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How to Create Sensational Pots and Planters

The colors in the [a href="http://www.gardeners.com/buy/hanging-art-basket/40-240.html"]Hanging Art Basket[/a] are coordinated with the featured plants: red tuberous begonia, asparagus fern and chartreuse licorice vine. Harmonious colors shine in this [a href="http://www.gardeners.com/buy/hanging-art-basket/40-240.html"]Hanging Art Basket[/a]: hot pink verbena, soft pink diascia and English ivy. The [a href="http://www.gardeners.com/buy/3ft-fairfield-windowboxes/39-344.html"]Fairfield Windowbox[/a] features chartreuse devil's ivy (pothos), orange firecracker flower (Crossandra infundibuliformis), dracena spikes, purple ornamental peppers and white daisies (Argyranthemum 'Molimbo White') This planting showcases the 18-inch [a href="http://www.gardeners.com/buy/flower-baskets/39-620RS.html"]Hayrack Hanging Basket[/a]. It will thrive best in a sunny site. Plants: Red Thread alternanthera, India Frills coleus, Persian Queen geranium and Illusion Midnight Lace sweet potato vine. The [a href="http://www.gardeners.com/buy/fairfield-patio-tall-planter/39-342.html"]Fairfield Patio Planter[/a] (in black) features Sundance firecracker flower (Crossandra infundibuliformis), dracena spike, Blackfoot Daisy (Melampodium leucanthemum), Black Pearl ornamental pepper and Neon ivy (pothos). A design for the red [a href="http://www.gardeners.com/buy/window-boxes-39-inch/34-502VS.html"]Self-Watering Windowbox[/a]: Snowflake bacopa, Garden Mix dianthus, Dipt in Wine coleus, red gerber daisy, Scarlet Star verbena and Cognac alternanthera. Holly fern (Cyrtomium falcatum), Bluebird nemesia, Diamond Frost euphorbia, Angelface Blue angelonia, Amazon Blue dianthus and Soprano White osteospermum. Planted in the 36-inch [a href="http://www.gardeners.com/buy/hayrack-windowboxes-with-aquasav/39-415RS.html"]AquaSav Hayrack Windowbox[/a]. A hanging basket for sun: Pretty Much Picasso Supertunia, Goldilocks lysimachia and Luscious Lemonade lantana. Planted in the red [a href="http://www.gardeners.com/buy/self-watering-hanging-baskets/34-368.html"]Self-Watering Hanging Basket[/a]. This planting showcases the 18-inch [a href="http://www.gardeners.com/buy/39-620.html"]Hayrack Hanging Basket[/a]. It needs a shady site — would be perfect under a porch. Plants included: Alternanthera d. rubiginosa, Boston fern (Nephrolepsis exaltata 'Blue Bell', Harvest Lemon Chiffon heuchera, Salsa rex begonia, mixed rex begonia, Rockapulco Orchid impatiens and Rockapulco Rose impatiens. This 18-inch [a href="http://www.gardeners.com/buy/flower-baskets/39-620RS.html"]Hayrack Hanging Basket[/a] includes Goldleaf licorice plant, Alaska Mix nasturtiums, Crystal Palace Gem geraniums, Callie Deep Yellow calibrachoa, orange lotus Dalina Midi Hawaii dahlias and Luscious Citrus Blend lantana. Transform an ordinary hanging basket petunia by taking it out of its plastic pot and transplanting into the 18-inch [a href="http://www.gardeners.com/buy/flower-baskets/39-620RS.html"]Hayrack Hanging Basket[/a]. This 18-inch [a href="http://www.gardeners.com/buy/flower-baskets/39-620RS.html"]Hayrack Hanging Basket[/a] features Gartenmeister Bonstedt fuchsia, Lancelot coleus, Blackie sweet potato vine, Fusion Gold Yellow impatiens, Autumnale fuchsia, Goldilocks lysimachia and asparagus fern (Asparagus sprengeri). This composition, in a black [a href="http://www.gardeners.com/buy/colorful-flower-pot-self-watering-with-casters/39-326.html"]Easy Roller Self-Watering Pot[/a], features velvety red celosia, dusty miller, compact yellow lantana and purple fountain grass (Pennisetum setaceum 'Rubrum') in the back. Bold colors in this combination: red salvia (Salvia splendens), orange flowering maple (abutilon) and callibrachoa and Frosted Curls sedge. Planted in the [a href="http://www.gardeners.com/buy/colorful-flower-pot-self-watering-with-casters/39-326.html"]Easy Roller Self-Watering Pot[/a].

IMAGINE if your pots and planters always looked fabulous. "Wow!" your friends would say to one another, "How does she do it?"

Gone are the days when you could feel good about just picking up a couple red geraniums and some pink wax begonias. The pressure is on. Your pots and planters need panache!

Where to Buy

In our Pots and Planters department, you'll find flower pots, planters, grow bags, hanging baskets, patio planters, potting soil, fertilizers and accessories. For the biggest selection of pots, planters and container gardening products, visit our partners at mypotsandplanters.com.

So this spring, before you head out to buy plants for your porch, deck or patio, learn what it takes to create planters with style.

Chances are, the gardener who planted up that beautiful pot may have shopped at the very same nursery as you. They may have traveled down the same isles and may have chosen among the same 200 kinds of plants and 10,000 possible plant combinations.

The trick is all in the choosing.

Plan the structure

Purple Fountain Grass (Pennisetum setaceum 'Rubrum') is a good structural plant.

1. Plan the structure

The structure of your container planting, that is. When you're selecting plants in 4" or 6" pots, you need to think about their eventual height, shape and growth habit. Most plants are either upright, broad or trailing. The most successful container combinations usually include at least one of each form. Start with a tall, upright plant, such as Purple Fountain Grass (Pennisetum setaceum 'Rubrum') or a fancy-leaved, dwarf canna lily. Add one or two broad, mid-height plants such as heliotrope, coleus, African daisies (osteospermum) or dwarf dahlias. Then select one or two trailing forms, such as ivy geranium, sweet potato vine, bacopa or licorice plant (Helichrysum petiolare).

Of course another sure-fire way to create a strong, architectural statement is to place just one bold plant in the container. Candidates for this effect would include a thick, upright clump of bamboo or the perfect symmetry of New Zealand flax (phormium). Consider flanking an entryway with a pair of dwarf Alberta spruce or false cypress. A clump of ornamental grass, such as feather reed grass, makes a bold statement. Or you could focus all the attention on a trailing form; envision a tall, celadon-green urn filled with nothing but a burgundy-colored sweet potato vine.

Consider the growing conditions

This planter features shade-loving plants.

2. Consider the growing conditions

If you fill a windowbox with shade-loving impatiens and then put it in a sunny, west-facing location, those impatiens will struggle to survive. You will also fail if you try to grow sun-loving ivy geraniums on a shady porch. Think about where the pot will be located and then select plants that will like living there. Plant labels usually list sun/shade requirements (you'll also find a few recommendations at the end of this article).

It's also important to combine plants with similar moisture requirements. Desert-loving portulaca won't be happy growing in the same pot with moisture-loving hibiscus. Soil preference is also important. A pot filled with rosemary, bay and thyme should contain a sandy, sharply drained soil mix that mimics the Mediterranean conditions these plants prefer. Fuchsia, on the other hand, wants a humusy, moisture-retentive soil that's similar to what's found in a wet tropical rainforest. Plant labels (or a well-informed sales associate) can provide this information.

Contrast textures

A mix of coarse- and fine-textured foliage helps create interest in plantings.

3. Contrast textures

Foliage is just as important as color in creating a successful container planting. Once you've gathered a group of candidates, think about the size of the leaves and their surface texture. Leaf textures range from waxy (ivy geraniums) to shiny (croton), to prickly (asparagus fern) or velvety (dusty miller). Contrasting foliage really grabs the eye.

For an exciting texture combination, imagine a hair-like tuft of the lemon yellow grass known as ogon (Acorus gramineus), with the spiky lime-green succulent Angelina (Sedum repestre), the waxy burgundy leaves of Sedum 'Garnet Brocade', and the lacy flowers of Coral Flying Colors diascia.

4. Be bold with color

A well-composed container planting can be as visually stimulating as a great painting. Generate energy and excitement by combining complimentary colors such as purple and orange or yellow and blue. Or paint a more visually soothing composition by limiting yourself to related colors such as blues and pinks or reds and yellows. You can also create a stunning, very sophisticated look using nothing but greens, whites and silvers. When selecting flower and foliage colors, you may also want to think about the color of your house, the color of your deck or patio pavers, and the color in adjacent beds and borders. That said, pots and planters present a great opportunity to experiment with dramatic color combinations that you'd probably never dare to use in your permanent landscape.

Creating winning plant combinations is easier than you might think. Check out the slideshow, above, for more inspiration. If you need more ideas, the Proven Winners website has photos of about 500 different plant combinations.

The Designer's Rule

Planters look best when you combine plants with three different habits:

  • Vertical, such as phormium, canna, calla pennisetum or upright fuchsia (Fuchsia triphylla 'Gartenmeister Bonstedt')
  • Horizontal or weaving, such as heliotrope, osteospermum, petunia, coleus or impatiens
  • Cascading, such as nemesia, helichrysum, ipomea or callibrachoa.

Choosing the Best Plants

For sun
  • African daisy (osteospermum)
  • Alyssum
  • Argyranthemum (chrysanthemum)
  • Brugmansia (angel's trumpet)
  • Calendula
  • Dahlias
  • Geranium
  • Heliotrope
  • Petunia
  • Salvia
  • Scaveola
  • Verbena
  • Zinnia
For shade
  • Flowering maple (abutilon)
  • Impatiens
  • Begonia
  • Hosta
  • Caladium
  • Persian shield (Strobilanthes dyeranus)
  • Coleus
Plants that tolerate hot, dry sites
  • Aeonium
  • Echeveria
  • Gomphrena
  • Geranium (ivy-leaf and scented-leaf)
  • Kalanchoe
  • Lantana
  • Portulaca (moss rose)
  • Sedum
  • Texas sage (Salvia greggii)
  • Zinnia angustifolia
Plants that look good alone
  • Agave
  • Bougainvillea
  • Fuchsia
  • Sweet bay (Laurus nobilis)
  • Boxwood (Buxus sempervirens)
  • Yucca
  • Cordyline
  • Phormium (New Zealand flax)
  • Tibouchina (Princess flower)
  • Bamboo
  • Chamaecyparis (False cypress)
  • Arborvitae (Thuja occidentalis)
  • Monterey cypress (Cupressus macrocarpa)
  • Dwarf Alberta spruce (Picea glauca)

Ornamental grasses

  • Feather reed grass (Calamagrostis x acutiflora)
  • Big bluestem (Andropogon gerardii)
  • Fountain grass (Pennisetum setaceum 'Rubrum')
  • Tufted fescue (Festuca amethystina)

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