Episode 35 – Container gardening with annuals and shrubs, plus, Birdman is back!

Ground Breaking Banter - Rick

Container gardening is a fantastic way to add personality and color to any space. In this post, we’ll go over some tips and tricks for creating a beautiful container garden.

First, it’s important to remember that container gardens have boundaries. But within those boundaries, you can create “chaos with control.” The plants you choose will have to coexist in the same container, so make sure to select plants that have similar needs. Container gardens are perfect for those who love to experiment with different plant combinations, textures, and colors.

When choosing containers, make sure to consider the size of the plant you want to grow and the space where it will be located. You want to make sure your container is large enough to accommodate the plant and has proper drainage holes. Self-watering containers, like Aqua Pots from Proven Winners, can also be an excellent choice – they don’t have drainage holes but instead come with a reservoir that holds enough water to sustain the plants in the container for a week or so, depending on conditions. A bit of advice with self-watering containers: the self-watering ability doesn’t work until the plant has grown roots into the soil, so plan to water carefully in the old-fashioned way for about six weeks after planting. Oh, and if you are going on vacation and expecting a neighbor to water your plants for you, make sure you show them how to fill your self-watering containers. It’s not always obvious!

When it comes to soil, choose a high-quality potting mix that is well-draining and rich in nutrients. You can also add soil amendments such as compost or slow-release fertilizers to improve soil quality. You can even reuse potting soil by amending it with fresh amendments, like compost or composted manure, and adding a timed-release fertilizer.

When arranging plants, keep in mind design principles such as color, texture, and height. Layering plants with different growth habits can create a lush and visually interesting container. Start with “thriller plants,” which add height and drama to the combination. Vines, foliage plants like cordylines, ornamental grasses, and cannas are great options. “Fillers” are rounded or mounded plants that make the container look full, while “Spillers” are trailing plants that hang over the edge of the planter. Dichondra ‘Silver Falls’, sweet potato vines, and Vista Supertunias are ideal.

Choosing a color scheme is another essential step. You can go for bold and vibrant colors or a softer, more subtle palette. You can choose a monochromatic color scheme or complementary colors for a bolder effect. Foliage can be just as important as flowers when it comes to adding color to your container garden. Coleus is a great option.

Mixing plants with varying leaf shapes and sizes can also add texture to your container garden. For example, you can pair plants with large, bold leaves, such as elephant ears, with plants that have small leaves, like Whirlwind scaevola or Euphorbia ‘Diamond Frost’ for contrast.

Proven Winners offers a great resource for container “recipes” – and lots of other advice – to help you create the perfect container garden.

This week’s Lim-A-Rick:
I’m growing my personal Camelot,
A haven of planters I’ve given great thought,
With many of every container,
the end result is a no brainer,
My yard has gone to pot!

Plants on Trial: Growing Shrubs in Containers - Stacey

We get so many questions on growing shrubs in containers, so instead of focusing on just one specific variety in today’s episode, we thought we’d share some tips and ideas on how you can be container champ with shrubs. 

  • Almost any shrub can be grown in a container. Think of bonsai, which takes what would be a huge (or at least sizeable) tree and places it in a tiny container. That extreme restriction of its roots results in a dwarfing of the entire plant. About the only shrubs that would potentially struggle in the container environment are those that sucker vigorously: itea, sorbaria, winterberry holly, to name a few. Such plants resent being confined and struggle if they can’t stretch their legs, so to speak.
  • It’s a common guideline that when growing a shrub in a container, you should select one that’s at least two zones hardier than where you live, and while this isn’t bad advice, I think it’s overly restrictive. First of all, because it limits people in USDA zone 5 to just plants that are hardy to USDA zone 3, and second of all, because I have found that in most cases, temperature isn’t the biggest threat to a shrub’s survival in a container – the ability to withstand wet soil is. Here’s why: in winter, the soil in the container freezes solid. Come spring, it begins to thaw, but it thaws from the outside in, leaving an ice cube in the center of the soil that will take several more weeks of warmer conditions to thaw. When there’s rain or wet snow, that adds moisture to the soil mix but it can’t drain out due to the ice in the center, leaving the conditions around the roots soggy and wet. To avoid this, select plants that can tolerate such conditions, or you can move your container shrub to a protected spot where it won’t get dripped on. Do note, however, if you go this route, you will need to water manually until the soil freezes and potentially throughout winter any time the soil is unfrozen as well.
  •  If you grow a hardy shrub in a container – one that would normally survive winter in your climate – it MUST stay outdoors through winter. It needs to the fresh air, bright light, and cool temperatures to complete its seasonal cycle and will get really stressed if you try to bring it indoors. Keeping in a very cool, bright spot, like a garage with windows or an unheated porch, can also be an option, but you will need to check it frequently for water and apply as necessary to avoid drought stress. Since the container will be exposed to the elements outdoors, you will need to select a container that can be outside all winter without breaking or cracking. That means fiberglass, resin, plastic, metal, or wood. There are clay and ceramic containers that claim they are weatherproof, but since these tend to be quite pricey, I’ve never been brave enough to test the claim myself!

Hear all our tips and ideas for growing shrubs in containers at your favorite podcast platform, or watch the YouTube video below. If you’d like to add any of the 320+ Proven Winners ColorChoice Shrubs – to your garden or landscape, in a container or in the ground, you’ll find a list of local retailers here

Gardening Mail Bag - Stacey

No need to panic! Your cannas will be fine. They might benefit from some extra fertilizer to help compensate for the energy they spent flowering, but nothing else special is required. Where cannas are hardy, they actually live all year-round and go through multiple flowering cycles. They don’t require a dormancy period like spring flowering bulbs do.

Grass seed can be planted pretty much any time here in Michigan, but it does depend on the type of grass. Some recommend fall-sowing. The key to success with grass seed is giving it enough water through the germination and establishment period so that it grows into a nice, lush turf. For the earliest spring planting date, use the blooming of forsythia as your cue.

Corn gluten is only effective for controlling crabgrass as a pre-emergent – in other words, before the seeds germinate. However, it is a good, non-toxic solution to the managing crabgrass, and if you go this route, you’d put it down when the forsythia bloom. As for your second question, this is actually the first time I heard of a wicking bed, but it makes sense – it’s basically just like a giant self-watering container. My only bit of advice is the same one I give for self-watering containers in fact: water by hand for the first six weeks or so after planting. The wicking action isn’t effective until there are roots in the soil, so you will need an alternate watering method until then. This is especially important if you are sowing seed, which needs to take up a good amount of water before germinating. 

Do you have a question for us? We’re happy to help! E-mail us or use the contact tab above.

Branching News - Rick

Back by popular demand the Birdman swoops in to “tweet” us with more bird talk this week. Before we dive into the bird situation here in west Michigan, we share a fun video from CNN about parrots learning to call their parrot friends for video chat. Toucan play this game! 

Play the YouTube video below – or listen on your favorite podcast platform as we discuss goldfinches, killdeers, hummingbirds and robins. Plus. an update on the loons!


A hydrangea in a low decorative container covered in pink and purple mophead flowers.

Episode 96 – Garden Regrets

Regrets? We’ve had a few, and maybe you have too, which is why we’re dedicating this episode to the things we wish we had – and hadn’t – done in the garden. Featured shrub: Let’s Dance Arriba reblooming hydrangea.

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