When we want to take care of something special, we put it into a special container of some sort.
Michael included an extra plant with the Lemon Lime Hosta he traded with me for some re-blooming German Iris.
Yesterday I potted up the Hosta divisions, and they are snuggled safely in a shady spot on the deck while they recover from their Fed-Exed journey in a cardboard box.
And I decided to start this beautiful Iris division off properly in a container as well.
We have too many hungry voles, and the weather is too variable in summer, to start these Japanese Iris off in the ground.
Growing perennials in a container is a little trickier than growing annuals.
Although it is easier to move a container around until you find the perfect spot for the right amount of light during the annual cycle of the plant, perennials offer special challenges.
For one thing, most have a fairly short season of bloom. These Iris for example, bloom once in the spring for a few weeks, and then they rest.
Although their leaves will grow during the summer, storing up energy for spring, they won’t be ready to command “center stage” in a container until next May.
But in the meantime, perennials are heavy feeders. They grow extensive root systems, and their need for moisture in the soil varies according to whether or not they are in active growth.
So before settling on a planting plan, I went to consult an expert: Joel Patton of the Homestead Garden Center.
There I found the perfect deep pot which will accommodate the massive root system perennials grow, and there Joel helped me select appropriate companion plants for the Japanese Iris.
We settled on three: a Salvia, an Artemesia, and an annual Penta; all of which will appreciate the partial sun and moist soil enjoyed by the Iris during a southern summer.
Since there won’t be any Iris flowers during the remainder of the season, I wanted something which would provide flowers in this container garden from now until frost.
The Salvia nemorosa, “New Dimension Blue” is a sturdy bloomer which will keep sending up blue, bee-satisfying blossoms over the next three months. A compact grower , this Salvia will bloom happily in partial sun.
The annual Penta will also stay in bloom, provide nectar, and will continue to grow taller until taken down by frost in November. Joel offered these blooming Pentas in a six-pack, so the root ball was quite small.
Finally, this beautiful Artemesia, reduced here at the end of the season, has plenty of light blue foliage to serve as “filler” as the other plants take off.
As the Iris grows in its new leaves, they will become the tall “thriller” in this pot for the remainder of the season.
I purchased the next to the largest pot Homestead had in stock today, to provide plenty of room for growth.
It is fine to recycle used potting soil in the bottom of large containers such as this. Potting soil doesn’t really “wear out” over time. Its nutrients can be replaced easily enough. The main problem with old potting soil would be the roots of former plants, which should be removed.
I filled the bottom of the container 2/3 full of recycled compost, and then amended it with Plant Tone to provide food, minerals, and beneficial bacteria.
All of the extra rich soil which Michael sent with his Hosta and Iris went into the mix, and then I topped off the pot with fresh, good quality potting mix.
One thing to keep in mind when planting nursery perennials in mid-summer is that these older plants will generally have become root-bound. Good garden centers, like Homestead, will re-pot their stock into larger containers as the season progresses.
I chose perennials today from their clearance table; those they would rather move out than re-pot again.
So I was careful to loosen and “rough up” the roots a bit before tucking the root balls into their fresh container. Over the next week or so, these roots will grow into the fresh soil, and will probably fill this container before frost.
This is a “Four Season pot.”
The only plant I’ll need to replace during the next year should be the Penta. I’ll switch it out for a Viola in autumn.
I’ll probably tuck a few Daffodil bulbs into the center of the pot in November, and possibly some Crocus bulbs around the rim for early spring color.
The bulbs will wake up first, followed by fresh leaves on the Iris and Artemesia. The Salvia will show new growth by April, just before the Iris comes into bloom. As the Iris blossoms fade, the Salvia will come into bloom again next spring.
Micheal’s gift Japanese Iris can live in this pot indefinitely. They will eventually crowd out the other perennials, or will need dividing.
That is the trade off with perennials: although they may offer a fairly short season of active bloom, they return again and again, year after year, for so long as their needs are met.
In a Forest Garden like ours, growing special perennials in containers allows them to reach their potential for beauty and growth, which might not otherwise be possible without the controlled conditions a container garden makes possible.
Thank you again, Michael, for these beautiful Iris. I can’t wait to see them bloom next spring!
Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014