Sunday, September 6, 2009

Bargain Container Gardens - Only $1.50 each!

Like so many other gardeners, I lust after the magazine cover decks and porches pictured overflowing with color. But I've also priced out some of those containers at over $40 each, just to buy the annuals needed to fill them. And that can be ONE container. Since I have over 50 containers to fill each season, I've learned many ways to get a lush look for less.

First, pick your annuals wisely;-). For me, one six pack of salvias is about $1.50 and will fill a large container within a few weeks. The bright red is not my favorite color as I lean to the "Monet" palette of blues and pinks, but the red does make a bright cheery statement and the hummingbirds love it! I have two big white pots in front of my picture window and those salvias are workhorses all summer long. At a combined cost of $3.00 - that's a lot of punch for a sunny area (they'll look sad and listless in the shade).

I also use smaller Terra cotta planters that I can pick up for $1.00 or less at garage sales and put in one six pack of begonias. These are also hard workers and will bloom all summer in the shade, asking little in return. For $1.50, I've got a little table display for about three months here in Wisconsin.

Another idea I've started to put to good use is to mix in perennials dug from my yard to give the displays a lusher look. I saw this done at Olbrich Botanical Gardens, came home and dug out astilbe, daylilies, hostas and others from the garden and put them in plastic pots. Then I put the plastic pots into bigger planters.

The reason for the double potting is that plastic retains moisture better and at the end of the season, I can pop out the plastic container, plant and all, and over winter this by my shed. All of these hardy plants come back bigger and better each year. And, of course, an empty Terra cotta planter is MUCH easier to move into the garage for its winter quarters.

Cost of the perennials - Free! And if they get too big for their plastic containers, I just sell them at my annual garage sale and start digging more divisions.

If you don't have them already, Terra cotta and other planters are easy to come by. Spend a weekend going to some garage sales or estate sales and you can usually pick them up for $1 or less. If that doesn't work, just post on Craigslist or Freecycle or even put up a note at your local grocery store and someone out there will have a pile gathering dust in some back shed that they'll be glad to sell or give you.

The bigger the better in containers as the larger sizes retain moisture better and the plants just seem happier. Put a layer of grass clippings or leaves from your yard in the lower half of the planter. This helps keep in moisture and vastly reduces the amount of planting soil you need to buy, which can be expensive.

I know some people suggest dumping your soil each year and starting new. I've never done this and had no problems. The soil actually gets richer as the grass and leaves break down and enrich the potting soil. You just need a tiny bit of topping off the following year.

Some annuals can be wintered over inside for even more cost savings. I've been quite successful doing this with geraniums in the front window, but not successful with many other annuals. I'd love to hear others' experiences with annuals indoors.

So as the fall are gets chilly, pull out your garden notebook and ask how you're going to make-over your own porch or deck into a magazine cover paradise next spring. Happy gardening!

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