Marianne Binetti

How to have colorful plants year-round with just a little work

The flat panicles of sedum “Autumn Joy” can add to the look of an autumn harvest to your porch pots.
The flat panicles of sedum “Autumn Joy” can add to the look of an autumn harvest to your porch pots. THE NEWS TRIBUNE

Summer flowers might be fading but that doesn’t mean your container gardens need to end their colorful welcome on your porch or patio.

An easy way to quickly fill the space that “past their prime” petunias and other annuals once filled is to use your pruning shears and harvest some of the foliage, flowers and berries from your landscape to poke into the pots for a winter display.

The rounded heads of hydrangeas with leather-like petals will last for weeks when cut stems are placed into moist soil (the cut branches might even root) and shiny evergreen foliage from laurels, holly and nandinas will last for months.

The flat panicles of sedum “Autumn Joy” as well as branches with berries can add to the look of an autumn harvest to your porch pots. Mini pumpkins and squash can help fill in any open space and hide the bare soil.

But what if you want to replant large porch and patio pots for year long color?

First thoroughly mix and loosen the soil if you are reusing potting soil that once held other plants. Check to be sure old roots have not blocked the drainage hole as poor drainage causes winter misery for any potted plant. Next pick plants that will thrive for years in the same container and look good 12 months of the year.

Here is a classic planting recipe for a pot with year-round color:

This plan uses the rule of three to create an interesting mix – three sizes, shapes and textures of plants that look good in the winter using a thriller, filler and spiller growth form.

One dwarf evergreen shrub – dwarf boxwood or ilex “Sky Pencil” (the thriller or focal point plant.)

Three heuchera plants with colorful leaves — Heuchera “Blondie” or “Frost” are two varieties with a more compact size but any of the heucheras do well in pots. (The filler or medium-size plants to circle or frame the focal point shrub.)

Three to five lamiums or ajuga ground cover plants to spill over the edge of the container. Look for the golden-leaved lamium “Aurea” or the dark foliage of ajuga “Chocoate Chip” or ajuga “Black Scallop” or use a combination of all three. (These are the spillers or trailing plants to use around the edge of the pot.)

The basic recipe above is just the starting point or background planting. You can add crocus, snowdrop or mini daffodil bulbs when planting your containers for a surprise pop of color in the spring, and when summer arrives shove in some compact annual plants such as the mini petunias amidst the evergreens for more seasonal color.

Shrubs, perennials and ground covers growing in container will need to be set free after a few years of containment.

You can easily let them lose in your own landscape once the roots fill up the entire pot. Then replant your pots with another planting plan for year-round color.