‘Thrill, fill and spill’ and other container gardening secrets

Stock image | Photo by HannamariaH/iStock/Getty Images Plus, St. George News

FEATURE — Container gardening is becoming more popular as water restrictions clash with rising temperatures across Utah.

Potted plants at beer garden in Sussex England. | Photo from Wikipedia Commons, St. George News

Container gardens are one of the fastest growing sectors of gardening, making it possible to grow vibrant gardens where traditional gardens are not possible, including balconies, decks, patios and small areas or locations with poor soil.

Size matters

Containers need holes large enough to allow proper drainage while preventing soil from clogging them.

However, if the hole is too large, soil will leak through the bottom with each watering. You can prevent that by placing a rock or solid object over the hole that still allows water to drain around it.

Planters must be large enough to accommodate the root system of the plants, otherwise the plants don’t grow properly or need excessive amounts of water.

As a general rule, any pot 8 inches or smaller in diameter will only hold small plants. For annuals or perennials the container should be at least 8-10 inches in diameter, but larger pots are preferred.

Soil matters 

Stock image | St. George News

Soil is a critical component in container gardening. It should hold water but also drain properly. Keep in mind that you get what you pay for when purchasing potting soil.

Plants will not grow successfully in soil that is continually waterlogged, as it leaves no room for air which is necessary for proper development and root growth. A good soil should be porous enough to drain properly but still hold water.

Providing a sufficient fertilizer is important to maintain proper growth and typically entails either applying a slow-release fertilizer at planting time or using a water-soluble fertilizer every couple of weeks

The “thrill, fill and spill” beauty secret

The idea behind the “thrill, fill and spill” gardening method is to group together different plants with similar growing needs using three components of design to create a stunning container garden.

Container garden showing “thrill, fill and spill” method | Photo courtesy of the Engledow Group, St. George News

The first component entails placing an upright plant in the center of the pot that “thrills” the eye and draws attention, like red fountain grass, snapdragons, geraniums, dahlias and others that reach at least 8 inches high and stand out from the others.

The planter is then “filled” with an accenting color using million bells or Osterspermum, and even some zinnias and impatiens work well, making sure not to use flowers that will overpower the “thrill” or “spill” flowers.

For plants that “spill,” using the black-eyed Susan vine, wave petunias, sweet potato vine, licorice plant and others works well.

Some are climbing plants, which can be both a blessing and a curse as they attempt to take over the planting pot or move up a post, which can be remedied by regular pruning.

Consider taking an online gardening course at USU Extension. Courses cover everything from container vegetable gardening and creating the perfect soil to planting trees and controlling pests. Courses are geared to both beginning and professional gardeners.

Written by JERRY GOODSPEED, Utah State University Extension horticulturist.

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