Lack of ground space doesn't have to mean lack of blooming color in your life. Container gardening offers creative ways to put flowers almost anywhere - on patios, at entrances, hung from rafters, set on decks, perched on balconies.
Container gardening not only saves space but offers flexibility. You can put color where you want it - and move it as the spirit moves you. Place containers in sunny locations where they grow best, and then move them to your shady porch or picnic table for a party or special occasion. You can choose shade-loving plants that will do well on your porch or patio all season.Flowers can fit in many ways. Window boxes do double duty, decorating your home from the inside out. Hanging baskets can be out of the way, yet still in view.
Try mixed plantings of compatible flowers - or a "salad bowl" of lettuce, tomatoes, peppers or herbs. Flowers can dress up vegetable containers for practical, pretty plantings. Herbs such as green and purple ruffles basil are also ornamental, either combined with flowers or on their own.
Don't limit yourself to traditional flower pots and planters. Anything that will hold planting mix and provide drainage can work. Try clay pipes set on end, an old wheelbarrow, a wicker chair, the kids' plastic wading pool, chicken wire forms lined with sphagnum moss or even a bag of potting soil with slits cut for the plants.
Compact, long-blooming varieties are best for container gardens. Geraniums, impatiens, vinca and petunias are easy-to-grow favorites. Popular trailing varieties for hanging baskets include lantanas, lobelias and nasturtiums. Coleus plants provide color by foliage, not blooms.
One-color, one-variety planters can make a dramatic showing even from a distance. For up-close interest, mix and match your favorite flowers with filler material such as tiny-flowered alyssum, asparagus fern - or foliage plants such as spiky dracaena.
Plant tall flowers in the center of a container that will be viewed from all sides or in the rear of one that will be seen only from one side. New Guinea impatiens have striking foliage as well as colorful flowers. Use shorter plants in the middle and low-trailing varieties at the edge.
When decorating a porch or patio for evening entertaining, remember that white and pastels show up best after the sun sets. White alyssum, geraniums, impatiens or petunias brighten dark areas by reflecting available light.
Most flowering annuals prefer a sunny location. Short growing marigolds or zinnias will do well in that full sun area. Portulaca gives a trailing effect in summer heat. If you're decorating a shaded spot, try impatiens, begonias, coleus, browallia, fuchsia or torenia.
Keep these tips in mind for successful container gardening:
1. Drainage is a basic requirement. Be sure the drainage holes aren't restricted when the container is on the deck. Drill them on the sides a half-inch from the bottom. Non-attractive pots might be set inside a larger, decorative container. That outside container, if you place gravel in the bottom to catch the water, doesn't require drainage holes.
2. Use a planting medium without soil. Garden soil is too heavy and poorly drained for containers. It can also harbor insects and diseases. Prepared soil-less mixes are available. You can mix your own with equal parts of peat moss or shredded bark, perlite and vermiculite.
3. Water before planting. Fill the container to within a half-inch of the top and water thoroughly. Place plants closer than you would in the ground to create showier effect.
4. Check water needs daily. Since space is limited, containers dry out faster than flower beds. This is particularly true of clay pots, hanging baskets, plants in full sun and small containers. Large containers, 12 inches or more in diameter, will stay moist longer.
5. Fertilize lightly but frequently. Use a water-soluble plant food according to package directions. Make sure it is well diluted or it may "burn" plants. Specially formulated slow-release fertilizer such as Osmocote will last several weeks with on application at planting time.
6. Turn planters if necessary. If light strikes your container garden unevenly, you may need to turn it for balanced growth.
When you gear up for gardening this season _ don't stop at ground level. Combine containers with a little imagination to make your space bloom from patio to balcony and beyond.