By Tim Johnson
Think of your containers as large, exuberant floral displays when choosing plants.
Mix plants of different heights for a layered effect.
Try something different than the typical tall plant in the center with a ring of shorter plants; include plants that will cascade over the edge.
Combine different sizes of containers in each group for a good effect.
A simple design of only one variety of annual planted in each of several containers can also be beautiful.
Pinch fall-blooming plants such as chrysanthemums and hardy asters now to control their size and increase their flower production.
Pinching will encourage side branching so the plants are bushier and stockier.
It is best to make the first pinch when the plants reach 6 to 8 inches in height by removing about 1 inch from the tip of each shoot.
This year, because of the early spring, likely your plants will have grown more, so you may have to pinch off more.
When the resulting lateral branches reach 6 inches, pinch them as well.
These plants should not be pinched later than July 4 in the Chicago area. Flower buds are being formed in July and late pinching can delay or prevent flowering.
An espalier is a woody plant such as a shrub or fruit tree that has been trained so it will grow flat against a wall or in a flat plane.
Espaliered plants are used for softening large blank spaces on walls or fences.
To train espaliers, bend twigs and branches to meet design requirements when they are still young and supple.
Carefully tie the branches in place with raffia or plastic tape.
The ties should be secured loosely so the flow of water and nutrients through the stem is not constricted.
Make adjustments to ties during the remainder of the growing season as necessary.
• Tim Johnson is director of horticulture at Chicago Botanic Garden, chicagobotanic.org.