Impressive Containers from Thrill, Spill, and Fill

How to get rid of your black thumb when it comes to container gardening.

Early Spring Gardening Classes

Class times: 9:30-10:30

March 21 – Advanced Container Designs $35
Lisa Lain has been creating container designs for decades. This 3 step program puts the floral style back into your garden. The class is free to onlookers, but the first 12 students to sign up create their own design with her professional guidance and take it home same day. Come ready to get your hands dirty and your container beautiful. Bring your own pot, professionals are available all day to help.

March 28 – Grape, Brambles & Blueberries to the Kitchen (Free) includes a coupon
Students learn the best grapes, berries and all things vegetable along with plant foods and an ever increasing harvest. Dozens and dozens of fruiting varieties will be on hand and all the professionals to help you increase the eats in your landscape. 10% coupon off any fertilizer, sprays and pest controls mentioned at the class.

April 4 - Drip Irrigation Design and Installation (Free)
Newest technologies in irrigation introduced. It's time to turn that irrigation back on. Learn the benefits of drip irrigation, the best emitters and parts, how to set a system up or add to it. With the right system you can save water and have healthier plants at the same time. We will also go over how to properly set up and run an irrigation clock.

April 11 - Planting Advice that Works
Learn all the mountain secrets to local garden success. This is an information pack class guaranteed to increase garden blooms and fruit this year. The first 10 students to bring a soil sample receive a soil test done on sight with advice on how to improve the garden. You will know exactly what to do in the gardens this year.

April 18– Grow Your Own Groceries From Tomatoes 2 Fruits (Free)
This fun filled class has everything edible for the garden this spring. Plants, soils, best foods, care, culture, heirloom and non-heirloom plus more. We'll have 100's of tomatoes, demonstrations and hanging tomato baskets. This and everything else possibly pertaining to groceries this spring.

April 25 - Landscapes Filled with Low Care Native Plants (Free) includes a coupon
This class coincides with our annual native plant sale along with a host of other Low, LOW, LOW water use plants that once established require little to no water and even less care. No other nursery has so many native and low care plants in the region with the horticulturalist to help you plant it right.

May 2 – Mood Altering Flower Gardening (Free)
Some flowers are easier to grow than others. Students learn which flowers provide the easiest care color for the mountains of Arizona. See this springs new rose collection with a focus on super easy to bloom flowers your grandmother only dreamed of. Learn all the fragrant details and more with this class.



Several clients have been in this week sharing the sorrows of their black thumbs when it comes to their container gardens.  For years I’ve successfully grown many plants in dozens of big pots around my garden, and they all flourish from five basic principles for container gardens. Try these simple-to-use bits of advice and you can watch your container garden thumbs “scream with green”.

Soil is the most important consideration of container gardening. The right potting soil is so important I can become obsessed about the subject! I've created several soils over the decades, repeatedly tweaking the formula for better growing. When all the ingredients are just right, the affect on a container garden is almost magical.

Fresh potting soil should be used each spring.  For small containers under 14 inches in diameter all soil should be replaced every spring.  Larger pots need either only the top12 inches of old soil replaced or all the old soil that has last year’s roots matted down into it.  Stay away from garden soil for your containers; it compacts down too hard and does not drain properly.  Use a grower’s grade potting soil only.  

A good potting soil will look exactly like the soil the plant was grown in at the nursery. Ideally, your new plant should never realize it has been transplanted into different soil.  This is why a 'Growers Mix' is best suited for container gardens.  

Use soil right down to the bottom of the container. Do not fill the bottom with rocks, pottery shards, or Styrofoam peanuts.  In an arid climate you want as much soil in your container as possible, no matter the size of the container.  


I like a one-inch deep saucer under every pot. Just-watered plants should have water run out the bottom of the container until the saucer fills with the excess. Container gardens should be watered early in the morning before the heat of the day.  As the soil dries during the day and your plants need more water, the saucer water will wick back up into the container, essentially creating a self-watering pot. But this will happen only if fresh potting soil is used right to the bottom of the container. This is advice best used only in arid climates.

Once you’ve prepared the soil you’re ready for the really fun part of creating a container garden!

Thrill - All design rules are off when planting a container garden; don’t be afraid to go with whatever strikes your fancy. When planting a new container, at least one plant should be an “over-the-top” specimen for thrill. You'll know the plant because when you see it you won’t be able to take your eyes off of it. It could be any that happens to catch your eye:  a pepper plant, a showy new annual, or an unusually fancy shrub.  It might be a new color, texture, or foliage, but something that makes a bold statement. I've even used a tropical banana as the “show-boater” in a planter.  A proper design will have at least one of these “thrill pieces”, planted in the center or at the back of the pot.  

Spill it – The leading edge of the container should have something flowing over the rim. This creates the impression that your plants are so happy they literally are spilling out of their containers with joy.  To name a few, the short list of these plants includes cascade petunia, calibrachoa, ivy, vinca, bacopa, and ivy geranium.  Feel free to mix and match colors for designer fun; you might even have the flowers and foliage match your container. 

Fill the rest –Thrillers at the back or center, spillers to the front, and big, full flowers to fill in the rest of the pot. Filler choices needn’t be limited to marigold, pansy, coleus, impatience, stock, geranium or that fancy new flower of the year.  Use whatever feels right to you. Again, have fun mixing colors until that artist inside you is satisfied.  

No soil should be showing when the project is complete.  A newly planted container garden should look as through it has been growing together for years.  Plants should touch foliage-to-foliage, if not root-to-root.  A good quality potting soil ensures that the plants will take off with vibrant new growth.

Most Important Tip - Don't wait for a new container garden to grow:  start with large plants.  Planted container success skyrockets from this bit of advice alone.  Because containers can be difficult to keep hydrated, don't plant 6-pack-sized plants!  These tiny plants are nearly impossible to keep alive as outdoor temperatures dip and then climb. The roots of larger plants reach 6-8 inches into the soil where the sun cannot dry and bake them.  Plant a gallon size plant instead and your new garden not only looks mature, but it makes fewer demands for care and water. Bigger really is better when gardening in the Southwest. 

Until next week, I’ll see you in the garden center.


Watters: Website | Facebook | YouTube


Ken Lain, the Mountain Gardener

Ken Lain is attracted to sunshine, beauty, happiness, success and health through gardening, and wishes to point the way to others. Throughout the week Ken can be found at Watters Garden Center located at 1815 W. Iron Springs Rd, Prescott, or contacted through his web site at www.wattersgardencenter.com

Website: www.wattersgardencenter.com