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Geraniums add thrill to mixed containers
By Norman Winter
Central Mississippi Research & Extension Center
Everyone is pulling cool-season annuals from mixed containers and looking for plants to make a dramatic, warm-season impact. I am seeing a revival of geranium use in containers and in much more creative combinations than I had ever considered.
One mixed planter I recently saw captured my fancy. It had Persian Shield (Strobilanthes dyeranus), Ringo 2000 Lavender geranium and Magalena Carpet Midnight Blue verbena. The verbena really was a color that looked like deep, dark violet and the lavender on the geranium was light and pastel. The combination really had everything from the standpoint of color and texture. It was sure to offer weeks of thrilling effects.
Those geraniums that we might call “exotic” because of their exotic leaf colors and patterns also offer incredible partnership opportunities. Your first thought may be of the flower color, but consider the geranium known as Tricolor. This geranium has cream, green and a unique violet or purple zonal pattern. One combination I recently had the opportunity to photograph used the Rapunzel Violet verbena to play off the pattern in the geranium. The container also had Bombay Pink verbena and Calypso Jumbo White bacopa.
Then there are geraniums that have exotic flowers that resemble small butterflies in flight. The Graffiti series is one such group. These flowers are breathtakingly beautiful and offer the opportunity for partnerships based not only on their color, but also on their unique texture or shape.
One such mixed planter I have come across had the Graffiti Salmon rose as the thriller plant. It definitely did thrill, as the flowers almost seemed to glow iridescently in the rose, with hints of salmon. The Callie Mango calibrachoa spilled over the edge of the container, while Calypso Jumbo White bacopa played the foil (so to speak) as a filler plant.
With Memorial Day just around the corner, we also have the opportunity to kick off the summer with red, white and blue, using geraniums. Try a mixed planting of red geraniums, blue petunias and white flowers like bacopa, lobelia or Diamond Frost euphorbia. You can have a container that will be patriotic from Memorial Day through the Fourth of July.
Part of the appeal of these mixed containers is that they allow those of us with cement-like soil to grow beautiful geraniums with ease. There are hardly any rules to container gardening, but good drainage is of paramount importance.
The container must drain freely. This means you must drill a hole if you are buying one of the Old World-like pots that look like they weigh 75 pounds instead of the few ounces they really are. Use a piece of old pantyhose or screen to cover the hole.
The next critical element of a successful container is the potting mix. Remember, cheaper is almost never better. Look at the premium brands sold by the cubic foot or yard. Even though they are larger, they are lighter and easier to pick up. Many of the premium brands that are light and airy also have controlled-release fertilizer added, which helps get the plants off to a good start.
Planting in containers is much the same as planting in the landscape. Plant the geraniums and companion plants with the top of the root ball even with the soil line. Place large plants in first, then place smaller plants around the perimeter and in pockets.
Keep the plants well watered as they get established, keeping in mind that containers dry out faster than flowerbeds. To keep plants well fed and blooming, use a time-released, granular fertilizer, or water with a diluted liquid fertilizer. Geraniums are heavy feeders, so pay attention.
See what wonderful mixed containers you can create this weekend using the old-fashioned favorite, the geranium. You'll be surprised just how beautiful they have become.