The trend of Set-Abouts

The trend of “set-abouts”
By the time April rolls around we are ready for some spring, soil and nature. It’s time to enjoy gardening again. It’s only natural our patience has “gone to pot.” April is the perfect month to practice your container gardening skills. Pots give us the chance to get our hands dirty and plant something. If a frosty night tries to spoil our garden party we can move the pots under cover. This gives us a chance to get a jump on the season. What plants do I use to get that kick in the plants? I would recommend considering the following in containers for the early spring season:
• Frost tolerant Pansies
• Herbs (mixed planters)
• Succulents
• Vegetable plants, understanding if the nights get frosty they will have to be rolled inside or covered. Generally our last frost date is not until May. Some vegetables like broccoli can handle a light frost. (Plants in the Brassica family known as Cole Crops)

Pansies are great for cool season containers!

When it comes to containers succulents are the perfect adaptable plant for indoors or out. With great variety and interesting texture it is no wonder succulents are a very popular trendy plant right now. Recently I went to the dollar store to buy some soup ladles. I planted Succulents and Tillandsia in the ladles and posted this picture in social media.

Succulent and Tillandsia Soup Ladles

I was amazed at the response and shares the post received! I call it the trend of “set-abouts”. Plants in a variety of containers used to brighten our corner of the world both inside and out. Recently attending a show in Florida I snapped these pictures of succulent “set-abouts” that took the idea to the extreme. It points out however that container plantings come in all forms limited only by your creativity.
Another means of “set-about” is to purchase early season plants at the garden center and “baby sit” them for a few weeks indoors. This can also be done with seed starting in containers. On nice days when the air is calm they can be set out to begin “hardening off” to the great outdoors. Come May after you’ve had your early spring gardening fix, they will be ready to make it on their own outdoors.
As with all container planting remember to allow for growth, use a good quality potting soil, and provide for drainage out the bottom.

When you have “Thyme” on your hands

In this fast paced world of busy lives, Herbs pamper us with gifts from the garden. We all know that the garden is good for the mind, body and spirit when we need to unplug. It is “sage” advice to take some “thyme” for yourself and benefit from growing some Herbs. Herbs are easy to grow with some good soil and sunshine. Perfectly suited for containers they can be grown anywhere, even if your space is small.

Herbs are perfect for use in containers with other plant material
Herbs are perfect for use in containers with other plant material

That said I recommend also incorporating Herbs into the landscape with your other plants and flowers. A dash of Lavender, Nepeta, Thyme or Oregano can spice up any landscape with color, interest and aroma.
“Basil” instinct tells us that Herbs in our life provide a lot of benefit. Your garden should give back to you. Herbs do that in a big way. Aside from their obvious “scent”-uous nature, herbs give back to us in countless ways. As soaks and teas, aromatherapy and steams, oils and perfumes, elixirs and medicine, rubs and skin care, treats and colorful garnish, herbs like the garden truly benefit the mind, body and spirit.

Sweet Woodruff is an herbal groundcover used to float or "steep" in white wine (thank our German friends) to make a great tasting white wine for a sunny May day!
Sweet Woodruff is an herbal groundcover used to float or “steep” in white wine (thank our German friends) to make a great tasting white wine for a sunny May day!

Start with a good lightweight growing mix and a good sized container. Pick a sunny spot and you will be in your ele-“mint”. No need for lots of fertilizer, over-watering and over-fertilizing weakens the plants and diminishes the oils in their aromatic foliage. Remember that herbs are a collaborative sort, often making great companions with vegetable plants. I don’t have scientific proof but I can tell you I am convinced that tomatoes off the vine taste better when basil is planted nearby.

Affordable and fun to grow
Affordable and fun to grow

Here are some herb suggestions for you from my garden and the benefits they provide me.
Basil….uplifting and energizing. Make me think of summer and fresh tomatoes.
Borage….easy to grow, a good companion with a cucumber like aroma
Chamomile….soothing with a sweet apple fragrance
Hops….amazing visual impact in the landscape
Lavender….beautiful flowers, healing and rest
Lemon Balm….aroma, rest, cleansing
Mint….stimulating and cleansing. And invasive…grow only in containers
Parsley….Healthy refreshing edger or border
Rosemary….Aroma, strong pine like fragrance. Perfect late season herb.
Sage….Rich, earthy, appealing foliage
Thyme….decorative, stimulating and collaborative
Oregano….spice of life, great groundcover or container edge or trailer
Nepeta and Catmint….pungent aroma and long lasting bloom.

Hoe Hoe Hoe

The landscape provides a bounty of holiday decorating opportunities with entry porch pots to welcome visitors to your home. Flowers now frozen in pots can be pulled and you can create warm welcoming containers in existing pots that I call “porch pots” for the holiday season. Hoe, Hoe, Hoe, let your landscape add to the festive look of the holidays.

Evergreen branches and decorations in a standard nursery pot with soil
Evergreen branches and decorations in a standard nursery pot with soil

Start with some containers for your deck or entry steps. I like to use ceramic pots that were used for flowering annuals during the growing season. In November before the soil freezes hard, branches cut at a 45 degree angle to create a point can be pushed into the soil to arrange your festive welcome. If you’re potting up some new containers make sure to have some bags of thawed potting soil stored for use for when you’re ready to arrange. After your arrangement is made and left outdoors the soil will freeze and hold the branches in place.
With a good pruning shears and a pleasant November day, a bountiful harvest can be had to add color to outdoor container arrangements and wreaths. The foundation of your arrangement will be evergreen boughs.

Evergreen branches
Evergreen branches

You can purchase evergreen boughs in bundles or prune your own. Here in Michigan Douglas Fir is a great choice because of their fragrance. Fraser Fir is easy to work with and provides beautiful evergreen color. Colorado Blue Spruce will add some color and interest, just make sure you’re wearing gloves when working with their prickly attitude. Scotch Pine and White Pine are also great choices. Oregon greens are available for purchase and evergreen boughs of Noble Fir and Incense Cedar as examples provide great interest.
Now that you’ve placed the foundation stems of evergreen boughs in the pot working from the center to the outside arching them over the side, the fun is just beginning.

Red Twig Dogwood adds lots of color!
Red Twig Dogwood adds lots of color!

Now we get creative with remnants of the landscape to add color and interest. My favorite cuttings or stems to work into my arrangements are:
• Red Twig Dogwood
• Curly Willow
• Gold Twig Dogwood
• Birch branches
• Upright Sedum
• Deciduous Holly Berry Branches
• Agastache
• Ninebark Branches
• Echinacea or Rudbeckia spent bloom seed heads
Use your creativity to find items in the landscape to offset the evergreen branches in both color and texture.

Gold twig Dogwood
Finally you can add some artificial elements to the arrangement. Solid color ball ornaments can be added, some are available on sticks to poke into the soil. Plastic colored ball ornaments may be a good choice if breakage is a concern. Artificial berry stems can be purchased to add bright colors. LED lights can be added for nighttime interest and color. If a plug is not handy or extension cords would be unsightly, LED lights use little power and are available in battery operated options also.
Hoe, Hoe, Hoe, your landscape is in the spirit of the season with festive gatherings in porch pots, and a little help from you.

More “Flower” to you

It’s planting time and we’re excited about the flowering annuals we selected on our shopping trip. They’re going to look great and visions of blooming colors are dancing in our head.

More “Flower” to you!

But what if they don’t meet up to our expectations? Plants like people have basic nutritional needs. And plants just like people can’t live on just energy drinks or water, you need a meal now and then. Water alone is not enough. Well more “flower” to you. If your annuals need to go “potty” and are in a hanging basket or pot every time you water nutrients are carried out the drainage holes with it. The nutrients need to be replaced.

I recommend a combination of water soluble and time release or granular fertilizer.


One is the energy drink and the other is meat and potatoes. The great thing about water soluble fertilizer is that is quickly available to the plants and can be taken in through the foliage or roots.

Slow release “dry” on the left and water soluble fertilizer on the right

Most water soluble fertilizers recommend use every 7 to 14 days. It depends on how often you’re watering the plant. You may want to consider using it more frequently than 14 days and going to half strength. Remember that even though many of today’s annuals are sold as “self cleaning” a good pinching or pruning now and then with a dose of water soluble fertilizer will rejuvenate blooming. A dry granular feed in combination with the water soluble in tandem will get you best results. The “dry” or slow release feed is the meat and potatoes. My favorites are Osmocote and Flower Tone. Osmocote because it’s easy to scoop into a pot and provides feeding for 3 months or more. Flower Tone because in addition to the Macro Nutrients it has essential Micro Nutrients and is affordable. More “Flower” to you!