Container gardening makes summer planting fun and easy
By Matthew King | Photography by Jamison Mosley
Hocott’s Garden Center has served central Arkansas for 80 years, having opened its doors in Little Rock in 1939. They strive to offer great service for experienced gardeners while also welcoming newcomers into the great, green world of gardening. Whether you are looking for the best fertilizers, soils, pots or plants to fit your needs, Hocott’s has you covered. Their team of garden savvy staff workers is willing to help you find what you are looking for and can also suggest what materials they think would work best for your project. Hocott’s offers an array of unique plants not found at other local garden centers and is happy to take special orders so you can design your pots, landscapes and gardens the way you imagine them.
The spacious grounds at Hocott’s not only feature a wide variety of plants but also has plenty of landscaping supplies and decorations. The facility also has a chicken coup where they host “Chicken Chats” and offers other instructional classes, like beekeeping. These sessions offer insight on topics like how to raise chickens in the city, while the beekeeping classes bring guest speakers to discuss how the pollinators do what they do best. Hocott’s also hosts live concerts at the center for guests and customers.
“I just really enjoy talking to people and especially those who come in with a blank slate and have no idea what they want,” says Ryan Sniegocki, one of the Hocott’s team members. “All they know is that they have either sun or shade, but they don’t know what to put there. So getting to walk around and just talk about plants, which is something I enjoy, and meet new people. It’s kind of why I’ve always enjoyed this place.”
Sniegocki and Sharon Carr, another team member at Hocott’s, gave some pointers for those looking to build a container garden this summer. Both have an expansive knowledge of planting and gardening, with Sniegocki having a knack for gardening since he was younger and Carr having spent 35 years learning the craft.
“Container gardening is probably my specialty. I do a lot of pots for customers,” Carr says. “You just have to know your combos of what you can fit in there.”
Sniegocki says to always check plants’ tags to ensure that the plants you are placing together will be compatible; whether it be the amount of light it needs, how wet or dry the soil has to be and the best seasons they grow in. All of these factors play into how successful and how long your plants will last.
When it comes to choosing a pot for your container garden, he suggests finding a planter that features more muted or darker colors so that it will not “steal the show.” They also say that the pot must have holes at the bottom and should stay elevated above the ground with planter feet to allow water to escape the container.
“The soil gnats cause a great big mosquito infestation,” Carr says. “It’s one bug leads to another one. Those gnats lay residue on your plants, and the aphids come and eat the residue. It’s just a vicious cycle,” she says.
They also recommend placing gravel at the bottom of the planter to help prevent the plants from drowning after watering. This allows the excess water to easily drain out of the planter. Carr also says that she tends to place a coffee filter at the bottom of her container garden to help retain the soil and gravel.
After choosing a planter and preparing the pot, it is time to fill the container with soil. While there are many different types, Sniegocki and Carr recommend using potting soil or potting mix for container gardening. He says that only using one form of soil, like compost, does not typically provide the nutrients and minerals that the plants will need to stay healthy. Fertilizer is another important component the two touch on, saying how important it is to use your fertilizer on your arrangement. The labels on fertilizers usually have three NPK numbers that represent the levels of concentration of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium it contains.
“I like something that’s going to have that higher middle number because that produces your bloom. That’s your phosphate, and that’s what you have to have in order to get your bloom,” Carr says. “Nitrogen is your first one. That causes your green. Then potassium is your last one, and that causes your rate growth.”
For the summer months, Sniegocki suggests using a container garden for your outdoor landscape. One of the best methods of container gardening is the “thriller, filler and spiller” technique.
The “thriller” part is the flowers that, usually, first catch the eye as you observe the potted beauty. The stalks on these plants are relatively taller, making the plant and its blooms stand out and above the rest of the growth. For Sniegocki’s pot, he used penstemon as its “thriller.” This flower features long green stalks and bright blooms that attracts hummingbirds and butterflies. This flower is also deer resistant, meaning your garden visitors will overlook it as a menu item.
The “filler” section of the pot usually has lots of plant variety, with mixes of colors and blooms, while remaining at a mid-height compared to the “thriller” portion. The objective of this layer is to fill in the space between the top and bottom sections and can feature a variety of flowers. For Sniegocki’s and Carr’s container garden, they used SunPatiens impatiens, Bidens, and dusty miller. Dusty miller is a flower that is used for its foliage in this pot and can last during the summer and fall seasons, however, the leaves can grow quite long later in the year and form a hard bloom.
“In late fall, dusty miller produces a little yellow bloom,” Carr says. “I don’t like that little, hardened, knotty bloom on there. Normally I would just deadhead that and pick that off.”
Like penstemon, dusty miller is also deer resistant. The SunPatiens add more variety to the mix allowing for vibrant colors to stand out among the other beauties. And last but not least, the Bidens have a yellow and red blossom that adds a bright, yet tame, variety of colors not seen from the other plants in this pot.
The “spiller” portion of the arrangement tends to overflow outside of the rim of the pot. The potato vine in this section brings out a bright green and almost yellow tone to the mix, while purple heart adds shades of purple and petit pink blooms. This gives the pot more character and color while also giving the arrangement a more natural and unique shape as it flows over.
“I really did not enjoy container gardening as much when I was younger because I really like growing vegetables,” Sniegocki says. “But as I worked here and saw all the different things flowers could do, I’ve really gotten much more interested in flower gardening. I like container gardening because you can’t mess up. If you put your pot in a place where you think it’s going to get the perfect amount of sun, and July comes around and it’s getting roasted, just move it somewhere else.”