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FLOWERS FOR THE CONTAINER GARDEN: PERENNIALS: Gardeners and budget conscience homeowners everywhere are learning the benefits of container gardening with perennials. With so many varieties of perennials to choose from for sun and shade, it's now possible to create combinations that are just as appealing and colorful as those made with annuals alone, and the best part is that you don't have to replant them every year.

Advantages for using perennials in the container garden include:

• Perennials provide a head start of at least a month over planting only annuals because perennials can handle colder weather. This means that beautiful containers are possible in April!

• Perennials allow the gardener to grow things that wouldn't normally grow in their soil or climate.

• Using decorative pots to contain perennials that may be invasive in the garden but are still worth growing.

• Containers can be rearranged to give the appearance of continuous bloom throughout the season. Place them in a prominent place, such as on a front porch, when they are in full bloom, then rotate them out when they are finished. If there is a spot in the garden that is all-green during parts of the season, add a pot of flowering perennials there to liven up the space and add visual interest. Design container plantings to coordinate with the seasons, so that something is in bloom for spring, summer, and fall.

Aster (Symphyotrichum novae): is easily grown in average, medium, well-drained soil in full sun. Asters prefer moist, rich soils, and good air circulation helps reduce incidence of foliar diseases. Pinching back stems several times before mid-July will help control plant height, promote bushiness, and obviate the need for staking. Pinching back will also delay flowering.

Asters feature a profuse bloom of daisy-like asters with purple rays and yellow centers, and the blooms are present from late summer to early fall. The blooms are attractive to butterflies and other pollinators.

Bellflower (Campanula americana): are best grown in rich, moist, well-drained soils in part shade. Plants need regular and even moisture, and deadheading spent flowers encourage additional blooms. Bellflowers will easily remain in a garden by self-seeding.

Bellflowers have bell-shaped flowers that come in shades of blue and lavender and are present from June through August. The blooms are attractive to pollinators and beneficial insects.

Clematis (Clematis Rebecca): Stunning bright red 5-7" flowers that will show more purple if in any shade, Clematis Rebecca is offset by eye-catching creamy yellow anthers. It is exceptionally free-flowering, and blooms May, June, and again in August. Modest in height this is a perfect choice for the garden with limited space.

Tips for growing clematis in containers:

• Do not use plastic pots or containers.

• Choose terracotta pots or containers with a thick wall.

• Choose a minimum size of 18 x18.

• Containers must have really good drainage holes.

• Use a loam based potting soil.

• Place rocks or pebbles over the drainage holes in the bottom before planting.

• Plant the root ball 2.5 inches deeper than it was in its nursery pot.

• Water clematis regularly especially during late spring and summer.

Echinacea: (Echinacea purpurea): has daisy-like flower heads that come in many shades of pink, purple, red, yellow, orange, and white. Blooms are present summer through autumn. The foliage is coarse lance-like or oval with toothed basal leaves that are covered with stiff hairs. Some varieties have smooth leaves.

Echinacea likes full sun to part shade, and loamy and fast draining soil. It is cold hardy in zones 3 through 9. The container should be deep enough to accommodate the plant’s tap root. Water thoroughly when the top inch of soil is dry.

Yarrow (Achillea millefolium): is a hardy and versatile perennial with showy flower heads composed of many tiny and tightly packed flowers that come in yellow, red, pink, and white. Yarrow blooms spring through fall, and the foliage has bipinnate leaves that branch off the stem in a spiral pattern. The larger leaves are at the base of the plant, and smaller leaves are at the top. The leaves are finely segmented giving them a feathery look.

Yarrow prefers full sun, but it will also thrive in dappled shade. West and east-facing locations are perfect. Yarrow is also a good companion plant, repelling pests while attracting predatory insects like wasps and ladybugs, so put the pot in among other edibles. Yarrow is herbaceous, so the foliage above the soil line will die back over winter. As with most edible container plants, use a minimum of 8” container.

GRASSES FOR THE CONTAINER GARDEN: Growing ornamental grasses in containers is a great way to feature them without the worry of spreading or taking over the garden. Container-grown ornamental grasses are also much easier to divide.

When grasses are grown in containers, they are less hardy, usually by two hardiness zones. The actual hardiness of a container-grown ornamental grass depends upon its exposure, the material of the container, weather fluctuations during the winter months, and how well it is winterized. A sheltered spot, like a greenhouse, garage, or basement, is an ideal place to put the containers inside to overwinter.

Bamboo Muhly (Muhlenbergia dumosa): This native of California and Arizona got the common name bamboo muhly because of its notched stems and bamboo-like foliage. It thrives in sun and heat and can take a bit of neglect in a container. It grows to 3 to 5 feet tall, with delicate, finely textured foliage.

Bamboo Muhly prefers full sun, dry to medium-moisture and well-drained soil. It is cold hardy in zones 8 through 11 and tolerates dry conditions well.

Blue Lyme Grass (Leymus arenarius): can spread too quickly in a garden bed, so it is an ideal specimen for containers. The plant grows 2 to 3 feet tall in tufted clumps. Planted in a container, the plant has imposing steel-blue, sword-shaped leaves that bend as they grow tall, and spiky flower heads. The flower heads attract butterflies, while the foliage is deer and rabbit resistant.

Blue Lyme Grass prefers full sun to part shade, average dry to wet soil, and is cold hardy in zones: 3 through 9.

Fountain Grass (Pennisetum setaceum): is a natural for containers, filling the pot with its fountain-like, arching habit. The rich, burgundy color of the 'Rubrum' cultivar makes it a favorite even where it is not hardy. The narrow-bladed leaves grow 3 to 5 feet tall, with flower spikes that extend to 4 or 5 feet.

Fountain grass prefers full sun or part shade, and medium moisture and well-draining soil. It is cold hardy in zones 9 through 11. Leave the seed heads intact through winter to attract birds and other pollinators.

Japanese Sweet Flag (Acorus gramineus): Sometimes a container calls for something short. At 6 to 12 inches tall, Japanese Sweet Flag adds a beautiful gold color and the familiar sweet scent that gives it its name. Japanese Sweet Flag needs regular water and some shade when grown in a container.

Japanese Sweet Flag prefers full sun to part shade, and medium moisture to wet soil. It is cold hardy in zones 10 through 11.

New Zealand Flax (Phormium tenax): Have very grass-like leaves that are spiky and sword-like in form, and come in a variety of colors, including greens, reds, copper, and yellow. New Zealand Flax is one of the most versatile container grass-like plants with many cultivars available, ranging from 1 to 12 feet in height. The attractive leaves are deer and rabbit resistant.

New Zealand Flax prefers full sun to part shade, and medium moisture and well-drained soil. It is cold hardy in zones 9 through 11.

HERBS FOR THE CONTAINER GARDEN: There are many benefits to growing herbs in containers. Growing herbs in pots is an easy way to control soil moisture, keep aggressive spreaders, like mint and lemon balm, under control and away from garden beds, and gives easy access to fresh herbs for culinary use.

Tips for growing herbs in containers include:

· Pick containers with adequate drainage

· Fill pots with a combination of good quality potting soil and aged compost.

· Worm castings boost soil nutrients and moisture retention.

· Harvest regularly to encourage fresh growth.

· Water consistently. Research the herbs planted and learn which prefer very well-drained soil, such as thyme, oregano, and rosemary, and which prefer more moisture, like mint, coriander, and lemon balm.

Basil (Ocimum basilicum): a warm weather herb that thrives when grown in pots and window-boxes. Give basil a well-drained soil and plenty of sunshine. Like most herbs, basil responds well to frequent harvesting, and will continue to push out fresh growth when trimmed back. There’s no doubt it’s one of the best herbs for container gardening. Pinch off any flower buds that appear, as once it begins to flower, the leaf flavor declines.

Basil also loves the warmth of the kitchen and grows happily in a water-filled container as long it has good light. Take cuttings any time before it starts flowering. If several varieties of basil are available, growing cuttings in water is the best way to preserve the collection during winter.

Cilantro (Coriandrum sativum): needs its own space in the garden where it can be harvested and then let go to seed. It grows fast in the cool weather of spring and fall, creating a rosette of lacy leaves. When the weather gets warm, the plant sends up a long, lanky flower stalk bearing flower clusters with white or pinkish blossoms that later produce coriander seeds.

Plant cilantro during the cool days of spring or fall. It prefers an area that receives full sun and a well-drained soil. In warmer climates, it prefers afternoon shade. Keep the container soil moist and use a soaker hose or drip irrigation if necessary. Encourage prolific leaf production by regularly feeding with a water-soluble plant food. Harvest cilantro leaves once they are large enough to eat and avoid harvesting more than a third of the plant at any one time.

Cilantro should have 4-5 hours of sunshine when grown indoors. Cilantro can be grown from seeds as well as the stalk. To grow from the stalk, put the stem in a bowl or glass of water and place it in a bright area. When the root grows 2-3 inches long, place it in the soil, and water frequently.

Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis): a mint cousin, lemon balm also shares the aggressive growth habit of mint, which can quickly take over small garden spaces. Because of this, planting lemon balm in containers is a must if keeping it contained is the goal. Give it the same soil mixture, a potting soil and aged compost mix, as mint, and water often.

Lemon Balm needs ample moisture for the best flavor. And what flavor! The glossy green leaves both smell and taste like lemons. It’s great in fruit salads, tea, lemonade, and marinades.

The lemony scent of this mint-family herb is a welcome treat in any home, especially in the winter. The leaves are great for making tea. Take cuttings in spring or fall. Keep the containers in a warm place that receives plenty of bright indirect light. They may take up to 3-4 weeks to develop roots. Keep the water clean with regular changes. Some people find it easier to root the cuttings outside the house when the weather’s still warm. It may help avoid white mildew that lemon balm is prone to. Bring them indoors when the new plants are well established.

Oregano (Origanum vulgare): is an enthusiastic grower and putting it in a pot is an easy and beautiful way to control its growth. The small leaves are packed with flavor, perfect for topping homemade pizza and bruschetta, as well as adding to vinaigrettes and marinades.

Greek oregano offers the best flavor for culinary use, but Syrian Oregano, a tender perennial, often called Zaatar, which has pretty silvery leaves is also a favorite.

Oregano is a pungent herb that is worth growing indoors because you can use the leaves to flavor almost any vegetable. Take cuttings of fresh growth and pot them up in water. Start pinching the growing tips as soon as the plant starts to grow well.

Parsley (Petroselinum crispum): the two main types of parsley, curly and flat leaved, grow easily, and both are definitely on the list of the best herbs for container gardening. The unique leaf texture of curly parsley makes it a nice planting partner for ornamental plants such as million bells, geraniums, petunias, and other summer bloomers.

Parsley is very easy to grow, but like mint, it does want regular moisture and feeding. Use a slow-release organic fertilizer at planting time to keep the plants happy from spring through late autumn. Parsley also appreciates full sun but can take some light shading. It can grow in partial shade or at the edging of sunlight. Keep on removing yellow and spotted leaves from time to time and keep the soil lightly moist. The roots should not sit in water, so have a good drainage system.

Parsley can grow indoors in partial shade or at the edging of sunlight. Keep on removing yellow and spotted leaves from time to time and keep the soil lightly moist. The roots should not sit in water, so have a good drainage system.

Rosemary (Salvia Rosmarinus): a woody shrub with aromatic, needle-like foliage that adds a welcome depth of flavor to roasted potatoes and chicken dishes. Growing Rosemary in pots makes it easy to bring it indoors to a sunny windowsill once the days start to cool down in mid-autumn. There are many cultivars of rosemary, with most growing upright, but a few do cascade down, making them perfect for the edges of pots and planters.

Gorizia is an upright cultivar with large leave, and Arp, which is a slightly colder tolerant variety, has an amazing flavor. Rosemary prefers full sun, and it needs consistent moisture, not wet feet.

The semi-woody cuttings of rosemary take longer to root indoors, but spring cuttings of new shoots may be faster. Either way, it is worth the effort because rosemary makes an excellent indoor plant for a sunny spot.

Tarragon (Artemisia dracunculus): a popular aromatic flavoring, especially in French cuisine. With hints of aniseed and vanilla, it goes particularly well with eggs, chicken and fish.

There are two types of Tarragon. French Tarragon is more widely available, and has long, light green leaves. The blooms are tiny, pale green, and sterile. Mexican Tarragon has long, light green leaves that are wider than the French variety. The blooms are fragrant yellow and are present from late summer to early fall. Just one plant will generate a generous number of leaves to pick. Both varieties of Tarragon are easy to grow in a sunny or partially shaded spot in well-drained soil. They thrive in spring temperatures and do not do well in overly hot climates.

Take cuttings in the spring after new growth appears for the indoor container garden. Fall cuttings are fine too, but they may take longer to grow roots. Keep cuttings in a warm place that gets bright light. French tarragon is best as a culinary herb, and Russian tarragon is milder, or even bland, so use it as a green in salads.

Thyme (Thymus vulgaris): one of the best herbs for container gardening, Thyme is low maintenance, drought-tolerant, and can take a bit of neglect. It looks fantastic when planted at the front of a container where the tiny leaves can mound over the edge of the pot. Thyme prefers full sun and it is drought-resistant, so it needs the soil on the dry side. For culinary use, try English thyme or Lemon thyme, which has variegated yellow and green leaves and a bold lemon scent and flavor.

For the indoor container garden, take cuttings of new growth that are green in color. The old growth that has become stiff and brown may not sprout roots easily. The best time to take the cuttings is mid-spring to early summer, before the plant starts flowering. The thin stems of thyme can dry out very fast, so put them in water as soon as they are cut. Spray the portion above the water, if necessary. Once it starts growing, cut the stems to promote branching.

SUCCULENTS FOR THE CONTAINER GARDEN: Potted succulents are perfect summer plants for the porch, patio, or deck thanks to their small size, water-saving habits and sun-loving nature.

Tips to start a successful succulent container garden:

Select a container with drainage holes.

Spread gravel in the bottom of the container to speed drainage.

Use a potting soil mix designed for succulents or cacti.

Plant succulents tightly in the container since they are slow growing.

Let the pots dry out slightly between watering.

Bring containers indoors to a bright windowsill in winter.

Hens & Chicks: Glowing Embers: (Sempervivum spp): forms very striking rosettes of bright rose-red succulent leaves, having light gray-green hearts in spring which flush to bronze in winter. Blooms, when present, are rose-red.

Sempervivum means “always alive”. These succulents are commonly called Hens & Chicks as the mother, or Hen will send out Babies, or Chicks to quickly multiply and create a beautiful patch of succulent bliss. Sempervivum are monocarpic and will expire after blooming, although the Chicks will quickly fill in the space left by the mother. These plants are almost always changing color, so don’t be surprised if they look completely different through the seasons.

Hens & Chicks grow best in well-drained, gravelly soil that is not wet in winter. Wet feet may cause the plant to rot. They are drought tolerant once established and are a great choice in containers and rock gardens, including small crevices or spaces with limited soil.

Zebra Haworthia: (Haworthia fasciata): a great succulent for the container garden. It has thick, dark green leaves with white horizontal stripes on the outside, and smooth on the inside.

Zebra Haworthia thrives in partial sun to shade and is very drought tolerant. The plant grows up to 5 inches tall, and 8 inches wide.

Panda Plant (Kalanchoe tomentosa): is a velvety, green succulent with brown spots on the tips of the leaves. It does very well in containers and is great for beginners.

Panda plant thrives in full sun to partial shade and is very drought tolerant. The plant grows up to 2 feet tall and 2 feet wide.

Russian stonecrop (Sedum kamtschaticum): is smothered in stunning yellow star-shaped flowers with orange eyes at the ends of the stems from early to mid-summer. Its succulent oval leaves remain dark green in color throughout the season. Russian Stonecrop is a dense herbaceous perennial with a ground-hugging habit of growth.

Russian Stonecrop requires occasional maintenance and upkeep and is best cleaned up in early spring before it resumes active growth for the season. It grows to 6 inches tall at maturity, with a spread of 24 inches. It prefers full sun to partial shade, and dry to average moisture levels with very well-drained soil. Its spreading habit of growth makes it ideal for use as a 'spiller' in the 'spiller-thriller-filler' container combination.

String of Pearls (Senecio rowleyanus): is a beautiful cascading succulent that will add that little quirk to any house. It grows fast, propagates easily, and thrives in a warm and dry environment.

String of Pearls prefers a partially shaded spot, where it can be protected from the hot sun in the afternoon, and at the same time, enjoy some bright, indirect morning sunlight.

VEGETABLES FOR THE CONTAINER GARDEN: There is no such thing as foolproof vegetable gardening, but container vegetable gardening comes close by reducing problems posed by weather and critters. Another great benefit of container gardening is that you do not need a vast space or in-ground garden patch.

Some of the easiest vegetables to grow in containers are nightshades like tomatoes, potatoes, peppers, and eggplant, as well as fast-growing crops like peas and lettuce. All that is needed is a patio, porch, or balcony with good sun exposure. A larger volume of soil will hold moisture and nutrients longer. Consider starting with a larger container than planned to reduce the margin of error.

For the indoor container garden, watercress, water chestnut, wasabi, and lotus are some of the food plants that naturally grow in water. Many terrestrial vegetables can adapt, and some leafy greens such as lettuce and spinach do extremely well. They seem to be happier than their counterparts growing in the ground because they get a continuous supply of water and are not bothered by soil pathogens.

Cucumber (Cucumis sativus): These water-loving plants do best in large plastic or ceramic pots that help retain soil moisture. Growing cucumbers in containers is a great way to give them the heat they love as hotter ambient temperatures raise soil temperature quicker in pots than in-ground.

There are two main types of cucumbers: bush and vining. Both types are good in salads but slicing cucumbers will not generally make good pickles. Bush cucumbers tend to be shorter with smaller yields. Vining cucumbers will require a trellis or tomato cage. Cucumbers grow in zones 4 through 12, prefer full sun to partial shade, and require good drainage with a moist, fertilizer-enriched soil.

Bush type cucumbers are preferred for the mason jar garden. Fill the jar ½ to ¾ full of soil and one cup water. Use a chopstick to make 4 to 6 holes that are ¼ inch deep. Place a seed in each hole and cover each seed up with soil. Use slightly tepid water to moisten the soil, and do not over water as it may cause the seeds to rot. Use a plastic bag to cover jar to help to hold the temperature and humidity. Leave the jar in a warm place indoors. The seeds do not need light to germinate at this stage. Within 7-14 days, little green shoots will peek through the soil. Once this happens, take the plastic cover off and place the jar near a bright warm window. Water often to keep the soil moist but not soggy wet.

Lettuce (Lactuca sativa): This is the most favorite vegetable of hydroponic farmers. Any lettuce can be regrown from the stems, but for home grown lettuce, Romaine lettuce seems to work best. What not to expect is a full head of lettuce, similar to the size you started with. That won’t happen. Cut the leaves about an inch away from the stem. Use it all, and only leave the stem. Pop that stem into a dish with a half inch of water. Place the dish on the windowsill to get sunlight and change the water every day for up to 12 days and no longer. After that, it loses taste, becomes bitter, less dense, and turns a disgusting blue/green color instead of bright green.

Lettuce can also be grown indoors by starting the seeds in netted cups. When they are bigger, insert them into the jar. Spinach (Spinacia oleracea) is grown the same way as lettuce.

Peppers (Capsicum annuum): Both hot and sweet peppers can be spectacularly beautiful, especially orange and purple sweet peppers in containers. They thrive in grow boxes but can be grown in any large container with plenty of sun, good drainage, and consistent watering. Dry soil or overly wet soil is disastrous for peppers.

Peppers come in all shapes, sizes, and colors, and range in spice level from mild to searing to hardly edible. Peppers grow in all zones, prefer full sun, and require moist soil with good drainage.

For the indoor container garden, fill the mason jar ½ to ¾ full of soil, and add one cup of water. Place 6-8 seeds evenly onto the soil, staying away from the rim of the jar. Push the seeds ¼ inches deep into the soil and place the jar ion a sunny location. Peppers like to be warm and are happiest in a warm room with lots of sunshine or a grow light. Water the seeds at least once a week when the soil looks dry. As the seeds sprout, water more frequently and keep the soil evenly moist. After the seedlings are 2-3 inches, remove all but the three sturdiest plants. When the flowers open, tap the bottom of the jar for 30 seconds to pollinate and allow fruit to grow.

Tomatoes (Solanum lycopersicum): are happiest in big containers and will need staking or a tomato cage. This support keeps the heavy fruit from bending and breaking the vines. When buying tomato seedlings, look for short, stocky plants that do not have blossoms yet. Keep in mind the larger the tomato variety the bigger the pot it will require.

When planting tomato seedlings, remove the seed leaves and the first set of true leaves and place the bottom half of the seedling in the pot. Tomatoes are planted much deeper than most plants. Tomatoes grow in all zones, prefer full sun, and require moist soil with good drainage.

For the indoor container garden, fill the mason jar ½ to ¾ full of soil, and add one cup of water. Place 6-8 seeds evenly onto the soil, staying away from the rim of the jar. Push the seeds ¼ inches deep into the soil and place the jar ion a sunny location. Tomatoes like to be warm and are happiest in a warm room with lots of sunshine or a grow light. Water the seeds at least once a week when the soil looks dry. As the seeds sprout, water more frequently and keep the soil evenly moist. After the seedlings are 2-3 inches, remove all but the three sturdiest plants. When the flowers open, tap the bottom of the jar for 30 seconds to pollinate and allow fruit to grow.

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