All posts by Katherine Tracey

Container Combinations III: New Ideas

Remember when Coleus was disdained by “serious gardeners” just 20 years ago? Until recently Succulents also seemed to get a bum rap. Perhaps it was because of the silly little dish gardens offered in discount stores, featuring a ubiquitous strawflower glued onto a poor little cactus. We decided quite some time ago to treat succulents with dignity. Their foliage offers an array of subtle and strong desert colors and textures which inspire us with ideas for endless combinations. And, they couldn’t be easier to take care of– perfect container plans for the summer weekend home, since so little water is required.

Begin your ensemble by selecting a handsome container. Break the rules…why not use a fancy bowl or urn that you would use for traditional annuals? Shallow pots are always fine and suitable, but deeper pots can certainly be used if you fill them with a very sandy, fast draining soil. Do not use a moisture retentive peaty potting mix, for it will easily become water logged if we have extended wet weather. You can use a light dose of fertilizer in your soil mix, but don’t over do it.

Select a variety of foliage shapes and plant forms, such as the rosettes of Echeveria, the trailing stems of Delosperma and the fine texture of tiny Sedum. We always find that packing the container with plants gives immediate gratification, and the plants will not suffer as they require little nutrition. Early autumn will bring changes to your composition, as the fall foliage colors intensify and many succulents begin to flower. Before a freeze, bring your succulents indoors. They winter over easily on a sunny window sill.

x Graptosedum ‘California Sunset’

graxcs1There are many interesting intergeneric (crosses between 2 genera) hybrids of succulents. x Graptosedum ‘California Sunset’ is a cross between Graptopetalum and Sedum. It bears tawny rose colored fleshy petals that surround and terminate in rosettes on somewhat sprawling stems. We especially like it combined with the steel blue of Senecio serpens (Chalksticks). Cool temperatures deepen the foliage color to striking copper red tones. Starry white flowers are borne mostly in the winter months.

Grow x Graptosedum ‘California Sunset’ in full sun. Pinch it back to have a tighter growth habit. Plants will grow to perhaps 6-12″ high before the stems begin to spill will weight.

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Red Combo for Part Shade

Red Combo for Part ShadeThis easy care combination, which will be very happy in a spot that receives 4-6 hours of sun, includes Fuchsia ‘Gartenmeister’ complimented by multihued Calibrachoa ‘Tequila Sunrise’, Helichrysum ‘Limelight’ for light contrast, and Coleus ‘Dipt in Wine’ which picks up the colors of the other 3 candidates.

The Fuchsia and Calibrachoa (Million Bells) will lure hummingbirds and bloom endlessly. Should the Helichrysum (Licorice Plant) or Calibrachoa exceed their bounds with vigorous growth, just clip back. Plant this grouping in a good quality potting mix amended with compost or PlantTone, and Osmocote. In addition to fertilizer in the mix, we always recommend liquid feeding your containers every 1-2 weeks with a balanced plant food, such as Dyna Gro.

Fuchsia triphylla ‘Gartenmeister’

What a workhorse! This plant always looks terrific. Beloved by hummingbirds for his endless supply of long tubular salmon-red flowers, this upright bushy Fuchsia has handsome velvety dark green tinted purple bronze foliage. ‘Fuchsia Gartenmeister’, also known as ‘Gartenmeister Bonstedt’, in honor of it’s hybridizer, can reach a height of 2-3′, but can be pinched back if a shorter stature is desired, and can grow to a width of 18-24″ in one season.

We recommend growing ‘Gartenmeister’ in morning sun/afternoon shade, although we have grown this plant in a very sunny spot, where the flower supply was even more generous. Use a  rich well drained soil and keep well watered. Fertilize container grown plants bi weekly. Plants are winter hardy in very warm climates (zone 10) but can be easily wintered over indoors, should you wish to keep plants for next year.

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Container Combinations I

Pink/Wine/Silver Combo

A classic combination for a sunny spot. We’ve combined our favorite Pelargonium sidoides with a new heat tolerant pale pink Marguerite, Argyranthemum ‘Pink Reflection’, silvery Centaurea gymnocarpa ‘Colchester White’ and Dichondra ‘Silver Falls’ and a compact selection of Gaura ‘Belize, with wine tinted foliage and wine/pink blossoms that dance on 18-24″ stems all summer.

Pelargonium sidoides

Pelargonium sidoides

This has been one of our favorite species “Geraniums” since we first offered it in 1997. Pelargonium sidoides is native to South Africa, and herbalists may be aware of it’s medicinal qualities for colds and bronchitis. We grow P. sidoides because it is superbly ornamental.

P. sidoides has attractive aromatic silvery gray foliage, and wiry branches with wispy clusters of dark wine colored blossoms, which are continuously produced all season. It does best in full sun, and forms tidy mounds 6-10″ tall with a spread of about 12-15″ in a season. It seems to perform admirably in both cool and hot summers, and, although only winter hardy to 20 degrees F, will easily winter over on a sunny window sill.

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Planting Containers

Focus on foliage

Container Gardening is a summer long activity. Plants grow quickly, and it is only a matter of week or two before a new grouping “knits” together. You can move, mix and match pots all season long.

We’d like to pass on basic tips for successful container plantings.

1. Select plants that all like similar growing conditions (i.e…sun, shade, dry soil, moist soil).

2. Use a good quality potting soil amended with an organic plant food like Garden Tone and/or Osmocote time release fertilizer. 

3. Remember to select/focus on plants with interesting foliage, which will add color and texture without the need of constant flower deadheading. Think of the flowering plant choices as the “accents”.

4. Finally, liquid feed with Dyna Grow or Seaweed/Fish Emulsion on a regular basis, which will replace the nutrients leached out of your pots from frequent watering.

Rhododendron ‘New Century’

‘New Century’ is another tidy compact Rhododendron, with pale citron yellow blossoms. It has a very full foliage appearance due to the fact it holds its evergreen leaves for 3 years, rather than just 2 like most other rhodies. It grows to a well behaved 4′ x 4′ size and is quite hardy for a yellow form, (to minus 15F).

Grow this selection in a spot protected from drying winter winds. Morning suns and afternoon shade is ideal, but plants can take more sun if well irrigated during drier conditions. Like all Rhododendrons, ‘New Century’ appreciates a humus rich soil that remains moist but well drained. 

Rhododendron ‘Blue Baron’

Handsome violet blue blossoms in late April/early May distinguish this welcome addition to the mid spring garden. Introduced by Weston Nursery of Hopkinton MA, Rhododendron ‘Blue Baron’ falls into the lepidote group of Rhodies, which with a few exceptions, have smaller leaves, smaller more open trusses and prefer to grow in a more sunny spot. ‘Blue Baron’ has a compact habit,and is often listed as growing to 3-4′ in height and width, but at maturity can reach 6?. His fine textured elliptical foliage is glossy green in summer but takes on a bronzy cast in colder months.

Grow ‘Blue Baron’ in humus rich soil in full or part sun, and morning sun with some afternoon shade has proven ideal . He can tolerate a bit of wind, but we recommend using an anti-dessicant if winter winds are harsh. Like all Rhododendrons, ‘Blue Baron’ is shallow rooted, and will need irrigating during dry spells. Hardy to minus 10F.

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The Right Time to Plant Tender…

Here in the northeast, mid spring teases us with periods of warm sunny days, tempting us to go out and buy the colorful annuals and tropical perennials stocked in local greenhouses. We forget that we may well get several more chilly nights. Perhaps frost is unlikely, but the soil temperature is going to remain too cold for the heat lovers until nights stay above 55 degrees F. If you plant these warm weather gems too soon, you will most assuredly stunt their growth.

The old timers always said to wait until Memorial Day to plant tomatoes and annuals, and for good reason. Only last year, many of us experienced a cool wet June, and many a northern gardener lamented how poorly Coleus, Colocasia and Cannas performed.