Pots with Pizazz

Pots with Pizazz: tips and tricks for successful container plantings

At the beginning of March, I gave a presentation titled Pots with Pizazz at the Whidbey Garden Workshop.  To review my presentation, click on the link above.   Below is the handout from that session.

Size matters

The bigger the pot, the more room for roots and the better the plants will grow.  More moisture reserve.  More root-zone temperature moderation.  Plant more in large pots, plant less in small pots.  Small pots need more frequent watering.  Bigger pots can hold for more than a season – the biggest can go for 3+ years.  General rule of thumb:  you need half the soil volume to produce the plant volume you desire.

Soil matters

Don’t skimp on quality potting soil.  Recharge old soil with manure.  Gently firm soil as you pour it into the pot.  Moisten the soil prior to planting if the soil is straight from the bag.

Drain the swamp

Make sure your container has drainage holes.  Cover with mesh before planting.  It is a myth that adding rocks or pot shards etc. helps increase drainage.  Learn more: http://gardenprofessors.com/container-planting-intuition-vs-reality/

Water is life

Regular water is needed or growth will be stunted.  But overwatering is equally problematic.  Make sure your pot can drain.  If it is in a saucer, put it on feet.  Check moisture with your finger, 1” – 2” down to see if soil is moist or dry.  Avoid hydrogel junk.

Annuals are like teenage boys

They have a huge appetite.  Fertilize!  I mix in a balanced, dry fertilizer into the top 2” of soil when I plant, and then feed with liquid fertilizer throughout the season.  Organic is best.  Slow release pellets are questionable.

Summer is fleeting

Why wait?  Start with big plants, plant densely and enjoy a full display sooner!


Create a conversation between the pot, the planting, and maybe the placement.  Hot or cool, soft or bold.  Contrast or complimentary.  Consider the relationship to home and garden.


Anchor point, foundation.  Center, for all around view, or toward the back if container’s against the wall.  Can be a large annual, for all summer interest, or a woody for year round.


Contrast it.  Big & little neighbors.  What would if feel like if you touched it?  Adds interest, tension.

Leaf color

Instead of just relying on flowers for color, use foliage.  It gives interest in and out of flowering time.


Celebrate life!  Feed the bees & hummers!  Because, pretty.  Use to reinforce your color scheme.



Pinch Me

Deadheading on most flowers is essential to maintain flowering.  Pinch lanky growers to keep them dense.

Change with the seasons

In a larger, mixed planting, you can incorporate elements that last through the year, and change out the seasonal touches.


Leading Ladies & Main Men:

(I’ve included “DR” for Deer Resistant in instances where I personally can attest to this.  If there is no such marking – it may still be deer resistant, but I just don’t have personal experience).

Evergreens with foliage color:

  • ‘Wilma’ Goldcrest Cypress
  • Hinoki Cypress ‘Fernspray Gold’, ‘Verdoni’
  • Azara microphylla straight & ‘Variegata’ (DR)
  • Phormium ‘Sundowner’, ‘Yellow Wave’, ‘Flamingo’ etc. (DR)
  • Berberis ‘Helmond Pillar’ or ‘Orange Rocket’
  • Nandinas (DR)
  • Abelia ‘Kaleidoscope’ (DR)

Plants with contorted/interesting branching:

  • Larix kaempferi ‘Diana’
  • Corylus ‘Red Dragon’ – foliage & contorted branching (DR)
  • Robinia ‘Lace Lady’ – contorted
  • Chamaecyparis ‘Spiralis’
  • Japanese Maples (DR)

Tall ornamental grasses

  • Miscanthus (DR)
  • Panicum

Plants with a strong shape:

  • Boxwood – balls, cones, pillars (DR)
  • Taxus ‘Beanpole’ or Ilex crenata ‘Sky Pencil’
  • Italian Cypress
  • Juniper ‘Skyrocket’ or ‘Wichita Blue’ (DR)


  • “Standard” plants (high grafts), such as tree Roses, Hydrangeas, Fucshias, etc.
  • Globes, cones, etc.

Big tropical-ish things (buy them large!)

  • Cannas
  • Tibuchina
  • Abutilon
  • Bouganville
  • Mandevillia




Fillers, Spillers & Thrillers



  • Abelia ‘Confetti (DR)
  • Hebes (DR)
  • Corokia
  • Heuchera
  • Grasses like Carex testacea, Hakonochloa macra yellows
  • Sedums like ‘Purple Emporer’ and ‘Autumn Joy’
  • Ferns, esp evergreen like Polysticum setiferum and polyblepharum or colorful like Dryopteris ‘Brilliance’ or Athyrium ‘Pictum’, ‘Ghost’, etc. (DR)
  • Bergenia ‘Winterglut’ or ‘Bressingham Ruby’ (DR)
  • Fatsia varieties
  • Erica/Calluna varieties like ‘Firefly’, etc (DR)
  • Hardy Begonia
  • Euphorbia esp ‘Ascot Rainbow’ and ‘Blackbird’ (DR)


  • Coleus
  • Salvia ‘Black and Blue’
  • Nemesia
  • Anchusa
  • Tuberous Begonia




  • Vinca ‘Illumination’
  • Lysimachia nummularia ‘Aurea’
  • Heucherella


  • Plectranthus
  • Million Bells
  • Calibrachoa
  • Supertunia
  • Dichondra ‘Silver Falls’
  • Ipomea
  • Diascia



There’s SO many more plants out there!  This is just a list off the top of my head.  Go out, have fun, keep the basics in mind, and experiment!!


2 thoughts on “Pots with Pizazz

  1. Thanks Tobey. So glad I was able to attend both of your sessions. I came away inspired. Even after many years pursuing my interest in floral design and getting as much information as I can about this “hobby” your sessions offered new information presented in a refreshing format. Thanks so much.

    1. Thanks Judy! That’s about the best compliment I could receive! I’ll hope to see you in some other sustainable floristry sessions to keep you inspired and full of fresh learning! Happy flowering!

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