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Lush container gardens brimming with color and texture are surprisingly easy to grow. Even a complete novice can create a spectacular effect. Decorative containers can be tucked onto a small patio or balcony or grandly staged to provide a focal point in a suburban landscape. Growing flowers, herbs and vegetables in pots takes the heavy labor out of gardening, eliminating the need for removing sod, tilling and even weeding. Containers take the best part of gardening—the reward of beauty—and bring it within reach of everyone.

One of the benefits of a container garden is mobility. You can easily move pots of sun-loving annuals to a shady deck to enhance a special occasion or hide a pot that’s just been pruned until it fills out again. Groups of colorful pots offer an easy way to introduce some floral zing to a setting. “I love to add splashes of color as most of my plantings are perennials,” says Heather Asche of Ankeny, Iowa. “Containers are a great way to do that.” She also uses containers to dress up her family’s patio and deck.

For families in stay-cation mode, lush containers—grown and groomed on a budget—enhance outdoor living areas with resort-style appeal. You don’t have to spend a bundle to enjoy pots brimming with beauty. Start with good soil, mix-and-match plants and containers, water consistently—and you’ll enjoy gorgeous pots.

Pots and Soil: The Basics

Look for containers of all shapes and materials at your Hy-Vee Garden Center. Porous terra-cotta pots, which allow water to evaporate through container sides, offer an ideal rooting environment for plants that like hot and dry conditions, such as herbs (rosemary, thyme, sage), succulents (sedum, hen and chickens) or heat-loving annuals (moss rose, gazania, vinca). Look for terracotta containers in traditional styles and innovative shapes.

For pots that will sit outdoors through Midwest winters, choose materials that stand up to the elements, such as stone, concrete, or cast fiberstone. If you plan to fill containers with upright plants, you’ll want pots that look good. Because cascading plants hide the container, they can feel right at home in a basic plastic pot and will host the garden show with graceful aplomb. “No matter what kind of container you choose, it needs to have drainage holes,” says Jerry Kluver, Hy-Vee Garden Center Manager.

Jerry also stresses matching plant size to container. “You want a pot that will be the appropriate size for the maturity of the plants you’re using,” he says. Avoid putting a tall plant into a shallow container or a ground-hugging lobelia into a deep pot. For most container combinations, a 12- to 16-inch-wide pot can host a mix of plants, with larger pots able to hold more plants.

“I like Miracle-Gro soil,” Jerry says. The mixture holds moisture, gives roots ample air and often contains a fertilizer. “Miracle-Gro Moisture Control also feeds plants up to six months and protects against under- and overwatering,” he says.

Container Care

Keeping plants in tip-top shape doesn’t require a green thumb. Jerry’s secrets to success with container gardens start with planting a larger, more established plant, like those in the Hy-Vee Garden Helper Jumbo 4-Pack. “Remove blooms and buds at planting time and for two weeks after planting, and you’ll get more, longer-lasting flowers all season long. This gives plants time to establish strong roots, which are the foundation to a successful plant,” he says.

He also recommends using a Hy-Vee plant starter fertilizer for the first 30 days, followed by a regular water soluble plant food, granulated all-purpose fertilizer or a bloom booster fertilizer. As plants grow, remove dead flowers and prune long, straggly stems.

Family Fun

Growing container gardens is a great way to get the whole family involved in gardening. “Our boys are learning a lot from landscaping,” Heather says. “They know that plants need sun, soil and water to grow, and that too much water can hurt plants.” Heather usually chooses plants for containers based on advice from experts in the Hy-Vee Garden Center. “I ask someone in the garden center what’s new and looks great in containers,” she says. “They’re very helpful.”

Heather and her husband, Josh, a Des Moines Hy-Vee store director, count on container gardens and other plantings to add value to their home. “Landscaping gives a house curb appeal. As a potential home seller, curb appeal gives a home that hole-in-one feeling,” Josh says. “It makes a potential buyer feel like the home is outstanding, complete and well cared for.” Heather agrees, adding that she also “loves the smells and colors flowers bring to our yard.”

Container Combinations

With the right mix of plants, container gardens can look terrific from spring to fall. Try a few of these combinations to grow pots that will turn heads for months. Look for these plants at your local Hy-Vee Garden Center in the Garden Helper Jumbo 4-Pack to jump-start your container gardens with larger plants.

Plant these combinations in 14- to 16-inch-wide pots. The vegetable combinations are best in 16-inch-wide pots. Arrange plants with the tallest plant (at maturity) in the center of the pot, then step down according to height with the next tallest plant. Set cascading plants next to container edges.

Sun Worshipper's Collection
Pot & Patio Mix aster
Marigold (choose your color)
Vinca (choose your color)
Petunia (choose your color)

Shade-Loving Color
Splash Red hypoestes (polka-dot plant)
Wizard Gold coleus
Dusty miller
Wishbone flower (Torenia)

Patriotism in Bloom (sun)
Sun Devil Mojave Salvia splendens
Crystal White Zinnia elegans
Royal Blue Ageratum houstonianum

Fragrance in Bloom (sun to part sun)
Avalon Mix flowering tobacco
Dianthus chinensis (choose your color)
Sweet alyssum (choose your color)

Made for Shade
Wizard Pineapple coleus
Boda Boom Bronze Leaf Scarlet begonia
Splash Red hypoestes (polka-dot plant)
Blue lobelia

Pizza in a Pot (sun)
Husky Red tomato
Red Skin bell pepper

Fresh-Picked Salad
Gourmet Blend lettuce*
Husky Cherry tomato
Tumblin Tom yellow tomato
Burpless Bush cucumber
*Lettuce has shallow roots. Grow a pot of lettuce solo in a bowl or shallow pot. Frequent picking keeps the goodness coming.

Veggies to Go
Blue Lake Bush bean
Bulls Blood beet

Salsa Garden
Husky Red tomato
Cherry Bomb pepper
Holy Mole pepper

Grow Organic

It’s easy to go green in your garden, thanks to Hy-Vee’s line of organic products. “These items come in ready-to-use bottles, so putting them to work in your garden is easy,” Jerry says. Learn which of these environmentally friendly items can coax the best growth from your plants.

Organic Bone Meal. Bone meal is a long-lasting source of phosphorous and calcium. It promotes root growth and stem strength. Apply to established plants, such as shrubs or perennials, in early spring by working into upper layers of soil. Bone meal is also an excellent choice to use when transplanting, growing root crops or planting bulbs. Work into soil a week or two before planting.

Organic Blood Meal. Fast-acting blood meal douses soil with nitrogen. Work into the top few inches of soil, or sprinkle over compost piles when the amount of brown material exceeds green matter. Many gardeners use blood meal to keep deer and rabbits at bay by placing it in containers with lids (to protect from moisture). Avoid applying to beans, peas or seedlings; the high nitrogen content can harm crops.

Organic All-Purpose Fertilizer. A slow-release fertilizer that enhances growth of all crops (annuals, vegetables, perennials, shrubs, trees), this fertilizer is the perfect choice to work into planting beds, holes or vegetable gardens. Check the label to see how long nutrients last in soil under normal growing conditions.

Organic Insect Repellent. Give bugs the brush-off by applying an organic insect repellent to plants. Read the label to understand how often you must apply the repellent for continuous plant protection. The label will also detail which pests are affected.

Source: Hy-Vee Seasons Garden 2010.

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