With spring having arrived a few weeks earlier this year, many folks are still on accelerated garden expectations and retailers are struggling to keep up. Big box stores already have impatiens and petunias for example with gardeners anxious to get a blast of color for their homes now that the bulk of the flowering trees, shrubs, and bulbs are blooming out. However, an early spring does not mean there still is no risk of frost and unlike pansies, summer annuls do not like frost. Despite weather changes in our region, there is still a risk of frost in the tri-state vicinity through May 1st.
That does not mean you cannot plant annuals now, it just means please be careful. Start with containers that can be brought in doors when frost is imminent. Containers are also a great way to focus color and limit how much maintenance you need to perform in terms of watering and weeding. Containers also allow one to plant unusual combinations of textures, colors, and heights that would be more difficult if not completely ineffective to blend in the standard annual bed in your garden.
When selecting plants for containers there are several considerations; color and size of the planter, the light the container will be in, the vertical elements of the container, the combinations of colors (also influenced by light) and the juxtaposition of leaf size and texture as well as bloom size and texture.
Some Basic Rules: Color is influenced by light, lower light does not support bright color well, so select more muted colors for lower light areas (though a bright color inserted in a pastel palette may make all the colors pop more if the bright color is not too dominant). Make sure your plant group hits the highs and lows meaning you want foliage to reach up to close to half the height of the container when mature and foliage should reach down and at least break the line of the rim or the planter if not reach half the height of the planter or more when mature. Pick plants that have different textures; some of the most revered container planting gurus combined large almost weed like acanthus with little flowered salvias or Angelina and textures in between.
Some of my favorite materials and combinations come from Beds and Borders nursery in Laurel, NY. The combinations shown here were created by Kathy Pufahl founder of B&B who left us in 2003. I will be guiding a container class open to the public at the Pelham Art Center as part of their Earth Day Celebration from 1:30 to 3:30 featuring plant material from Beds and Borders. These will be available for sale and use at the art center as well as soil and pots,( though we would strongly suggest bringing your own planter). Any proceeds will benefit the art center. Planters should be at minimum 14 wide to get enough variety of material into the container.