dishin' the DIRT on hit and myth landscaping

Archive for the category “container plants”

Poinsettia Pointers & Other Plants to Ring in the New Year

The only care-free poinsettia is a fake one.

The only care-free poinsettia is a fake one, remaining perky even in snow. Or in the attic.

If you’re like me, it’s tough passing up after-Christmas bargains. And since my drug of choice is plants, a trip to the nursery the 1st week of January means I’ll extend the season with HUGE, beautiful poinsettias for less than $5 each. I look at this as a quick high, a temporary fix, though. You CAN get a return bloom next year, if you are willing to put in the effort. For 5 bucks, I’m not. In case you’re on JEOPARDY, by the way, what we call the blooms  are actually brightly colored leaves – or “bracts” – with the actual flower the tiny middle part. Feel free to share the prize money. It should get me a few more poinsettias for next year.

Kolanchoes have a long bloom period, come in several colors, and thrive indoors if given lots of light.

Kolanchoes (Kalanchoe blossfeldiana)

have a long bloom period, come in several colors, and thrive indoors if given lots of light.

Want an alternate, repeat-blooming Christmas-y flower without the hassle? Try kolanchoe. No. It doesn’t double as a breakfast food. You’re thinking ko-LA-che. Don’t eat these. Like poinsettias and many other houseplants, kolanchoes are POISONOUS to people and pets if ingested. (Here’s a list with more poisonous houseplants for you.) Kolanchoes not only make great houseplants, they can be planted in the ground for almost year-round color in warmer climates.

Christmas cactus – Schlumbergera bridesii – may be an old-fashioned, hand-me-down plant, but it continues to be one of my favorites for its dependability in low light conditions. My original plant came from Dad 15+ years ago and I’m pretty sure his was a cutting from someone else. It always amazes me when the buds start to pop out of nowhere around the 2nd week of December. I’ve divided mine now and am sharing pieces with friends, too, which is one of my favorite parts of gardening. And yes, having indoor plants is still gardening!

This year I surprised several special people in my life with red amaryllis bulbs for Christmas. My friend (and my co-author on HEIRLOOM BULBS FOR TODAY) Chris Wiesinger at The Southern Bulb Company offers them in a ready-to-give package. You can find a number of incredible bulbs to force for the holidays from Chris and Rebecca, in fact. Then after the blooms are done, plant them in your garden, if you live in a temperate locale like I do.

Do you have a favorite Christmas plant that’s easy to take care for? Not counting the silk poinsettias in your attic, of course.



River stones make a long-lasting mulch that won't wash away in a down-pour.

River stones make a long-lasting mulch that won’t wash away in a down-pour.

A clean slate. Or a muddy one, anyway.

A clean slate. Or a muddy one, anyway.






This week I’ve been working with my friend Cindy Huey on the area in my front yard near the entrance. When we moved to this house a few months ago, there were two huge sago palms (which are highly toxic, by the way) and 20 shrubs in an area barely large enough to support one of the sagos. The planting was original to the house and, as usual, the builders weren’t thinking past selling the house. That’s reasonable for them, but awful for the buyers. Or for the NEXT buyers, 12 years later. Although the previous owners did a great job on maintenance, everything was planted only inches from the sidewalk. Keeping the dwarf bottlebrush and boxwoods from attacking visitors must have been a constant chore and certainly a battle I chose NOT to fight. I transplanted the bottlebrush to the side yard and gave away the boxwoods, which are not a good plant choice for our area anyway.

Since I’m a professional landscape designer, you might wonder why I might need another landscape professional to help me at my house. It’s more fun and more productive to have an outsider’s view: more fun because Cindy’s enthusiasm over plants makes working with her a blast; more productive because it’s hard to make decisions when it’s YOUR STUFF. As a plant freak myself, I know how many options I have, so how can I possibly choose just a few? Thought some of you might have this dilemma, too, so I’ll share criteria for picking just the right plants for my entry garden.

1) Does it fit? Choose plants that will not overwhelm and overtake the space when full-grown. Yes, a one-gallon shrub looks Lilliputian next to a house, but it will grow. It’s pretty important that visitors can physically enter the entry.

Native to my area, Gulf muhly grass (Muhlenbergia capillaris) creates interest all year.

Native to my area, Gulf muhly grass (Muhlenbergia capillaris) creates interest all year.

2) Does it fit? No, I’m not repeating myself. Well, I am, but I’m talking about a different kind of fit here. While the sago palms went well with the stucco of my home if I wanted a Gulf Coast vibe, my style is more California Spanish. I’ve also replaced water guzzlers for water savers, planting native and well-adapted succulents, perennials, and soft grasses and installing a Mexican beach pebble mulch. This allowed me to cap some of the irrigation. If we experience a repeat of the last 3 years’ water rationing, we’ll be ready with plants that love the heat and humidity, but don’t mind drying out periodically.

3) Does it look good? All the TIME? I enjoy putting out annuals for seasonal color. Since we don’t have a lot of big seasonal changes in South-east Texas, annual color lets me fake-it-till-it-makes-it. While we have tons of great warm season perennials and some plants that will bloom year-round in years we have no freezing weather, I enjoy my mums in fall, johnny-jump-ups in winter, daffodils for spring. Yes, all of these will probably make it all year, but I don’t want to let them go into the off-season on my time, making brown yuk the highlight of my landscape. Color pots are the answer for my front entry. By putting evergreens as the base planting, I can pop a pot into the scene and WHOLLA! seasonal interest! It also allows me to shift the pot of gross looking but still living plants to a side area and bring out the new seasonal container. (See how I do it HERE.)

Follow these 3 rules for the entry and your plant pallet dwindles down to a manageable decision. Now the backyard is a different subject all together, ’cause RULES? We don’t need no stinkin’ RULES! We’ll head to the backyard soon, so stay tuned.

Instead of filling a tall pot with soil, elevate a smaller one inside with bricks.

Instead of filling a tall pot with soil, elevate a smaller one inside with bricks.

Planting seeds straight into the ground

Lately, I’ve gotten several questions about the best way to start seeds in the ground, also called straight sown seeds. (Of course, I don’t DO straight lines, so that is a bit of an oxymoron at my house…..)  I don’t know that my way is the BEST, but it works well for me.  I’m open to suggestions – and welcome royalties from a patent partnership –  if you’ve found one that’s better.

Bottomless, this pot-o-basil is not what it appears.

HIT: starting your own plants from seed is inexpensive and EASY if you protect the seedlings!

First off, be sure you’re planting the seeds at the proper depth. If they’re from a packet, it should tell you how deep to put them in; as a general rule, seeds and bulbs require planting between double – and – triple their height. (Here’s my friend WILLIAM MOSS with Patti Moreno showing you how it’s done with veggies.) If you’ve planted them properly, you’ll start seeing green several days or weeks – or even months – before they are established well-enough to become actual rooted plants. During that time, the underworks are branching out to support the upperworks, making it vital you baby those fragile seedlings. I find the main protection my new seedlings need are actually from ME, though. Forgetting I’ve put seeds down, I mulch over that bare spot. Or I can’t remember what I put there because the tag is missing.  Sometimes a heavy downpour is the culprit and my seeds end up down the street.

We even have a neighborhood pooch whose owner allows him too much roaming space and he did in some cassia seeds with a well placed dump.  Yes, it is organic, but come on!

I used to stack rocks, cairn-like, stick a flag in it with the plant name, and cross my fingers as I walked away.  Either the flag, the rocks, or both ended up missing.

All you need to be a seed superstar is a plastic planting pot, scissors and a marker!

Now I hold on to all those small pots when I buy plants at the nursery and recycle them into seed starting studs.  I use a few the traditional way, but what works even better is making them into a TEXAS-STYLE SEEDLING CORRAL. I cut the bottom out, turn ’em upside down, and write down the plant’s name and the date I planted it with a silver marker.  Then I bury it partially into the ground, up and over the “lip” that used to be the top of the pot. Then I add a bit of potting soil and push the seeds into place.  I’m always looking for activities to lure in kids to gardening and think this might be a great one for little ones to try.  (As a bonus, this method allows me to know exactly where I need to mist when it dries out, and it holds in the water for longer.  And this isn’t proven, but it seems the black color of the pot absorbs the day’s heat and gets my seedlings going faster in early spring.)

Cut the bottom 1/4 off the small plastic plant pot and turn it on its head for a plant perimeter/marker.

Ignore the label on this one….it’s actually G. aestivalis winklerii ‘Grape Sensation,’ not ‘Purple Passion.’ But I wouldn’t know WHAT or WHERE it was without its seedling corral, would I?









You might want to cut the perimeter away once the seedlings are up….

or just leave it in place so you remember those bulbs are there even when they aren’t in bloom.

WARNING: if a varmint wants those seeds, even an armed guard can’t stop ’em!  Need proof?

Here’s who came to dinner at my house last week.  Yes, those are carefully dried/saved/planted hibiscus seeds this little guy decided to grab in the run-through at Casa Colburn-a!

Container Gardening = Endless POTS-abilities

It can be overwhelming to start a project, can’t it.  There are just WAY too many possibilities.  But section it out, come up with a theme, and most of the choices are made for you.  If you haven’t started landscaping because you don’t know where to begin, how about putting it into perspective?  Bite off a small portion by beginning with a pot.  Not just any predictable pot, mind you.  Go with a theme, either based on the style of your environment or make an environment with your theme.  Clear as mud?

Fern urn or fern gully....your choice if you like shady characters!

In a couple of weeks, I’ll head to Little Rock to speak at the annual Arkansas Literary Festival.  I’ve been paired with one of the city’s own landscaping legends – author and owner of Botanica Gardens Chris Olsen – to show folks the easy way to DIG A LITTLE DEEPER into gardening.  Chris and I will put together some of our favorite plant combos for a little hands-on show-how for gardens anyone can make just about anywhere.  Whether it’s whimsy or wow you want,  a few simple tools and secret ingredients are all you need to create a barrel – or BUCKET – of fun.


HIT:sprinkle a few "watering crystals" into your potting soil to HALF the number of times you have to water your pots!

Soil: Scooping up a few handfuls of plain ‘ol dirt from your landscape just won’t cut it.  Why? Mainly because it lacks the ability to drain well, retain moisture and give off nutrients to your new plants.  A good potting soil will keep you steady on the tightrope between too much water and not enough. Don’t forget to feed it appropriately, too.  You wouldn’t give your baby dog food….although my nephew thought dog treats were cookies for some time!

Duel purpose, this container also holds rainwater runoff to irrigate the nearby veggie garden.

Container: Although it might hold plants just fine, your “pot” – in whatever form it comes – will probably need a few tweeks to make it a proper container for healthy plants.  Make sure there are holes of some sort for excess water to drain, or a “false bottom” allowing drainage to go somewhere else besides the root area.  Very few plants like wet feet. Or you can do what I do…put a smaller pot  within a larger, ornamental pot.

Instead of soil, I top the cinder blocks and brick pieces in this ornamental container with a FREE plastic pot from the nursery, insuring good drainage and easy change-ups!

And speaking of larger, teeny tiny pots = LOTS of trips with a watering can, so use the largest container possible to enable enough soil and water to be maintained around the roots of your plants.

Now that you have pot parameters, have some fun. Here are a few ideas you can borrow to explore the POTS-abilities for your landscape…….and I bet you’ll have a hard time containing yourself!

  • JUST EAT IT! – no disrespect to Michael Jackson or Weird Al for his parody of Michael’s song, but this is an edible pot you just can’t BEAT; fill with lots of lettuce, garlic, onions and peppers for a salsa pot, or Italian herbs and tomatoes for a pizza pot
  • MARGARITAVILLE  – combine some of your favorite adult beverage ingredients
  • LEMONADE STAND – citrus won’t grow in your clime? put it in a moveable pot for a moveable feast (bring this inside for harsh winter protection)
  • This FAIRYLAND CASTLE pot I found at Blue Moon Gardens in Edom, TX.

  • FAIRYLAND  –  a great one for little girls, or little girls at heart
  • JURASSIC POT – plants that are as old as dinosaurs
  • FERN GULLY – shady lovers
  • CLIMBING TO NEW HEIGHTS – rebar, wire coat hangers, just about anything that can be bent to your will gives vines a chance to grow
  • FOR THE BIRDS – berries and seeds and nesting, oh my!
  • WINGED WONDERS – hummingbird and/or butterfly plants bring beauty to your balcony or patio
  • LIGHT IT UP – pair flower bulbs with light bulbs for a night-time knock-out
  • EVERYTHING’S COMING UP ROSES – roses come in all shapes and sizes and most don’t mind be contained, so spill ’em and stake ’em and everything in between
  • SEASONAL WISDOM – change out a couple of props, or do a make-over for each month’s special day
  • CUT IT OUT – enjoy having cut flowers in your kitchen all the time? grow your own!

    Cut flowers from my yard in a vase my daughter made. LOVE monochromatic pairings!

  • PRETTY IN PINK – monochromatic is NOT monotony (one of my favorite themes)
  • UP AGAINST THE WALL – got a boring vertical space with no room below to garden? put a climber in a pot and give it something to hold on to then watch it go!
  • LIVING IN A GOLDFISH BOWL- fish for compliments with watery delights in an old goldfish bowl or make it into a terrarium
  • REBOOT – repurpose your favorite worn-out boots
  • MINT TO DO THAT – plant your favorite add-on for iced tea within arm’s reach of your kitchen sink
  • SWEET DREAMS – gather a few night-blooming plants for a dreamy combo

Now that I’ve stirred the pot, bet you come up with something even better.  Love to see what POTS-abilities you discover!

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