My parents were both Depression babies. I think that’s the reason why, whenever I was tempted to purchase something new, my mom would say, “Use what you have, Lucy.” Mom was practical, not necessarily frugal (my dad laid claim to that trait), and she taught me to make use of what’s available.
I hear her voice when I’m outside in my garden, thinking up ways to pretty up the landscape and how I can find everything I need, brand new, at the Garden Center.
And then I hear “Use what you have, Lucy.” And look around to see what I do, indeed, have.
This spring, with Mom’s advice in mind, I got out the spray paint and buffed up some old containers and filled them with annuals for a corner of my yard. I coated the old resin faux Adirondack chairs with glossy black now that the Espresso brown paint faded. (Note to self: Spray paint coats last two years unprotected in Georgia weather.)
How to Fill Large Flower Pots
I save on potting soil by filling large pots halfway with empty nursery pots. I’m growing annuals in the container, so the planting only needs to last a season. Plus, I’m close by to keep the pots watered when the summer temps soar.
I place a barrier of cardboard over the nursery pots to keep the soil from spilling into the containers. I poked a few holes, so it’s unlikely that the plants’ roots will rot from too much water.
For my potting mix, I combined equal parts garden soil (sorry, soil bag is under the compost bag) and compost. Amending with compost lightens soil, improves drainage, and gives nutrients to plants.
I added a couple cupfuls of earthworm castings to the mixture. Vermicompost improves soil structure like regular compost and fertilizes plants. It also helps plants resist disease and pests. It’s my new go-to in the garden.
Tools for Planting Flower Pots
When it’s time to move soil from wheelbarrow to planter, I use these tools. The Ames soil scoop (above on the right) is a handy tool for transferring soil. You get a decent amount of control, as with a trowel, but more capacity.
My new favorite soil scoop is on the left, the Tidy Pots soil scoop (not an affiliate link). I know it’s just a piece of plastic that could probably be cut from a gallon milk jug, but it’s pretty handy for scooping up large quantities of soil for pots and other applications. And it’s just $5 (I know, a splurge). I use it with my Soil3 to get the right amount of soil to the right place.
How to Plant Caladiums in Flower Pots
I love caladiums. Their happy colors and spade-shaped leaves put on a show all summer long and seem to tolerate Georgia’s famous heat and humidity, as long as I give them enough shade.
Unfortunately, the caladium industry took a big hit in 2022 when Hurricane Ian churned through central Florida. The U.S. caladium industry is primarily in Lake Placid, Florida. Years of drought followed by hurricane damage accounted for 80 percent loss in the season’s bulbs. That’s why inexpensive, easy-to-grow bags of caladium bulbs (really, tubers) are not to be found this year.
In the Garden Center, it was cheaper to purchase a big container that I could split, versus buying individual plants. I bought a big container of caladiums and decided to split the pot between the two pots I’m planting. The finished pot will start out looking a little puny, but when the summer heat turns on, the caladiums will rebound and fill in.
Split Caladiums Before Planting
I use another favorite garden tool, the all-in-one planter, for dividing tender plants. The serrated edge helps pull apart tender roots. It’s similar to a hori-hori knife. (This one’s an Ames 7-in-1 planter. Again, not an affiliate link).
It’s not only the year of “use what you have,” it’s also a year for buying less and waiting for the plants to fill in, which they inevitably do. Annuals are bred for abundance. In my experience, give them what they need: good soil, the right amount of sunlight, and the right amount of water, and they’ll be fine. Georgia’s heat and humidity will take care of the rest.
I filled the containers with Proven Winners’ cordyline, asparagus fern and sweet potato vine. (I’ll update this story mid-summer with a fresh pic of the planters.)
For those tracking the container formula:
Thriller: Cordyline (spikes)
Spillers: Sweet potato vine and asparagus fern
I set up the large containers on either side of the now-glossy black faux Adirondack chairs and it’s a lovely little scene in a shady corner of my yard.
See the arrangement of terra cotta pots with succulents? That’s in a coming-up post.
UPDATE: Summer 2023 Pots
I’m very pleased with this combination this summer. The area is deep shade and, most importantly, protected from scalding late afternoon sunlight. Even in the hottest days of summer, I watered the containers maybe once a week. I could have fertilized them more often, but I think they held up admirably and served their purpose as a focal point for a prominent, but little used area of the lawn. Up close, the sweet potato vine shows a lot of insect damage. That happens every year and honestly, it doesn’t bother me much. Ipomoea is such a great plant and will even overwinter outdoors in my zone. I’m okay with letting the bugs enjoy it, too.
Next, I get the joy of dismantling this arrangement and filling it up with fall and winter plantings. My low-cost default is to fill the container with pine cones. If the budget allows, I’ll likely go with a flowering cabbage and pansies combination. And don’t worry, these plants will be saved and repurposed in some form.
Read More Gardening Stories on A Cook and Her Books
My gardening year begins when my Soil3 is delivered. This cubic yard of humus compost is the best start for plants.
You can grow a victory garden in your backyard. Read more about getting started on a backyard victory garden.