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Expert container gardening tips

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With container gardening it's easy to be adventurous even if you have just a few square feet of patio, deck or rooftop.

And because plantings can be changed with the seasons, pots, hanging baskets and window boxes offer endless opportunities for originality.

You can vary container plantings through the season: try spring bulbs and pansies and then move to colorful summer and fall annuals.

Finish off with holly leaves and berries and evergreen boughs. For cold season displays, use frost-proof containers.

When container gardening, tailor your plantings to available light. In low light, use shade-tolerant plants with lush foliage – consider hosta, heuchera (for information on heuchera and other foliage perennials, click here), ivy, coleus and licorice plant (Helichrysum petiolare.
Container gardening basics:
All containers must have holes for adequate drainage. Remember that the scale of the outdoors demands bigger gestures, so plant up the largest pots you can afford.

One large container is better than
five small ones. Feature three large plants per pot and then add filler plants to fill in. Try to plant in odd numbers for a more pleasing arrangement.

Plants in containers won't thrive if
you don't fertilize. If you find this job too time-consuming, there's an easy
way to do it: just mix slow-release fertilizer pellets into top layer of potting soil. As you water throughout the season, controlled amounts of fertilizer are released each time.

More container gardening tips:

* When grouping containers, they don't all have to be the same shape or contain the same plants, but there should be one element that ties the picture together, such as a particularly distinctive plant repeated in each pot, or having all the pots of the same material.

* Try not to mix styles in the same grouping of pots. Terra cotta tends to be casual, while stone and cast iron are formal, so keep these container types separate, perhaps a pair of formal stone urns at the front door and a casual grouping in clay on the back patio.

* Think foliage as well as flowers. Time-tested foliage combinations are larger leaves set against filigreed foliage.

* Try using perennials in containers. Hostas, hens and chicks (Sempervivum species) or small standard roses add an air of sophistication to containers. In fall, remove from containers and plant into a flowerbed.

* Empty pots that aren't frost-proof of their contents, including potting mix, and store in a dry place such as a garage, garden shed or basement.

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