We're sharing expert-approved tips and tricks for an eye-catching combination of pots and plants.

By Melissa Ozawa
Updated March 17, 2020
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Caitlin Atkinson

Plants in containers might have small footprints, but they make a big, beautiful impression. They're a welcome sight at a front door, bring life to a back patio, and can even serve as a lush centerpiece on an outdoor table. Flora Grubb, owner of the eponymous nursery in San Francisco, shares her tips on creating and caring for a container garden.

As inspiration, Grubb chose a trio of plants that are interesting on their own and grouped together. She used feathery Grevillea "Peaches and Cream," sculptural Aloe plicatilis, and Portulacaria afra "Variegata," which are potted in complementary rust-colored and white containers to form a cohesive group. "A grouping of pots is a focal point—a part of the landscape that you want to look good all the time," says Grubb. With its peach edges and single bloom, Aloe striata sets the color scheme for this gorgeous tabletop arrangement. Pencil-like Rhipsalis teres f. heteroclada, a chartreuse mat of Sedum "Fine Gold Leaf," and rosettes of burgundy and sage echeveria complete the picture. Housed in an all-weather pot, hardy dwarf conifers like the stately Chamaecyparis obtusa "Habari," yellow-green Chamaecyparis pisifera "Filifera Aurea," and light-green Cryptomeria japonica "Little Diamond," can withstand even freezing temperatures, making them an ideal outdoor choice.

From striking plant combinations to tips to keep your potted plants hydrated and happy, find out how to create a dazzling container garden display.

Caitlin Atkinson

Choose a Vessel

"Select your pot first," says Grubb. "It's your investment, and you'll have it even as plants come and go." Grubb also suggests taking a photo of where you want to set your containers and bringing it to the nursery. "Put something in the picture for scale, like a measuring tape set to the size you'd like the pot to be," she says. Don't be afraid to go big. Large pots make a statement, and most plants are happier in them in the long run. Plus, a small container will need more frequent watering. Also consider color, shape, and material (most ceramics, for example, can't handle frost). And make sure it has at least one good hole for drainage before making your final decision.

Pick Your Plants

Go for varieties that will work with your conditions. Flowers are fleeting, so Grubb prefers plants like acacia and cotinus for their foliage. Nurseries are full of an amazing array of colors and textures, "but show restraint—not everything is beautiful together," she warns. "Choose one plant that speaks to you." Then build the rest of the pot around its colors and textures. Also think about how the light will hit them at home as plants can look different in sun or shade. If your pots will be under a porch, for instance, move your picks to a shady spot to see how they look before buying.

Caitlin Atkinson

Help Them Thrive

It's important to use organic potting soil when planting. Top-dress containers with compost or more soil at least annually, and water thoroughly. To promote deep root growth, place a hose on a very slow trickle in the pot, and let the water be slowly absorbed until it starts running out the bottom. For lush and robust plants, Grubb pinches back new growth frequently. "It's an unsung gardening technique," she says, that keeps them from getting leggy. Her final suggestion is to clear the drainage hole every year by tipping back the planter and poking through it with a screwdriver.

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