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Gardening on the Cheap: Hardy Plants for Containers

To stretch your gardening dollar, fill empty summer containers with hardy plants instead of flowering annuals. Pam Baggett explains how.
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Right: Hydrangea paniculata Pinky Winky, a good choice for a large container. Read on for combination ideas.

Hydrangea paniculata Pinky Winky

Even after I wrote in April about how to scavenge containers for pennies, you still couldn’t resist that gorgeous cobalt blue container, could you? Now you’ve blown your garden budget—in fact, your whole budget—and unless you want to eat beans for the rest of the summer, you can’t afford to fill that luscious blue pot.

Hopefully things aren’t that dire. Still, after spring’s purchasing frenzy, you may need to get extra mileage from the rest of this season’s plant purchases. If so, why not fill your unfinished containers with woody plants or hardy perennials? Think of it like this: the summer season will be gone before you know it, and while container favorites like coleus and impatiens grow fast in the heat, you have to part with them come frost. Perennials, ornamental grasses, trees and shrubs, on the other hand, can be lifted and planted in the garden when it’s time to bring those frost-fragile pots indoors. At least that’s true in southern zones, where fall is the recommended time to plant trees and shrubs. Up north, overwinter the dormant plants in their containers in a frost-free location and divide next spring. Be gentle when dividing, but don’t worry too much about root disturbance. If plants couldn’t tolerate it, we’d lose our entire gardens at the first sign of voles.

To get the most from your container design, choose plants with attractive foliage, not just fleeting flowers. Use contrasting foliage textures. Make sure the plants have compatible moisture needs. If you purchase conifers, remember that their needles rot when overcrowded. Combine conifers with low-growing plants like smoky Sedum ‘Vera Jameson’, gold-leaved Veronica prostrata ‘Aztec Gold’, or simple trailing groundcovers.

Finally, make sure the plants you select will fit in your garden once they’ve finished container duty. It’s no use snapping up a magnificent Japanese maple you don’t have room for, or a sun-loving shrub if your only sunny space is the patio where the container sits.

Here are some exciting possibilities for midsummer containers:

  • The sumptuously dark and deeply divided leaves of shrubby Black Lace ™ elderberry (Sambucus nigra Black Lace ™ (‘Eva’)) make a fabulous foil for grassy-leaved daylilies in full flower. Purchase repeat-flowering daylilies like ‘Stella D’Oro’ or ‘Happy Returns’ for maximum effect.
  • Those gorgeous new Knock Out roses bloom all summer. Why not combine one with trailing ornamental raspberry, (Rubus calycinoides) a handsome, inexpensive groundcover whose quilted leaves sport ruby tones in autumn?
  • Fill containers destined for shady sites with blue hydrangeas, bold gold hostas and grasslike Carex elata 'Bowles Golden'. If your climate is too chilly for blue hydrangeas, substitute hardier Hydrangea paniculata Pinky Winky ™ (pictured; ‘DVPpinky’, Zones 3–8), whose creamy white blossoms age to deep pink. Buy your hydrangeas in bud or full bloom to ensure flowers this season.

Voila!—your unique containers are guaranteed to win admiration from friends who can’t wait to duplicate your success!

Read more “Gardening on the Cheap” by Pam Baggett

Photo courtesy of Proven Winners