Container gardens look stunning with variety

  • You can combine different sizes of containers in a group for a beautiful effect.

    You can combine different sizes of containers in a group for a beautiful effect. Courtesy of Chicago Botanic Garden

By Tim Johnson
Chicago Botanic Garden
Posted6/6/2021 7:00 AM

When planting a container with annuals, mix different heights of plants for a layered effect. Try something different from the typical tall plant in the center with a ring of shorter plants. Include plants that will cascade over the edge.

Think of your containers as large, exuberant floral displays when choosing plants. Combine different sizes of containers in each group for a good effect. A simple design of only one variety of annual planted in each container can also be beautiful. Practice integrated pest management in your garden to reduce the need to use pesticides. Begin by choosing the proper plant for your site and using good planting practices, such as amending the soil with compost and planting at the proper depth.


• When possible, select plants that are resistant to common diseases and give them the appropriate care to minimize problems. Monitor all plants on a regular basis for insects and diseases.

If trouble arises, identify the problem and use the least toxic control measure when damage is not tolerable. Timing is also important; apply controls when pests and disease are most susceptible. Never spray just because you see insects, as some of them might be beneficial or harmless. When you use an insecticide, you kill the good insects along with the bad ones.

Look for more pest and disease resistant plants to replace any plants that give have had a pattern of problems in your garden.

• My definition of a weed is a plant that is out of place. A good time to weed is when the soil is moist; the roots come out more easily. It's very important to get weeds out before they go to seed.

A small hand weeder or trowel is helpful. Look for tree seedlings such as buckthorn, mulberry and box elder that tend to establish themselves in hedges and in the base of shrubs. Look closely and they are easy to spot. In areas where it is not practical to dig out the roots of these weed trees, treat the stump with glyphosate promptly after cutting to kill the root system.

• Prune dead wood out of trees and shrubs as needed. The warmer weather will have made it easier to discern what plants or sections of plants were killed by winter and need to be removed. I have been seeing some frost damage on shade trees, such as ginkgos and magnolias, so be sure to give a tree more time to leaf out if in doubt as to whether or not a damaged branch is actually dead or not.

• Tim Johnson is director of horticulture at Chicago Botanic Garden,

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