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Shifting the garden into containers

May 23, 2016

WICHITA, Kan. — When Sharon Pedroja and her husband, Bob, moved to a patio home last year, the master gardener left behind a house in Crown Heights where she’d gardened for 43 years for a simpler setup.

She didn’t realize when they picked out their new house that the front faced north — "the first time I’ve ever faced north in my life" — so that meant more shade. And the soil in the east-side yard turned out to be yellow clay. Pedroja had wanted to switch to lower-maintenance plants anyway, so she’s forged ahead into containers for portable, easy-care gardening.

And she’s not just going with annuals, the usual ingredients in pots. She’s putting a lot of perennials in them and simply leaving them outside over the winter. Most of them have popped back fresh this spring.

Pedroja had plenty of perennials in the ground at her old house that needed dividing anyway, so she brought divisions with her to plant in pots. Fall-blooming sedums were dug up out of the ground and put in hanging hay racks, for example.

"It’s an opportunity to start over," Pedroja says. "I’m doing less annuals and more perennials and thinking about what makes it simpler in the long run without losing the appearance you want to have. It’s been fun. It’s kind of invigorating after being in the same place for 43 years."

EASY-CARE BASKETS FOR SUN AND SHADE

Pedroja uses hanging baskets to frame a door or add a pop of color even in midair — hanging from a hook attached to the deck. The hanging baskets often hold annuals.

Even there, Pedroja tries to get easy-care ones that have a lot of pop, such as Vista Bubblegum supertunia petunias. She puts them in both hanging baskets and in the ground. "They’re ever-blooming."

For hanging baskets that don’t need much water, try rose moss.

She’s having to do her front hanging baskets differently because they’ll be in the shade.

"I’m thinking I’ll use some pretty coleus varieties and a begonia or two. They’ll be able to take the shade and still be bright."

PERENNIALS IN POTS

In a tall, narrow, red pot alongside the garage, she has placed mandevilla and sticks of redtwig dogwood, which is such a forgiving plant that it is sprouting leaves on its cut branches stuck in the pot.

Three of her clematis pots "are spectacular. And one is loaded with buds. I really like having them in pots. Some have been in there three or four years, and they’re just terrific."

She always puts pots on the stairs leading up to the front door, and this year, she had decided to do hostas. But then she decided she needed some height, too, so "I put Solomon’s seal in a pot. … I saw them at Hong’s — they have a lot of Solomon’s seal in pots. … Architecturally, it was just really attractive. Hostas tend to be pretty low, and I thought that would give me something upright on the steps."

While she’s had success with hostas and clematis in pots, she’s branching out this year with these individual plants and combinations:

— Coreopsis plus helenium for flowers that bloom into autumn

— Azalea

— Invasive red-stemmed penstemon, a bright pink dianthus and a scabiosa with variegated foliage and dark pink blooms

— Asters to attract more butterflies, in addition to a potted butterfly bush

— Gaura

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PERENNIALS IN POTS OVER THE WINTER

"Hen and chickens made it through the winter. A huge hosta made it through the winter, bless its heart. I tend to do things that don’t take a lot of maintenance," said master gardener Sharon Pedroja.

Over winter, "I don’t do a thing to them. I just leave them out. I try to put a little leaf mulch on them, but I didn’t. Even in the really bad winters, maybe it’s like five years for some of these clematis."

For best certainty of getting a plant through the winter in a pot, choose those that are hardy two zones colder than your location. Pedroja intends to press her luck with others that like it warmer; if they die, she’ll replace them with something else.

BENEFITS OF CONTAINER GARDENING

You can move them around. When one plant wasn’t getting enough sun, Pedroja simply moved the pot.

You can corral plants that otherwise are invasive if planted in the ground.

You can put a pop of color wherever you want — even if that’s midair — by putting hanging baskets on hooks attached to decks or stuck into flower beds or hanging from trees.

When hail threatens, you can move the pots indoors. You can also try covering plants in the ground with buckets, empty pots or outdoor furniture — whatever’s at hand.

TIP FOR A WIDE GARAGE

While Sharon Pedroja’s last house was a cottage and provided a natural backdrop to a cottage garden, her new, modern house is rather dominated by the garage. Her first year in the house, she flanked the garage with large urns, until she got a tip from Shawnee County extension agent Jamie Kidd about wide garages: Put the color where you want the eye to go; don’t balance the two sides of the garage. It’s like looking at a television set.

"Make your garage door plain; paint your front door red," Kidd gives as an example. Use dull greens around the garage so you don’t draw attention to it, she says.

Pedroja is putting the bulk of her color to the side of the garage that’s toward the front door, so people look there rather than at the garage.

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Associated Press