Grow annuals in containers for color all season

By Lynette L. Walther | Jul 17, 2014
Photo by: Lynette L. Walther The choices are practically endless when it comes to growing annuals in pots.

The waves of perennial blooms ebb and flow as the summer progresses, but throughout it all annuals provide continuing color and interest. One of the best ways to utilize that staying-power of flowering annuals is to grow them in containers. Container plantings put the focus on the plants, presenting those colorful annuals in ways never possible if they were planted in the ground. From the folks at Espoma come five good reasons to grow your annuals in containers:

Merryspring Kitchen Tour better than ever

Everyone, yes everyone, is invited to take a tour of some of the most innovative kitchens to be found on the Midcoast when the Merryspring Nature Center presents its annual Kitchen Tour Wednesday, Aug. 6.

Not only will you get to visit a range of nine gorgeous homes, many with gorgeous water views, that span the ages from ultra modern to an Arts & Crafts revival, one early and two late 1800s homes and more, but a total of 19 of the area’s best chefs will be on hand to prepare and serve specialties for your tasting pleasure.

All this and you’ll get the opportunity to help support one of the best resources around for local gardeners, Merryspring Nature Center, which offers an expansive list of community offerings from day camps for youths, family activity days, art, craft, cooking and nature studies and programs and the center’s gardens (which include annual and perennial beds, an herb garden, a rose garden and a daylily garden sponsored by Maine Daylily Society) with the purchase of your ticket.

Plus this year’s tour includes a chocolate tasting, door prizes of a gift basket of Stonewall Kitchen gourmet foods and a raffle to win dinner at either Francine Bistro or Seabright Pizza or Shepherd's Pie.

The 66-acre park and education center (which contains an extensive botanical library for research), with its gardens and some four miles of nature trails, are open to the public, free of charge, every day. Merryspring Nature Center was established in 1974 by noted horticulturalist Mary Ellen Ross and the organization’s mission is to “Practice, teach and advocate sound principles of horticulture, ecology and conservation in order to protect our natural environment. The facility relies on donations, program fees and fund-raising events like the upcoming annual Kitchen Tour.

Save $10 by ordering a $25 advance ticket from Merryspring, either online at info@merryspring.org or by calling 236-2239. Or purchase $25 advance tickets, starting Tuesday, July 22 through Tuesday, Aug. 5, in Camden at Surroundings, Once a Tree and Zoot Coffee; in Rockport at The Market Basket; in Rockland at Atlantic Baking Company; in Thomaston at The Highlands Coffee House; in Belfast at The Good Table; and in Damariscotta at Rising Tide Community Market. Tickets on the day of the tour will be $35.

The annual Kitchen Tour is a great outing with friends and houseguests, and your attendance helps to ensure many more years of pleasure, inspiration and education at Merryspring Nature Center.

No. 1 — You can experiment with different types of plant combinations. This enables you to grow cool-season annuals like pansies and then switch them out for heat-loving plants like the new hybrid lantanas or Superbells in sizzling colors once things heat up.

No. 2 — Get creative with what you plant them in. A container can be anything from a rustic terra cotta pot to a snazzy glazed ceramic vessel to a holey old boot. Think outside the box when it comes to containers.

No. 3 — Can move containers around to the ideal location. Shifting seasons mean shifts in sunlight and you can often keep those cool-season annuals going long into summer when you move them into the shade.

No. 4 — It’s easy to do, even for beginners and kids! What better way to get children interested in gardening than with their own selection of potted flowers, even some of the new compact vegetables or herbs. Vegetables and many herbs are annuals too you know.

No. 5 — Perfect for those with limited gardening time or space. Containers can pack a lot of wow into one small pot when planted with a colorful variety of annuals, or vegetables, and there’s always room for a pot to snuggle into a sunny spot.

When it comes to choosing containers, there’s a lot of latitude, but here are a few important things to think about:

— Containers should complement the plant, not overwhelm or outshine it.

— Containers should be sturdy but not too heavy.

— They must have drainage holes.

— In most cases, containers should be at least six inches deep. Taller flowers need deeper containers. Cascading plants and vines work well in hanging baskets.

— Get creative — use old boots, wheelbarrows or something else that adds character to your garden.

To grow healthy and happy container plants, here are some tips to help you grow them with confidence.

— Make a clean start. Always use a clean container. And fill with new, good-quality potting mix that drains well and isn't clumpy. (One choice is Espoma’s All-Purpose Potting Mix)

— Keep annuals blooming throughout the season by deadheading them. When flowers fade, just pop off the seed head with your fingers to encourage new blooms.

— Get closer with your plants. Remember, you can plant annual combinations closer together in containers (four inches), because their roots won't compete

• Feed plants regularly with high quality organic plant food. (Try Espoma's Plant-tone or Flower-tone) Follow the application rates on the package

— Watering needs vary by plant. Group plants with similar watering needs together and in general, don't flood, but thoroughly soak the soil. Excess water should exit through drainage holes in the pot. You shouldn’t see any puddles at top.

There is still plenty of time to get gorgeous containers of annuals growing this summer. It is as easy as one — select your plants; two — select the container; and three — pot ‘em up! You’ll have an almost instant garden ready to bloom and add just the right touch of color and appeal to wherever you put it.

Lynette L. Walther is the recipient of the Garden Writers Association’s Silver Award of Achievement, and she gardens in Camden. Got questions, or comments? Visit her blog, and join in the conversation at: gardeningonthego.wordpress.com or ”friend” her on Facebook to see what’s new in the garden day-by-day.

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