It’s that time of year again. Mother’s Day is next weekend (hint hint) and Memorial Day is right around the corner. I’ve had a few friends reach out for tips and tricks about potting up spring flowers so I thought I’d share a few with all of you. It is a relatively easy task that can be a fun activity to share with friends and family, young and old. However, there are a few hiccups you’ll want to avoid so I’ll share my mistakes to help you have a better experience! Here we go…
Step 1: Shopping for plants. Notice I said “plants” and not “flowers” — why limit your selection!? There are many options for colorful and/or vining foliage as well as ornamental vegetables and beautiful herbs. Be brave!! You can include any and all of these things to achieve the look and purpose that you are striving for. For example, I chose to use primarily non-flowering plants for a lush foliage look but I still wanted color variation so I included some of my Dark Opal Basil plants in a few pots. Yes, I will still prune and eat them. They can be pretty and functional. TIP: One important thing to keep in mind when shopping for plants is the sun. Remember that some plants thrive in a full-sun environment and others cannot tolerate the intense UV exposure. Be conscious of where you intend to place your planters and buy your plants accordingly. TIP: Another important thing to note while plant shopping is size. Some plants get VERY tall and others spread like crazy! Make sure your plants will fit in the containers you have in mind.
Step 2: Shopping for planters. You can use just about anything that will hold soil. Literally. Old tin bucket? Yes. Wicker basket hanger? Yup. Boot? You bet. Coffee mug? Definitely. Be creative! Planters are a great way to use the same plants and still achieve a very different look. Also, just because something says it’s a “strawberry planter” does not mean that only strawberries will grow in it. Be a rebel, plant Vinca vines and Coleus or some Alyssum and Petunias. Go wild!!
Step 3: Soil. Most commercial potting soils have everything that you need to start the season. You may find that by mid-August your plants need a pick-me-up, at which point you can buy some plant food to give them a boost, but you shouldn’t need to amend your potting soil at the time of planting.
Step 4: Start planting. First you’re going to want to put some soil into your planter. TIP: If there is a hole in your container, line the bottom of the pot with a paper towel to prevent soil from flushing out the hole. It will break down over time and won’t harm your plants. I use this as an opportunity to test out different layouts. Maybe there is a “front” and I need to put the shorter plants there. Maybe I’m going for symmetrical, or maybe I want to spice things up and go asymmetrical. Maybe I lay things out and find that there is too much blue on one side…either way now is a good time to do a test run. TIP: Do NOT try to squeeze too many plants into one container. I know you want it to look lush and full right from the start but if those plants don’t have fresh soil to grow into then by mid-summer they will be out of room, out of nutrients and they will start to die long before the end of the season. Trust me on this one. TIP: Don’t forget to gently break up the root ball before putting your thriving seedling into it’s summer home. Once you have your plants in the planter the way you’d like, fill in the remaining space around them with more potting soil. You will want your plants and the soil surface to sit just below the edge of the planter upon completion. Apply gentle but firm pressure to ensure that there is good soil-root contact.
Step 5: Give them a drink. Remember that you’ve disrupted the root systems of your plants and they’re going to have to do some repair and recovery, pronto. Give them a thorough watering to help facilitate that process.
More Tips for success:
1. Containers in full-sun environments will require frequent watering, especially those with multiple plants in them. More plants = more water consumption. Containers hold less water than a raised bed or the ground and are more prone to evaporation so failure to water often will result in struggling/dying (frying) plants.
2. Deadheading is a technique where you pinch off the dead flowers to promote new growth and prevent them from dropping unwanted seeds that will inadvertently grow into flowers in unwanted places, i.e. on the ground underneath your hanging basket.
3. Many packs of plants that are purchased at local greenhouses and box stores have more than one seedling per well, or there are multiple shoots in the same pot. Those can be separated so that you can plant them in numerous locations. Aka – more for your $$ (happy dance) You will need to be gentle when pulling their roots apart and make sure you give them extra water, but they should recover within a day or so. I’ve included photos of the Vinca that I divided up and planted on both ends of my planter.
4. If your container does not have sufficient drainage you will need to be careful that your pot isn’t over watered, i.e. heavy rainfall multiple days in a row. Plants do drown. The roots need oxygen and if the soil remains saturated for extended periods of time they will suffocate. If you’re expecting a week of dreary wetness move those babies out of the rain.
I think this should be enough to get you started. As always, you’ll have to do a little learning as you go. All plants are different but that’s the beauty of gardening, it keeps you on your toes! If you have any specific questions feel free to reach out, I’m always happy to help. Cheers, friends!