Container garden challenges

We all have them, those pesky spots where our container gardens just don’t do well—deep shade in the corner of a balcony, an entrance that gets direct sunlight all day or, if you’re like me, an area on your deck where slugs decimate every bit of foliage that grows nearby. Don’t despair, there are solutions to most difficult growing container garden challenges that will have your plants flourishing with a gorgeous display and will add that spectacular touch to your balcony, landscape or patio. Here are solutions to three of the most challenging growing conditions for container gardens.

Challenge #1 : Shade

Hosta in planter This is one of the easiest challenges to overcome. There are many container plants available that are ideal for light to moderate shade conditions. Easy to grow hostas are the first recommendation. While no hosta will thrive in deep shade conditions, they do come in many varieties with a range of light requirements. Blue hostas require the most protection from the sun You can create a beautiful, full foliage display by combining  two or three hostas. Try different combinations of the following hostas: ‘June’, ‘Patriot’,  ‘Earth Angel’, Hosta ‘Sum and Substance’, and ‘Stained Glass’. For a really spectacular display in a large container, choose one of the giant hosta varieties such as ‘Empress Wu’, ‘Blue Angel’ or ‘Beckoning’. Another favourite for light to moderate shady areas is Heuchera which comes in a wide range of foliage colours. Like the hosta, Heuchera’s glory is in the foliage rather than flower. Try Heuchera ‘Sparkling Burgundy‘.

Planter recommendation: Choose brightly colored planters to brighten up shady spots.


Challenge #2 :  Constant Full Sun

Canna PicassoConstant full sun is a common problem for people who live on the south side of condo buildings. Planters on these balconies just can’t escape the sun from sunrise to sunset. This calls for the hard-to-kill category of container plants that can withstand extreme conditions and still provide the flowery display you want to enjoy. The mainstay for containers Calibrachoa, or Million Bells. This plant has seen a huge expansion in available colors in recent years and produces prolific blossoms throughout the summer. A bonus is their attraction for hummingbirds and butterflies. Add Verbena, Osteospermum, Browallia and Pentas, to the all-star sun-loving list. For something tall and dramatic in the sun go for a Canna Lily or Ornamental Millet in a large, well-drained planter. And don’t forget the old standbys such as Geraniums, Shasta Daisy and Petunia to fill out your planting.

Planter recommendation: Let the flower colors sparkle in the sun and use containers made of natural materials like terracotta or wood, resin pots with natural-look finishes, or foliage green colors that don’t compete with the flower colors. Avoid metal planters as they can get too hot in full sun resulting in over-heated plant roots and dry soil.


Challenge #3 : Dreaded slugs

Festuca in planterSlugs are at their most annoying when they strip away all of the new growth on foliage plants. If you’re in a coastal area that slugs favor, you can deter them from taking up residence in your container garden by careful selection of plants. Slugs will avoid any plants that are tough, hairy and bitter. Then there are plants with hairy, glossy or waxy leaves, which prevent their tongues from scraping away the surface. Also unpopular are plants with pungent-smelling foliage such as lavender. While no plant is a 100% deterrent, the following have features that provide some resistance to the pesky, slimy chompers: Aquilegia, Astilbe, Begonia, Euphorbia, Grasses, Hydrangea, Pelargonium and Sedum. Also, try to water in the morning and keep leafy debris carefully cleaned out of planters. If all else fails, bring in some frogs and toads to provide slug population control!

Planter recommendation: While no planter provides absolute protection, I have found wood and terracotta planters seem especially inviting. As these are my two favorite types, I am just resigned to planting many ‘unappealing’ plants and being on constant slug patrol through  the spring and summer seasons!