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by Pernell Gerver

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"Tips for Successful Container Gardening"

Container gardening is a great way to garden, especially for those who have little or no space or time for a garden. Just about any plant can be grown in a container garden. I like to use containers as accents in the garden. Because they’re in containers, the pots can be moved around and placed where color is needed. I also like to group containers of different sizes together for an even better display.

Regardless of the size or shape of the container, the three main design elements in any container garden are upright, mounding, and trailing plants. By combining a plant or two from each category in a container garden, the results will be a beautiful and appealing display that will look good all season long. When it comes to gardening in containers, a full container right away is the desired effect, so don’t be afraid to put in as many plants as possible. You can always come back later as the plants grow and trim back, or remove altogether, if necessary.

Upright plants provide height in a container garden. As a general rule of thumb the tallest plants should be about twice the height of the container. This provides good visual balance to the container garden.

Placement of the upright plants varies, depending on the container. They can be placed in the center of the container and surrounded by mounding and trailing plants or they can be planted towards the back and side of the container with the other plants in front. In a container that is viewed from all sides, the upright plants look best planted in the center. In a container that is viewed from just the front like a windowbox the upright plants should be planted in the back.

Mounding plants are used to fill in the center of a container garden. Not as tall as the upright plants, mounding plants, as their name implies, form an attractive mound of foliage and/or flowers depending on the plant.

There are many different plants with a mounding habit that are good container plants and I like to include at least one in every container I plant. If the container is large enough, I’ll plant several different kinds of mounding plants.

Trailing plants are used in a container to help soften the edge and draw the eye downward. These types of plants have long stems that drape and trail. Many can grow to several feet long or more. Trailing plants are planted right along the edge of the container either in the front in a container that’s viewed from just the front or all around the edge in a container that’s viewed from all sides.


Pernell Gerver's Gardening Q & Aby Pernell Gerver

"Rejuvenate Overgrown Rhododendron with Selective Pruning"

Q. Enjoy your column. I have several rhododendrons. They have long, woody branches with greenery at the end, making an ugly-looking bush. The limbs are mostly on the ground. Is there any way that I can prune these bushes to help them fill out?

A. Rhododendron is a broadleaf, evergreen shrub that is putting on its show of colorful, springtime flowers right now in the landscape. It's a shrub that tends to grow large and often outgrows its spot. There are ways to rejuvenate an already-overgrown rhododendron and ways to keep a small rhododendron compact.

It's possible to make an overgrown rhododendron attain its former shape through pruning. This process is accomplished through several years of selectively removing older branches. In late winter or very early spring, prune away one third of the oldest stems. Do this for two or three more years each winter. Tall stems can also be cut back at this time. Cut tall shoots back to just above a lower side branch. Removing the older stems and reducing the height of the remaining branches encourages new shoots to develop. If the plant is very healthy and growing vigorously, it is possible to cut back all its branches to just above the ground and allow new branches to grow out. It will take a few years for the rhododendron to attain an attractive shape after this drastic pruning and it's possible it won't grow at all if it's not a healthy plant to begin with.

To maintain the shape of a smaller rhododendron and to encourage more flowers, pinch out the tips of the new growth. This should be done immediately after the rhododendron finishes flowering this spring. Remove about an inch of the new growth once it reaches several inches long. Pinching the ends of the stems will force buds along the sides of the branches to grow. Pinching the growing end also increases the number of flower clusters for next year since several new shoots will grow from the pinched end. Don't wait too long to pinch the new growth, however. Rhododendrons form next year's flower buds in midsummer, so any pinching should be done before then. If it's done too late, you'll be removing next year's flowers.

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