The trendiest container plants for summer patio time

From vibrant, smaller trees, like Japanese maples, to showy, burgundy-leafed banana plants and colorfully foliaged larger cannas

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There’s a significant change taking place in the trend for outdoor summer planters. More conventional combinations for sun or shade, while attractive, are being replaced with strikingly bold focal plants that garner attention.

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Surrounded by complementary colours, these new combos really make a statement. Larger specimen plants are now very much in demand. From vibrant, smaller trees, like Japanese maples, to showy, burgundy-leafed banana plants and colorfully foliaged larger cannas, creating that “wow” factor is very much “in” today.

As for containers, you need larger-sized pots in designer styles that will tolerate winter cold and summer heat. Resin, fiberglass and creative plastic pots are lighter, easier to handle and extremely resilient in all weather situations.

With today’s more extreme weather, quality soil is more important than ever. Professional soil blends, mixed with fine fir or hemlock bark mulch, will make for an open, porous mix, and the addition of rich compost, like Sea Soil, will help with moisture retention during increasingly hot summers.

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The extra watering we do in summer leaches a good deal of nutrients out of our soils. One application of a slow-release fertilizer, like Osmocote 14-14-14, will help maintain an adequate level of fertility to keep container plants healthy, growing well and looking sensational.

One of the most dramatic plants to feature in large statement containers is the dramatic, burgundy-red banana plant, Ensete maurelii. It’s a tender tropical and can’t go outside until the end of May, but the stunning beauty of this lush plant is quite remarkable. It really needs no accompaniment, but, for a spectacular contrast, I love to pair it with golden creeping jenny planted all around the edge of the pot. Once established, it is very tolerant of heat and drought.

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As you begin planning your containers, think big, bold and dramatic.
As you begin planning your containers, think big, bold and dramatic. Photo by Bountiful Farms /PNG

In very hot, sunny areas, the rich foliage of canna lilies will steal the container show. Bengal Tiger and Pretoria, which have very similar striking yellow-and-green-striped leaves, are two standouts. Later in summer, when their vivid orange flowers appear, they truly shine. As a companion, the foliage of alternanthera is some of the best. The new yellow variety, called True Yellow, nicely echoes the colors of these particular cannas.

Without a doubt, purple fountain grass (Pennisetum setaceum ‘Rubrum’) is the most popular grass for containers. Its burgundy leaves, complemented by purple-burgundy bunny-tail flowers, set the tone for a wonderful summer display. Every time there’s a breeze, the whole plant sways with the wind, creating a truly moving display. Of all the potential companions, partnering purple fountain grass with hot pink petunias will create an exceptional showpiece. I saw this combination used by the city of Columbus, Ohio, along its main street, and the effect was very impressive and really brightened the tone of the downtown area.

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Another hot sun favorite is a relatively new sweet potato vine called Ipomoea Solar Tower. Unlike the trailing varieties, its tendency is to climb, and a simple obelisk in the center of a pot provides the perfect form for featuring this great plant that comes in two colors: hot lime and a heart-shaped black. By themselves or combined, they make a bold statement, and both are heat and drought tolerant. Having vibrant orange and yellow lantanas spilling over the edge of the pot will add to the drama.

Coleus, too, have become the go-to choice for easy, colorful gems. With so many stunning color combinations and unusual leaf patterns, there is seemingly no end to the potential wow factors you can create. Because these plants grow quickly, the strong, upright varieties make excellent focal points. With a little creative trellising, you can get them sized up in no time. They love heat and will tolerate sun or shade. The Main Street series from Dummen Orange is one of my favourites.

Don’t forget the vibrant reds, greens and variegated foliage of Japanese maples, which are also becoming favorites for patios, especially because of the night lighting possibilities all year round. Underplanted with some shade-loving carex varieties, like Everillo, further enhances their look.

These are just a few suggestions that will make your containers the superstars of your patio decor. So, this year, as you start planning your containers, think big, bold and dramatic.

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