Thriller, filler, spiller.

Sanvitallia & verbena

‘Tis the season for bedding plants and hanging baskets.  The greenhouse is stuffed full of pretty posies just waiting for you to take them home and pamper them all summer and, in turn, they reward you with bountiful blooms that draw admiring comments from everyone who sees them.

But wait.  How do you choose from all these beautiful plants?  Do you go with the bright yellow nonstop begonias or the dainty pink and purple fuchsia?  Do you choose sunset colours such as reds, oranges and yellows or are you leaning towards pinks and purples?  Does your cart end up looking like an English garden as you head to your car with all colours of the rainbow and when you get home you’re not quite sure how to put it all together?

I admit to doing just that.  You think you have it bad, try walking through the greenhouse on a daily basis and spotting every new thing that has come in that you just have to have.  On my radar this year is a shiny leafed Crossandra infundifuliformis ‘Orange Marmalade’ (try saying that name three times fast).  It’s just starting to bloom and looks very enticing.

While the best laid plans can easily go awry, try to stick to a plan when designing your containers and baskets.  Keep in mind how big your container is, how tall, do you need something with some height to balance it, is it going in a corner or will you see if from all angles?  Will it be in sun or shade?

If it’s a hanging basket do not go smaller than a 12” basket.  If you go any smaller you won’t be successful.  I see all sorts of 10” hanging baskets out there for sale with a huge fuchsia in them and I know that they will die a slow death and look awful very soon.  There’s just not enough room for a big plant like that.

Good potting soil is a must and I don’t recommend using the soil from your garden.  Not only are you potentially introducing weeds and disease but it’s generally too heavy for annuals.  Get Up & Grow potting mix is a nice one or the Sea Soil mixes.  Make sure there are drainage holes.

For containers and even baskets, always start with a ‘thriller’, something that gives you the height and impact.  Traditionally this has often been zonal geraniums or dracaena but how about an ornamental grass like Pennisetum rubrum or even Cyperus (papyrus) for larger pots.   For baskets remember that they hang up high and you might not see the top of the plant very much so opt for ‘thrillers’ that flower at many levels such as nonstop begonias or New Guinea Impatiens (for shade) and heliotrope or blue salvia (for sun).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Next pick your ‘fillers’.  These are less impactful (but just as beautiful) plants that fill up the soil area before we get to the edge.  Sometimes you don’t need ‘fillers’ if your container is small or if your ‘thriller’ is big.  Fillers can be plants such as diascia, nemesia, coleus and gazanias.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Then we come to the ‘spillers’ that can sometimes double as fillers.  These include Supertunias and Surfinias (choose these over old fashioned petunias, they don’t need deadheading)  callies (calibrachoa or mini petunias), bacopa, lobelia, nasturtiums; all those little basket stuffers that trail over the sides.  You can plant them around the entire container or you can feature just one or three (always plant in uneven numbers) to spill over the side.

   

 

 

 

 

 

Now that you’ve chosen all your plants, plant them up! Bear in mind that you should see some soil surface now but in a matter of weeks it will be all filled in.  If your container will be in a super-hot spot then consider added Soil Moist to lower half of your soil mix where the roots will be.  Soil Moist is a polymer that swells with water then releases it when the soil starts to dry out.   You can also cover the exposed soil with a bit of sphagnum moss to keep the moisture in along with giving the planter a clean look.  Often I line the bottom of my planters with moss to help hold moisture.

To finish it off  don’t forget a good granular, slow release fertilizer such as GardenPro Hanging Basket and supplement with a liquid fertilizer every other watering as annuals are heavy feeders.  They work hard producing flowers all summer long so they need the energy.

So, take a wander through our greenhouse, check out the Crossandra and all the other pretty plants and see if you can stick to a plan when designing your containers.  I’m trying to…really I am.

Shirley Eppler

May 2013