As spring approaches, it is time to plan for a splash of outdoor seasonal color. If you are a space- or time-challenged gardener, container gardening may be just the ticket for you. As with any garden, take time to plan before you plant and be cautious not to take on more than you can handle—or the fun part will be short lived.
Assess your light situation and plan accordingly, grouping shade lovers together, or full sun choices. A half-day of sun affords the most flexibility. Many annuals will bloom well in a bright location having four hours a day of sun exposure; an east-facing location is ideal. Try the white flowering Bacopa “Abunda,” along with Calibrachoa “Million Bells” rose, and ornamental Sweet Potato vine “Margarita”—a lemon-lime color—for foliage contrast, adding Biddens for an airy dash of yellow and Verbena “Homestead Purple” to create a glorious riot of color.
An Australian native that really shines is Osteospermum.  This large daisy–type flower responds well to early pinching to force branching. It is a good container choice as it is drought-tolerant and relatively pest-free and will flower early.  The iridescent colors add punch to any combination and while the heat of the summer may quiet the bloom, as soon as the nights cool a bit, this down-under beauty is off and blooming right up until frost. Use it as a center or anchor plant as it has height, but always combine it with an equal anchor to compensate for any down time.
The numbers of each plant will depend on the size of the container. Think big! A container of 16 inches in diameter and up will allow for enough soil volume to sustain the garden through the summer and into the fall. Work with odd numbers of plants, such as one large anchor plant and three each of several others. If your container is in a windy or hot location, add gel crystals (soil moist) to the potting mix to lessen the stress on you and the plants. The crystals or granules swell to absorb water that is then released slowly. Follow the manufacturer’s directions carefully, as too much product will keep the soil too soggy.
Self-watering pots that have a reservoir built in also may be a big help for a difficult situation. Always use good quality soil for containers and incorporate compost if you can. Work a time-release fertilizer (such as Osmocote) into the soil rather than sprinkle it on the surface, as this type of fertilizer is broken down by sunlight and temperature. Do not consider this enough fertilizer for the entire season, as annuals are heavy feeders.  In addition, apply a diluted liquid feeding every two weeks and be faithful to dead-heading to ensure lots of blooms.  Dead-heading is the act of pinching off spent blooms or pruning back after flowering to thwart the plant from going to seed. This eliminates untidy seedpods that drain the annual of its energy. This simple process will encourage more blooms for annuals and many perennials. Remember that as the summer progresses, the plant roots are competing more for moisture, so watering often becomes a daily chore.
Be bold and try to think out of the box as you create your summer color pots.  If ground space is limited and you are an avid cook, grow herbs in a container but add leaf lettuce, baby leaf spinach, or a ruby red chard for a bold look that is edible!  A tip to try is planting a few nasturtium seeds among the new plants to provide a second round of color and insurance if any one plant is lost. Combining all foliage having silver and gray leaves (such as Plectranthus) can have a soothing effect but add a burgundy-leaved coleus tipped with lime and “pop” goes the combination!
Have fun as you experiment, and remember that the garden police won’t be around to check—you only have “you” to please.


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