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The exuberance of a mixed border ... in a pot.

Fill a large container with perennials. Here are 4 combinations and 38 plants to work with

SPILLING OVER WITH EXUBERANT TEXTURES, flowing forms, and contrasting colors, perennials look as much at home in containers as they do in the garden. Fill a large pot with them and you've created a striking focal point for an entry, walkway, poolside, or patio. These billowy plantings let you enjoy the rich look of a mixed border in even the smallest gardens.

Most of the containers shown here were designed by horticulturist Jan Cole and staff at Orchard Nursery and Florist of Lafayette, California. We show four combinations to try, and recommend 38 plants that do well in pots.

Start with a theme. Working around a design concept (like the ones labeled here) or color combination will help you choose plants that complement each other. Also consider the plants' growth and bloom cycles. You can create combinations that will flower in succession and stay attractive a long time, or plan for a burst of color at one time.

Foliage can give as much visual impact as flowers. At the nursery, look for plants with striking foliage color or texture--such as New Zealand flax, rue, mullein, plume poppy, and many of the ornamental grasses--and play with different combinations to see what effect they create.

Allow for each plant's eventual shape and size; stagger heights for interest and volume. Confined in a pot, large plants will stay much smaller than their usual mature size.

Select a compatible container. You'll want to use one that harmonizes with the plants and design theme. Keep in mind that shallow pots and ones made of clay necessitate more frequent watering.

Allow room for growth. Start with 1-gallon plants spaced 1 to 3 inches apart. Containers between 20 and 24 inches in diameter will need four or five gallon-size plants; pots 25 to 30 inches across will take five to eight plants. Planting more tightly creates a quicker effect but results in overcrowding and a need for more frequent watering. To temporarily fill gaps, you can add annuals, then remove them when the perennials have grown.

Avoid vigorous growers with runners, such as running bamboos, which will quickly overtake other plants in the pot.

Use the right potting mix. To ensure that plants can thrive in the container for two or three years, use a coarse soil mix that won't compact readily. To check, squeeze a handful of the mix (which should be moist, not wet) in your hand. If it stays stuck together, chances are it's too fine-textured. To lighten a sticky or heavy mix, add plenty of organic material such as compost; it's also advisable to add perlite to maintain good drainage. Mix in a controlled-release fertilizer at the rate recommended on the label.

Before planting, loosen the rootball with your fingers, and slice 1 inch from the bottom if roots appear crowded. As you fill around plants with potting mix, keep the soil level around the stems at the same height it was in the nursery containers.

Be attentive to plants. Perennials in pots require the same care as ones in the ground--but with even more diligence since they're on prominent display. Snip and trim foliage and spent flowers to maintain shape and keep flowers


Most of the plants listed here are known to be unthirsty in the ground, but in pots they won't tolerate dry conditions without suffering. Containers may need daily watering during summer in hot inland areas, less often in cool coastal areas. To retain moisture, mulch with 1 inch of compost or other fine-textured material.

Keep plants looking lush by feeding every two weeks with a water-soluble fertilizer according to label directions; apply when soil is moist.

In late winter, cut back as needed to shape and stimulate new growth; some plants may require severe shearing. Top-dress with a complete fertilizer. If soil appears compacted, aerate by making small holes with a long screwdriver. Plants will need to be dug up, divided, and replanted when they lose vigor (every two to three years).
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No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1992 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:includes related article; perennials grown in pots
Author:Lincowski, Emely
Date:May 1, 1992
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