I have a love/hate relationship with annuals - as much as I love them, I can never keep up with their care. Especially in containers - all that deadheading, feeding and fussing makes me nuts. No matter how hard I try, mine usually look bedraggled by the end of the summer.
I decided to replace my tired looking containers with perennials. Why not? They perform for a longer period of time, require less watering, feeding and deadheading than any annual I ever planted. Unlike annuals, they're always changing - for the better! Foliage colors and textures add interesting touches you can't get with annuals. If you plan it right you can even a sequence of bloom throughout the summer. Plus, I can plant in early May if I want to, avoiding extra work of putting containers together at a time when there are so many other things to do.
But what about flowers? I have them intermittently throughout the summer, but I've learned to make use of foliage, form and texture to create dynamic containers.
Form and Foliage
Just because you don't have lots of flowers doesn't mean that you can't have color. Sedums are just one of many perennials to choose from. They thrive in hot sunny conditions, need little water and many varieties have gray, magenta or variegated foliage that never droops. They flower late, so you'll have blooms in August and September when everything else is finished flowering. The shorter varieties (8-12") work best, the taller ones get too leggy. This one has a mounded shape - definitely a stunner that can take a lead role.
Heuchera's are versatile perennials that perform well in sun or shade. Their delicate flowers don't last long, but who cares? You can't beat them for flashy, dependable foliage. Colors range from mauve and magenta to orange and chartreuse shades. They're good fillers that make containers pop!
Be bold! Hostas have dynamic foliage that can brighten up any shady spot with a range of gray,gold or variegated leaves. Large varieties make good lead plants, smaller ones can be tucked into the side of a container to bump it up.
Fine leafed or wiry perennials add a delicate touch. Short ones, such as this fern or the blue fescue below can be tucked into the side of the pot.
Variegated perennials like lamium add a soft silvery texture to shade containers. This one is a terrific spiller!
Design Tips: Putting them all together
I use 3 -7 perennials per pot, depending on the size of the perennial and the container. It's easier to work with quart size plants rather than gallons, but you can use both together. If you want to economize, I've had very good luck with plugs and 4 inch pots - an excellent way to trial some of those mouthwatering plants you find online.
Perennials To Try:
I coud go on and on about which ones work, but basically you should choose plants that have colorful foliage and interesting texture. Flowers are a bonus.
There are many that are suitable for container plantings, but here's a short list to help get you started.
It's fun to play around with foliage and texture. Don't be afraid to experiment - some of my best combinations have been total accidents! I think the best part of planting perennials is that you can use them again. Instead of heaving plants into the compost at the end of the summer, you can plop them into your perennial beds or winter them over and use them again in next years containers. They grow fast too, so you'll be able to divide them and get two plants for the price of one. Can it get any better than that?
Tips For Reusing Perennials: