Many people think that container gardening starts with the pot. You just pick a nice pot and off you go. But container gardening actually begins with some questions: Why do you want a container? Where are you going to put it? What is it supposed to do? When do you want the plants in it to perform? How big are the plantings going to get?
You may want a container to cover a bare area, a spot your eye goes to and you think, “Wow, that spot is just . . . . there. And not very interesting.” Or you may have a vertical space that you want to accent, but there is no place to dig, such as a spot near your pool that is concrete with a screen that hides your pump. Or you may have an entry that needs to be more welcoming. So, why do you want that container?
Where am I going to put it? Do I need to leave space so that people have a clear walk-way around the pool or to the door? If I put it here, will the dog (or a passing cow) chew it? Is the plant in the pot toxic like poinsettia or oleander?
What is the pot doing? Is it only there to hold a vine or cover a barren area, or is it there to create an impression at the doorway or accent an architectural feature? A large pot can hold a small tree, so the “what is the pot doing” could be “providing shade from the tropical sun.”
When do I need the plants to perform? Well, in the tropics, I want them to be on their toes all the time. If you don’t want to have to keep replacing them with new plants and flowers, annuals are out for you. Zinnias, for example, flower for about a month and then are gone. So now you need to pick plants that will continue to perform for at least a year.
How big will the plants be? Very tall plants need a tall pot – nothing looks sillier than a pot, 10 inches (25 cm) tall with a 4 foot (1.2 meter) papyrus growing up and out of it. And nothing is worse that realizing that you grew a lovely plant in just the right pot, but now no one can get around it to get to the front steps.
Think these questions through, and then it’s time to ask a couple more questions. Will the pot be stationary or will you need to move it occasionally? This will help determine what the pot is made of – plastic is lightweight and made to travel, concrete is heavy and resists moving. One nice thing (and there are many) about the tropics is we don’t have to move our plants inside for the winter so a concrete pot can be a good choice. Then choose a color for the pot and make sure that the pot provides good drainage for your plants.
More about containers later, but now, the plant of the day: