Filling Containers Frugally


Like so many other gardeners, I lust after the magazine cover decks and porches pictured overflowing with color. But I've also priced out some of those containers at over $40 each, just to buy the annuals needed to fill them. And that can be ONE container. Since I have over 50 containers to fill each season, I've learned many ways to get a lush look for less.


First, pick your annuals wisely;-). For me, one six pack of salvias is about $1.50 and will fill a large container within a few weeks. The bright red is not my favorite color as I lean to the "Monet" palette of blues and pinks, but the red does make a bright cheery statement and the hummingbirds love it! I have two big white pots in front of my picture window and those salvias are workhorses all summer long. At a combined cost of $3.00, that's a lot of punch for a sunny area (they'll look sad and listless in the shade).

I also use smaller Terra cotta planters that I can pick up for $1.00 or less at garage sales and put in one six pack of begonias. These are also hard workers and will bloom all summer in the shade, asking little in return. For $1.50, I've got a little table display for about three months here in Wisconsin.

Another idea I've started to put to good use is to mix in perennials dug from my yard to give the displays a lusher look. I saw this done at Olbrich Botanical Gardens, came home and dug out astilbe, daylilies, hostas and others from the garden and put them in plastic pots. Then I put the plastic pots into bigger planters.

The reason for the double potting is that plastic retains moisture better and at the end of the season, I can pop out the plastic container, plant and all, and over winter put this by my shed. All of these hardy plants come back bigger and better each year. And, of course, an empty Terra cotta planter is MUCH easier to move into the garage for its winter quarters.

Cost of the perennials - Free! And if they get too big for their plastic containers, I just sell them at my annual garage sale and start digging more divisions.

If you don't have them already, Terra cotta and other planters are easy to come by. Spend a weekend going to some garage sales or estate sales and you can usually pick them up for $1 or less. If that doesn't work, just post on Craigslist or Freecycle or even put up a note at your local grocery store and someone out there will have a pile gathering dust in some back shed that they'll be glad to sell or give you.

The bigger the better in containers as the larger sizes retain moisture better and the plants just seem happier. Put a layer of grass clippings or leaves from your yard in the lower half of the planter. This helps keep in moisture and vastly reduces the amount of planting soil you need to buy, which can be expensive.

I know some people suggest dumping your soil each year and starting new. I've never done this and had no problems. The soil actually gets richer as the grass and leaves break down and enrich the potting soil. You just need a tiny bit of topping off the following year.

Some annuals can be wintered over inside for even more cost savings. I've been quite successful doing this with geraniums in the front window, but not successful with many other annuals. I'd love to hear others' experiences with annuals indoors.

So as the fall gets chilly, pull out your garden notebook and ask how you're going to make-over your own porch or deck into a magazine cover paradise next spring. Happy gardening!


By eileen from Wisconsin

Filling baskets.

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September 22, 20090 found this helpful

I not only overwinter geraniums in the house, but impatients, begonias, several hanging pots which have small viney orange flowers( not sure of there name). I have success with all , some do drop a few leaves, but overal they do well. I live in WA, ( middle area) and the plants stay healthy until a heavy frost, then I bring them in and my house looks like an over grown green house.



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September 22, 20090 found this helpful


Could you tell me any secrets to this. Other than geraniums, things will live but often get bugs, or slowly perish. In addition, I run into the problem of something just barely making it to spring, but in such sad condition it looks a wee bit pathetic when planted out. Would love to hear any suggestions. Thanks. Eileen

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September 23, 20090 found this helpful

My sister overwintered her potted plants in the garage. She lived in Tn and the winters aren't harsh enough to warrant any protection other than keeping frost from falling on their heads. She was right around 80 when she sold her house and went to an apartment.


She also discovered that a styrofoam cooler full of dirt was lighter in weight and easier to move than a traditional pot. She transported them in the red wagon she bought for her 30 something grandchildren when they were small.

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September 25, 20090 found this helpful

Thanks Marty D for the suggestions. Eileen

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September 26, 20090 found this helpful

The reason you can winter some annuals and not others is for the fact that not all annuals are true annuals. Many annuals are in fact tender perennials grown as annuals in colder zones.
Here is a list of tender perennials grown as annuals:
Geranium (Pelargonium x hortorum)
Scented Geranium (Pelargonium sp.)
African Blue Basil (Ocimum kilimandscharicum x basilicum 'Dark Opal'...the only perennial hybrid basil)
Firecracker Plant (Cuphea ignea)
Bat-faced Cuphea (Cuphea llavea)
Snapdragon (usually survives my zone 6 winters)
Gerbera Daisy
Capsicum (peppers)
Lantana sp.
Dianthus sp.
Salvia sp.

Just a tip on over-wintering bedding Geraniums (Zonal). If you grow many and lack space to winter-over as houseplants then the most common way is to winter over bare-root by digging up and shaking off all dirt. Place root side up in a paper bag with some holes punched in and hang on a nail/hook in a dark dry cool place such as your cellar or unheated basement.

Another way is moving container grown plants that have been cut back into the cellar and let go dormant. Bring back up to sunny spot in spring; may require potting up or planting out in garden when it's time to go back outdoors.
If wintering-over as houseplants you will want to prune now and then to encourage full plants. Usually by end of February, my plants have gotten huge and will even start blooming. At this time I normally remove blooms and cut back one last time and use the clippings for cuttings and root in straight moistened perlite. Allow the cutting ends to heal over a day or two before sticking.

Here's a picture of Bolivian Rainbow Pepper this past March 5th beginning to flower again. These are pretty ornamental and look good planted in the flower garden. This year I am also including 'Black Pearl' pepper to over-winter as well as a few cuttings currently rooting. The leaves on this one are highly ornamental dark burgundy almost black...the more sun the better the deep coloration. Peppers are round and black and grown in clusters. By the way my Habanero peppers were 4 years old this year!

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September 26, 20090 found this helpful

Hi, I was forced to cut back my yearly flower purchasing this year. I also bought mixed flats of annuals & put them in my pots, along with perennials & groundcovers from my garden (which started from billowing out of pots in the first place). In some, I added one or 2 accent plants. I had great looking pots. Yahoo! Thanks for your suggestions.

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February 16, 20150 found this helpful

Thank you so much for these tips. I don't have much of a green thumb and this will be so helpful. I have pretty good luck with growing things in the dirt but have problems growing in pots.

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February 17, 20150 found this helpful

Rather than use rocks or styrofoam peanuts in the bottom of larger containers, use small empty water or soda bottles. This makes the plant much easier to move and the bottles serve the same draining purpose as rocks or peanuts.

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