Mixed annual flower containers — the hottest items for your garden


mix and match annuals

An explosion of color all growing out of the same pot.

After attending this year’s 2015 Spring Trials (where all the latest plant introductions are presented to growers so they can order what will be retailed in the coming seasons) I can confidently say that hanging flower baskets — especially mixed annual flower containers — are one of the hottest gardening items of the coming year. More than half the show was devoted to colorful flowers that happily burst out of containers. This is great news for people with limited space for gardening since gardening in pots can fit on even small balconies and patios. Even larger gardens can benefit with pots spilling color peppering walkways, decorating entertainment areas, creating focal points, brightening up awkward views form windows and decorating hard-to-grow areas.

Bright mixed container colors

Gleeful color in a single container garden

Pots can be filled with single types of flowers, mixtures or even house vegetables and herbs. Although they will work nicely with one-of-a-kind residents, the show highlighted the combos of different colors or growth habits. Hanging plants can fringe overhangs, stairway edges, railings or even be set on surfaces.

Hanging annual baskets

Colorful annual hanging baskets

Hot colors in flower decor

Cheer up a celebration with a pot of brilliant mixed annual flowers.

With the new mix-and-match introductions you can buy opulent flower containers ready to be hung. Or look for some gorgeous seed mixtures already artistically combined so you can grow your own. Another exciting introduction that will be released soon to the retail market (it was available only for growers for the past year or two) is pelleted seed. These seeds are little round balls that contain several seeds of a predetermined, homogeneous mix already chosen for artistic effect and coated with all the nutrients to help the young germinating plants to get a good start once planted. This will take the guessing out of which plants will look great together and require the same growing conditions. The pelleted seed is larger and easier to handle than many of the tiny uncoated seeds and will make the job of planting easier. If you want to grow your own hanging or potted containers with eye-catching plant combinations, this gives you an economical way to create some of these gorgeous groupings for your own garden, patio or balcony.

mixed seed pellets

Pelleted seeds combine seeds for different plants

Since container gardens — especially hanging ones — are becoming the hottest items in decorating the garden, you might want to use them in rows to create a living curtain or group them to make a bold statement. Using connected drip lines to feed them all together is a good solution to make sure pots don’t dry out. Adding a timer so they are automatically watered will make the job even easier.

mix foliage and flowers

Mixed growth habits make for a showy container garden.

Gorgeous Gerbera Daisies come in new sizes, shapes and colors


colorful gerbera daisy

Quill petal gerbera daisy

Gerbera Daisies have made themselves a reputation for being some of the most color-intensive daisy choices for cut flowers, pots or in the garden. Most people think of these cheerful flowers as being decorative but limited in use. So you might be surprised to learn about the wide range of sizes, shapes, colors – and uses — offered by these ray-flowering plants. They come in singles and doubles, round and quill petals, large and small blooms and with the ability to thrive in more gardens than you might expect.

gerbera daisies

Wheelbarrow of gerbera daisies

The Garvinea® line of these plants, developed by’ Florist Breeding and Propagation’ in the Netherlands, for example, offers Gerbera plants that will grow enthusiastically outdoors, hardy to USDA zone 7. These plants bloom heavily without needing the gentler temperatures of the frequently seen Gerbera jamesonii variety Flowers grow to 2” in diameter and plants round out to about 18” x 18” in size. Not only is there an astounding range of color available in the Garvinea® line, but some flowers can change color as they age and the plants are so prolific the can bear over a hundred blooms during their long flowering season from spring until frost.

There are also spider varieties that have feathery quill shaped petals that blossom like fireworks. These are great choices for pots and for designing with daisies in the garden.

And speaking of Gerbera varieties, you need to see some if the breath-taking plants I spied at the Spring Trials in Ventura where some of the latest cultivars were displayed for the visiting nurseries for propagation.

Pink and white gerbera daisies

Bicolored daisies

These are plants of the Patio Gerbera® line and grow larger with single, semi-double and pom-pom flowers in self or bi-colors. As I walked into the show pavilion, I was stopped short by some of the most impressive blooms I’ve ever seen on these plants. Long-stemmed plants produce showy flowers that smother the plants or can be cut for bouquets. These plants are more delicate and are best protected from temperature extremes and direct hot sun. Give them average water and rich soil. They come with huge flowers that range from 4” to over 6” across. These are sure to be conversation pieces on any patio or in any flower arrangement.

Both the Garvinea® and Patio Garden® lines are grown from tissue culture which means you won’t be able to plant them from seed. There are some other lines, like the Gerbera “Sunnydayz” or the usual G. jamesonii that can be planted from seed, however. All varieties do well in pots. They are reasonably disease resistant, the Garvineas® being most vigorous and strong, but they can be vulnerable to thrips.

Whether you want to show off Gerbera Daisies in containers in your home, entryway or patio, snip long-stemmed flowers for indoor cut displays or grow them outdoors in the garden, these plants offer a wide range of looks on lush plants with attractive leaves and lots of flowers. Wherever you want to spotlight colorful daisies, don’t forget to check out these plants for the best range of color. And keep an eye out for some of the showier and hardier varieties. This is one daisy that is growing more versatile all the time!

Making gardening easier for seniors

Raised vegetable garden

Raised gardens save the stress of bending and kneeling.

Gardening offers a productive way to exercise for people of all ages. Vitamin D from sunshine, bending, lifting, planting, pruning, and digging are good for body health while outdoor work clears the mind and watching nature do her magic is food for the soul.

Aging takes a toll in different ways for different people. Some people are more fortunate than others. For those who suffer more, gardening can not only help alleviate some of these discomforts by keep muscles flexible and toned, but can help offset the frustration of losing functionality. There are ways to make gardening easier for seniors — especially those with greater disabilities. Depending on how much strength or mobility is lost, here are some suggestions that can help.

Build raised garden beds to minimize bending and stooping. Heights can be calculated for wheelchairs, too.

If building a raised garden is not a practical option, consider putting together a garden in pots and containers that can be used in much the same way.

Pathways should be designed so they can be easily navigated by canes, walkers or wheelchairs.  Use ramps instead of stairs for level changes.

Tools can be stored close to gardening areas. Look for tools with specially designed grips that are easier for use with arthritic hands.

Make sure there are hose bibs, watering cans or hoses within easy reach. Watering cans should be small enough to be easily lifted when full.

Keep pathways smooth and unobstructed and provide plenty of seating in the garden. Benches and chairs can be part of the decorative landscape layout as well as offering a spot to rest. There are many gardening jobs can be done while seated. A potting bench with seating can also be useful.

At any age it is wise to wear sunscreen, a straw hat and garden gloves. As skin ages, it thins and becomes more vulnerable to sun damage and tearing. Gloves and long sleeved shirts or jackets can give skin an extra layer of armor. Keep extra protective clothing stored conveniently in nearby garden sheds.

It’s a good idea for aging bodies to go through some basic stretching exercises before setting to work to avoid strains and injuries.

Another handy tool for active seniors is a kneeling pad or wearable knee pads. There are little padded stools also made especially for gardening. For some people, knees can be bothersome starting in mid-life.

Ideal gardens to grow are those that are productive. Growing fruits and vegetables, herbs and showy flowers that are easily cut for indoor bouquets are more gratifying in smaller, defined areas. Plants that flower and fruit quickly can be the most satisfying – especially for people who haven’t done a lot of gardening in the past.

These garden adaptations mentioned above can also be helpful to younger people with disabilities. Gardening can be something wonderful for people trapped in aging or damaged bodies.  It can enrich their lives, give them something useful and productive to do and offer good exercise.  With a little effort, you can help design a garden for yourself as you age or put together a landscape that can help another senior reap the benefits of gardening. You can find more information on sites like the Arthritis Foundation.

Design with tomatoes in containers

Grow your own tomatoes

Tomatoes are probably the most popular of all fruits and vegetables to be grown in the home garden. They are much more flavorful and nutritious when picked fresh off the vine. They are also easy to grow, adaptable and decorative. They can be grown in the garden, in container gardens outdoors, on the patio, balcony, in hanging pots or even upside down and topsy-turvy. You can design with tomatoes in containers to make any area more ornamental and productive so long as you can give your tomatoes at least six hours of direct sunshine.

Plant tomatoes from seed and you can have a selection of sizes, shapes, colors and flavors that can make you feel like a ‘kid in a candy store’. Or buy plants already started for you in six-packs or pots from your local garden center.

To design with tomatoes using containers can be a big project or small. You can make the job easy by planting some of the small, cascading-type tomatoes in hanging pots. These can be used to decorate the overhang of your patio cover, draped over railings or dangled from pots placed along the ends of steps on a staircase. Or you can make a garden of tomatoes into containers into an eye-catching display.  Group a selection of ornamental pots into a focal point and fill them with an assortment of determinate-sized (tomatoes that don’t grow too tall) or dwarf plants with different colored and sized tomatoes. You can even include the new ‘Tomaccio’ tomato that lets you grow easy sun-dried tomatoes at home on the vine.

Add a sculpture, set pots on decorative stands or interweave rocks, stones or pieces of driftwood to make a picture out of your container garden.  Just make sure you use a pot that allows your tomatoes at least a five-gallon space for roots to grow. Give them a good planting soil mix and offer them a mild feeding of tomato food every couple of weeks so they grow lush and healthy.

With a little care, you can design with tomatoes in containers to decorate any sunny outdoor area with ornamental little star-like, yellow blooms and tasty, healthy fruit that will keep you in supply for the whole growing season.

Plant Containers Easy to Recycle

New plant pots made of barley fiber

Look what’s new in gardening eco-friendly gardening.  One of the good things that is coming out of the recession is a deeper awareness of ecological products and the development of new green products. As a result two new types of biodegradable pots are being introduced into the retail market this year. These plant containers make it easy to recycle. You can do it right in your own garden.

New styled pots with long vents are made of barley and are firm and solid. When you buy your plants in these ecologically friendly pots you can plant the whole plant in your garden – pot and all. These new easy-to-recycle plant containers are not flimsy like peat pots yet will dissolve into the soil leaving behind nothing but addend nourishment for the plant.

Oat pots are also new on the scene. These pots look like smooth green plastic yet are made from oat fibers. These pots should not be planted directly in the ground, but will nevertheless break down completely when tossed into the compost pile. No need to seek out some outside source to recycle these plant containers.

Buying your plants in these new eco-friendly pots will help cut down on the air pollution created in the production of all the plastic and vinyl pots that have been used in the past. And instead of adding more refuse to our trash heaps, you can simply melt your pots back into the soil as a form of nutrition instead. So look for these new, easy-to-recycle plant containers when shopping this year and next. We should be seeing more and more of these Eco-friendly pots coming to garden centers in the future.

Container gardening on a patio or balcony

A decorative patio garden

You can transform a small space like a patio or balcony into a decorative and productive garden by container gardening.  Here are some tips on how to get the most out of your design and plantings.

Design with decorative pots. Use pots of different styles all made of the same material or all in the same color family. Even simple clay pots can be effective when the clay itself becomes part of the overall design, like in a cactus and succulent garden. Or Asian designed china pots can punch up an Oriental theme with bonsai plants or dwarf Japanese maple trees.

Arrange the pots artistically. Raise some on stands or tables or set them at different heights on top of rocks, slices of tree trunks or other decorative pedestals that create a theme for your patio or balcony garden.

Select unusual containers. You can plant any container that will safely hold potting soil so long as it has drainage holes. Use aluminum watering cans or pails, plant an old sink or grow your plants in an antique wash tub.

Consider setting up a small fountain as part of your container design on your patio or balcony. Add décor with sculptures, draped all-weather fabrics, blown glass decorations, candles, or other ornaments.

Mix tall plants with rounded habits of growth. Use sword shaped leaves to contrast with mounded growth and add a trailing plant or two to cascade down a pot or over the edge of a flat surface. When you arrange the planted containers make sure you design in at least one tall, ornamental plant that will add a vertical element. Variety in shape and form will add interest. Colored foliage will offer year round interest and flowers can create highlights. Plant your container garden so it will create an all-over arrangement for your patio or balcony.

You can grow pots specially dedicated to herbs and vegetables or you can tuck these plants in with your ornamentals to expand your patio or balcony into an edible garden. Strawberries, peppers, eggplant and tomatoes are not only tasty, but they are decorative. And herbs like basil, thyme, oregano or dill are small enough to fill in gaps between large plants.

Make sure you make provisions for draining away excess water to prevent stains and drips. Trays can be incorporated as part of the décor. You might want to fill the trays with decorative stones or find ornamental trays.

Set up your container garden to get good light yet fit in with the design of your patio or balcony. If you integrate the location of your container garden, interesting containers, blend the shapes and colors of your plants into a total arrangement and use materials that turn your container garden into a single overall statement,  you can have a patio or balcony that is a unique and beautiful work of art.