clarifies any confusion.  Thanks for reading! :-)

New Beginnings

It's no doubt all this warmer weather has got us gardeners itching to get out and play in the dirt!  At the farm, we start in January sowing seeds for spring crops in the greenhouse, but the color starts around Easter time with the bulb crops. 

Easter brings visions of Spring...a new beginning for us all.  Lilies are bursting with blooms in the stores and Tulips spring to life even though it is still a bit chilly outside.  Bulb crops are cold tolerant for the most part, but if you are thinking of planting those Lilies or other Easter plants outside in hopes of them growing back next year, think again as most of the varieties sold at Easter are not hardy in our area. 

Bulb crops are very short lived as far as flowering is concerned as they quickly go into a phase known as senescense, where the leaves and stems yellow, or biologically age.  The longer they are kept at cooler temperatures, the longer they will last.  It is important to allow this process to continue without interference in the garden, even though the leaves are sickly looking.  Without this maturation, the bulbs will not have the nutrition they need for the following season.

In the case of plants such as Garden Mums, Cineraria and the like, which are best kept as houseplants, they will put their energy into vegetative growth (leaves and stems) once the short flowering period is over and likely not flower again until next year.

If you are looking for garden plants that tolerate the cool temperatures in our area toward the end of April and early May, look for Pansies, Violas, Stocks, Dianthus, Primrose, Ranunculus and Osteospermum (Cape Daisies).   The latter is my favorite, as it will be loaded with blooms until the real heat kicks in, then they go out of flower but grow like crazy until the cooler fall weather, when they come back into flower with even more blooms and last until frost!

01 March 2010


I know this may seem an odd time to talk about a plant that is traditionally a Holiday item, but many people still have Poinsettias in their homes after Christmas is over.  I thought I'd mention a bit about them, and a few tips on keeping them growing until the following season. 

Poinsettias (Euphorbia pulcherrima) are native to Mexico and can grow from 2 - 16 feet in height, although here in the Northeast, we typically see the shorter ones.  In places such as Florida, they can be grown as shrubs due to the warmer, year round weather.  I imagine they lost many of them this winter though with the frost, as Poinsettias cannot tolerate temperatures below 50 degrees.

The plant bears dark green leaves and brightly colored bracts, which many think are flower petals.  Actually, the bracts are colored leaves.  The leaves change color due to photoperiodism which means that the plant requires 12 hours of continued darkness to change color.  They also like bright daylight which will keep the colors vibrant.   The actual flowers are small and yellow and grouped in the center of the bracts.  They are called cyathia.

As the days get longer and the nights shorter, the Poinsettia will lose it's vibrant colors and turn green altogether.  To keep your Poinsettia healthy, allow the water to drain completely from the pot as it will not tolerate sitting in water.  In fact, if it is allowed to sit in water, it will probably die rather quickly.  As a rule, we generally recommend to water lightly and allow to dry a bit between waterings when indoors as they generally require less water indoors than they would outdoors.  You can search indoor gardening tips on this blog as it relates to watering, feeding, lighting, etc. 

The Poinsettia can be placed outdoors during the warmer months, where morning sun and afternoon shade are available. Keep it in its pot so you can bring it back in when it starts getting cooler.  Temperatures of about 70 degrees are good.  Higher temperatures tend to shorten the life of the plant.  In May, you can actually pinch back the plant.  This is a process whereby the tips of the plant are removed down to the next set of leaves.  By doing this, you remove the natural growth hormone from the tips of the plant and force the plant to develop side-shoots or more branching.  This will keep the plant full and lush, along with the use of a good fertilizer during the warmer months.

Getting the  plant to come back into flower the next winter can be difficult as it requires 12 continuous hours of darkness for about 2 months beginning in Autumn when the nights grow shorter.  Any stray light during those 12 hours will interrupt the flowering process and make it more difficult.

It is rumoured that  Poinsettias are poisonous, and it is just that, a rumour.  There is a white latex material, or sap, in the stem and leaves that can cause  mild irritation to the skin and stomach, but it is not poisonous.  If ingested, it can cause diarrhea and vomiting.  Of course, if one is allergic to the plant or latex, one could suffer a severe allergic reaction.