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Choosing Containers

Every year I have noticed that gardening in containers becomes more and more popular. I see beautiful containers everywhere—in homes, stores, offices, and restaurants.

Basically any vessel that can hold soil can become a flowerpot. My first flowerpot was half a whiskey barrel from the local distillery. I have seen some pretty interesting items turned into flower pots, like old sinks and toilets, cattle water troughs, or fountains that don’t work. I once turned a golf bag into a flowerpot. It wasn’t the most practical use of a golf bag, but it got a lot of attention.

Rules for choosing
In most of my designs, I end up using at least one or two flowerpots. Flowerpots on porches, patios, or decks are the perfect solution for locating plants and flowers into these areas. I always involve my clients in their selection because I think it is important for the flowerpot or container to reflect the personality of the gardener. Fall in love with the container first, and then decide where it will go and what will go in it.

There are only two rules I give my clients before they go shopping for their flowerpots: 1) if they are going outside they must have a drain hole or be made of a material you can drill through; and 2) always buy flowerpots that seem larger than you think you need. There is this strange phenomenon where the flowerpots look big in the store and when you get them home, they somehow magically shrink. So don’t let your eyes fool you. A handy tape measure also helps make sure you get an appropriate-sized flowerpot for your space.

Container materials
Ceramic or brightly glazed, natural terra cotta, concrete, plastic or polycarbonate, fiberglass, or cast iron are just a few of the materials that flowerpots are made of today. Which material you choose is dependent on your personal style, garden theme, and budget. Certainly some materials are more durable than others, especially if the flowerpot is to remain outside year-round. As a general rule, it is not just the material but the quality of manufacturing that determines year-round durability. For example, you can get what we call a low-line or standard terra cotta pot that may not last through one winter, or you can invest in a high-fired dense clay, true Italian-style terra cotta pot that you will have for a lifetime. The difference in price will be quite obvious.

The larger the flowerpot, the lower the maintenance required to keep it beautiful in the heat of summer. I always recommend larger but fewer flowerpots to my customers, which does not mean we have to compromise on the show. It is easier to have a beautiful, dramatic, and colorful show in a larger flowerpot than in a small one. But scale to the space is important, so don’t go overboard by choosing too large a pot for a tiny area, or too small a pot for a spacious area.

Container soil mix
For soil I always use a professional mix such as pro-mix. This peat moss-based potting media is designed for use in flowerpots, allowing for moisture retention and nutrient-holding capacity necessary while still allowing air circulation and necessary drainage for root growth. In some cases I add in worm casting, two parts pro-mix to one part worm casting, to increase the moisture-holding capacity of the soil. In really hot, dry locations this is a great help in keeping the plants looking good and saves you from watering them as often.

While it is true that June is officially perennial gardening month, I vote we also make it container gardening month. Let’s celebrate the beginning of summer with bold, dramatic, beautiful flowerpots filled with plants that transform your porch, patio, or garden into a tropical oasis: each time you enter your garden this summer, you will feel like you are on vacation.

by Angie McManus

I have several mature white pine trees surrounding my yard. I would like to cut off the lower limbs for easier mowing and trimming. When is a good time to do this?

These white pine evergreens (Pinus strobes) are long-lived, some reaching 200 years old. The best time to prune them is during the fall and winter seasons while they are dormant, although for your purpose of “limbing up” your pines, it is fine to do this at any time of year. You may have to deal with some sap if you prune while they are not dormant, but this should not be a concern. Pines fall into a category known as whorl-branching with limbs growing out from the trunk, as opposed to other conifers that develop branches randomly and not only from the central leader. Pruning should be done with a clean, sharp pair of pruning shears or a saw. Make your cuts flush with the central leader. If you need further pruning instructions, visit and search for “Pruning Landscape Shrubs.”


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