Oklahoma Home and Community Education club members have begun to meet in person again, just in time for OHCE Week, May 3-9.

On Friday morning, members and guests could attend a program on container gardening led by Garrett Ford, agriculture educator for the Cherokee County OSU Extension office, at the Extension garden.

The theme was “Thriller, Filler and Spiller,” as Ford instructed attendees on how to fill a container with plants properly with aesthetic appeal. The “thriller” plant will be the focal point. The “spiller” literally spills over the container’s side, and the “filler” lives up to its name, as it fills up the space between the thriller and the spiller.

The first thing to consider when creating a garden in a container is the space it will be in.

“Containers can be used in just about any location, from small apartment patios to large back porches or even formal and informal landscapes,” said Ford. “It is worth selecting species that are drought-tolerant because containers tend to warm up and dry out faster than the ground,” said Ford.

The containers are important, and while they come in many shapes, sizes, and styles, Ford encouraged gardeners to have fun with it.

“I am a proponent of using what you have available. It should complement the space and the look you are going for,” he said. “Pretty much anything that will hold soil and provide drainage is usable.”

Examples Ford gave of items that could be repurposed include boots, toilets, feed troughs, barrels, or any other farm or home element. The two containers Ford filled were decent-sized plastic ones donated by OHCE member Susie Eden.

The next part of the project is the media for the plants.

“It is not advised to dig soil out of your yard or garden to use in a container. You can use any product with ‘potting mix’ on it,” said Ford. “Check the bag for the amount of fertilizer in it.”

Gardeners can make their own potting soil by mixing peat moss, perlite, and composted bark, such as pine or cedar. Sand can be added. According to Ford, these materials are usually lighter and do not compact as easily as garden soil. The amount of air and water that make it to the roots is limited in compacted soil.

“You can buy it all in bulk. How you make it depends on the plants you are putting in the container,” said Ford. “Use a fertilizer and incorporate it into the media when setting up the container."

When choosing plants, color selection is important.

Warm colors – such as reds, oranges, and yellows – have been shown to encourage activity and excitement, so they may enhance a patio or porch used for entertaining. Blues, purples, and greens are cool colors that can be calming or put people in an at-ease mood. Ford said a balcony, gazebo, or porch swing area, or places people go to unwind, may benefit from cool colors.

“Too many different colors in a container can make it look busy or thrown together,” said Ford. “It is easiest to stick with analogous colors – those found in the same area of the color wheel."

Other than the color scheme, there are other factors to consider when selecting plants, such as the location of the container and needs of the plants. Ford said it is important to have a theme in mind.

“It could be the type of plants, such as vegetables, herbs, or succulents – or you can mix them up. Today we are using all ornamentals, but you can use vegetables and ornamentals together,” said Ford. “The plant's cultural requirements should be similar. They can be found on the plant tag, online from a reliable site, or you can ask at the Extension office.”

The growth habits of the plants should be considered, as well.

“You should not select a plant that requires full sun and one that requires part sun or full shade or one that prefers wet soil and one that prefers dry soil,” said Ford.

Ford selected the three plants he was using based on their height to add visual appeal. The plants and the “Thriller, Filler and Spiller” role they play are: blanket flower, thriller; sweet potato vine, spiller; and sweet alyssum, filler. All require medium water and full sun, with sweet alyssum ranging to part shade.

The thriller plant may be the tallest, or one with the showiest blooms or most interesting foliage. It is the eye catcher, said Ford. Ornamental grasses, shasta daisies, canna lilies, or hydrangeas are common thrillers.

“A vegetable could be a centerpiece,” he said. “Whatever it does, it should draw the most attention."

The spiller helps soften the edges of the container and balance out the height or flashiness of the thriller. While some spillers may have flowers, they should be simpler and smaller than that of the thriller. Common fillers include sweet potato vine, vinca, or calibrachoa.

The filler will usually have the smallest leaves and flowers of the three plants, and it is usually the shortest one. Examples are verbena, lantana, or coleus. Using the sweet alyssum as a filler will give the container a nice bed of green foliage, said Ford.

While planting in a container garden is not much different than planting a regular garden or flowerbed, there are factors to consider. An inch of so should be left between the top of the media and top of the container. This will help keep the media from being washed out when it watered.

“You don’t have to pack the media tightly around the root of the plants. Roots need air and compacting the media prevents them from getting oxygen. Make sure the root ball is completely covered,” said Ford.

Ford encouraged adding a layer of mulch after the plants are in. Once the mulch is on, it all should be watered to help the plants settle in. Ford said that the container

“When you water, make sure to do so until water runs out the bottom,” he said.

Due to the slightly chilly and wet weather Friday during the program, some people who signed up to attend stayed home, but a few did show up. Teresa Fleming, Woodall OHCE club member, said the event was great.

“I enjoyed it and I learned some new things. I was used to packing my soil down,” she said. “It was a very interesting program.”

Check it out

Those who missed this program can view it on the Cherokee County OHCE Facebook page. For more information on Oklahoma Home and Community Education clubs and events, call the OSU Extension office at 918-456-6163.

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