A GROWING CONCERN: Ideal plants for baskets and containers

WE’RE QUICKLY UPON basket and container season.

It’s a season that garners a variety of creative opportunities along with numerous advantages, as you aim to improve the overall look of your premises while warming the hearts of your special loved ones.

To truly maximize these inherent assets of containerized plantings, one must select the ideal plants for the situation.

One of the pluses of containers is their lip or edge, allowing plants to gracefully flower over the metal, rusty, clay or plastic sides.

This pendulous characteristic has great appeal and gives a real charm to the planting, so let’s begin our list with exceptional danglers.

Dangling plants

• Trailing lobelia

This is perhaps my favorite training annual flower, but only because of how prolific and ever blooming it is!

Available in numerous pastel and blue hues, including eyed (different color center) varieties, trailing lobelia is inexpensive and cool-tolerant, which means it will bloom from April to November. It also tolerates partial shade — a double bonus round!

• Nemesia

This plant prefers cool temperatures, so our climate is ideal for this beautiful, dainty flower that has an orchid-like appearance.

Nemesia is prolific, very showy and is known for its spillover growth habit. This beauty likes the sun.

• Trailing Verbena

Outstanding in baskets, pots and window boxes, producing vibrant blossoms borne in clusters. Trailing verbena comes in bright, bold colors as well as dainty pastels, and our cool evenings intensify their colors.

This plant also has nice, feathery foliage and most varieties will winter over — a bargain for those wanting to move these into a more permanent position in the fall. This one likes sun and will thrive in hot, dry conditions.

• Trailing Snapdragon

A newer introduction of the old upright types. Trailing snapdragons add that great unique bloom of theirs to your pots or baskets and are exceptional for their free-branching growth.

They are winter hardy and can bloom all year — although rare. Snapdragons as a whole will readily seed themselves and will even move into a rocky driveway if you allow them to “free roam.” They come in a wide variety of colors including variegated bi- and tri-color blooms. This plant likes sun to part shade.

• Lotus vine

A superb plant with great silvery needlelike leaves that have their own merit for adding great texture and color. Flowers are spectacular, for they resemble a parrot’s beak in bright colors of red, orange, yellow or gold. These plants prefer full sun.

• Creeping Jenny

This is not the old girlfriend from high school — it’s an outstanding trailing foliage plant adored for its glowing chartreuse color, which is unique and plays well off the flowers in your pots, baskets or window boxes.

It is also cherished for its long, pendulous growth, which can extend 2 to 4 feet in a single year. This plant likes full sun in order to keep its intense color.

• Lamium

Another nice foliage plant for a trailing effect with its bright variegated foliage, with leaves that resemble the shape of the wild stinging nettle.

Varieties offer leaves of gold, green, purple, pink, white green or chartreuse, with many set against silver. This annual is great for shady areas to partial sun.

• Ipomoea

Here is a gorgeous group of hanging plants that add charm and interest with their large, 2-to 4-inch leaves that are deeply lobed and come in black, glowing lime green, bronze, or pink, green and white tricolor leaves. These like hot, full sun to partial shade conditions.

• Petunias

The old standard, but now in new compact, bushy, very prolific, disease-resistant plants. Petunias come in every imaginable color and last past the first frost. They tolerate hot places, do nicely in the cool spots, like full sun and desires a good pinching back.

• Ivy geraniums

An old trailing plant that has fallen out of favor but deserves your consideration. Wonderful upright flowers displayed in clusters above glossy leaves. Full sun to partial shade.

• Bacopa

A very desirable plant here in the Northwest for pots, baskets and containers because of the explosion of small, dainty flowers for a charming, Victorian feel. Will tolerate a light frost and is very drapey. This plant likes sun to light shade.

• Brachyscome

This beauty offers very nice, miniature daisy-like flowers from spring to hard frost, and will even winter over. The foliage is a needle-grassy-feathered look, adding beautiful texture and appeal, tempting butterflies to the pot. Semi-shade to full sun.

Middle of the container

Next we move onto the center of your pots, barrels, troughs, and tall containers where you want the plants to stand more upright and add height to the arrangement.

• Dusty Miller

A must-have because the white pubescent leaves are a high-lighter to all the other colors. Unbeatable for contrast and it offers a very bushy habit, taking a pinch back to increase the effect. Loves the sun.

• Coleus

Extremely useful for their exotic and tropical look, these bright, multicolored leaf plants are ideal for the pizzazz factor. Crinkled, deeply cut, and serrated leave edges add a nice texture as well softness. Part shade to full sun, but always pinch off flower buds early!

• Dracaena ‘red star’

This attractive spiked foliage plant makes a dramatic statement in your containers, growing up to 2 to 3 feet tall. It can over winter, but you’d want to move it into the yard before it takes over the pot for a second season. A real must for any center piece, this vertical interest plant likes full sun to part shade.

• Marigolds

Always popular, very bright and prolific, these plants give nice, intense color to any container. Ranging in size from 8 to 36 inches, a variety can be perfectly matched to your desired height and chosen container. Slugs love them, but so do your neighbors. They like full sun.

• Godetia

Another of my absolute favorites because of its to-die-for cup-shaped variegated flowers, that somewhat resembles a carnation. They love our cool climate and will bloom all year long. Prefers full sun.

• Geraniums

Especially the newer variegated foliage types, they are hard to beat with their huge 3- to 4-inch bloom clusters on tall, upright flower stalks. Planted in a container, they attract frogs (thus children) to the porch, including a light scent. It is helpful to deadhead these plant’s blossoms for continued bloom. Plant in full sun.

• Impatiens

Few flowers will give you more bloom on carefree plants and they grow great in those difficult shady areas, too. These must-haves are available in all color hues. I use them in groupings, directly in the garden soils, gracing my clients yards.

• Osteospermum (African Daisy)

These plants appear in almost everyone’s container because of their very strong, sturdy habit and profusion of bloom that lasts through winter. Nice textured foliage as well. Similar to someone in your own family—it needs sun, too.

• Fuchsia

The perfect plant to comingle in the middle of your arrangement with its unique downward-facing compound flowers that are hummingbird magnets. Great simply by themselves in mono planting. Keep moist or the flower buds will drop off, and definitely pinch and deadhead these babies. Likes partial shade.

• Nicotiana (Tobacco Plant)

I would be remiss for you fragrant-lovers if I did not mention the evening-scented, annual Tobacco plant. These come in white, pink, purple and red varieties and need to be deadheaded to encourage more brilliant blooms. Plant near the patio or open window to encourage you on a calm summer night to linger, longer, outdoors, with a favorite beverage in hand. Prefers full sun.

Remember to use rich, organic soil mixes with plenty of fertilizer and foliar feed weekly for best results (think blue water waterings).

With Mother’s Day next weekend, make this a family planting, getting the little ones involved, for a planting event for the perfect hanging basket gift. Another idea is to show up on that day with a collection of these plants in box flats, and plant a container (or three) for your special-mother-type person.

Hanging baskets are available today in great displays of color and variety ($40-60), so if you love plants but don’t have the time, go today, right now, this instant, and purchase a hanging basket for Mom on Mother’s Day.

You can also purchase a hanging basket for yourself for Mother’s Day, because you deserve one (or two), too.

Enjoy getting your containers all planted up, as this weather lately is May-flower perfect.


Andrew May is an ornamental horticulturist who dreams of having Clallam and Jefferson counties nationally recognized as “Flower Peninsula USA.” Send him questions c/o Peninsula Daily News, P.O. Box 1330, Port Angeles, WA 98362, or email [email protected] dailynews.com (subject line: Andrew May).

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