Growing-rosemary in a cement pottery

Rosemary is a woody-stemmed plant with needle-like leaves that can commonly reach 3 feet in height, eventually stretching to 5 feet in warmer climates unless clipped. In zone 8 and farther south, rosemary makes a good evergreen hedge. In zone 7 and colder, try growing rosemary in a pottery cement you can bring inside in cold weather. You can even train rosemary into topiary shapes. Plants are tolerant of salt spray, making them a good choice for pots on the beach.

cement pottery

cement pottery

Rosemary will grow into a lovely large landscape shrub if planted in a good pottery cement.

Set out rosemary in spring, planting seedlings 2 to 3 feet apart; you can also plant in fall in zone 8 and south. Plants are slow growing at first, but pick up speed in their second year. While rosemary tolerates partial shade, it prefers full sun and light, well-drained soil with a pH between 6 and 7. Add a slow-release fertilizer to the soil at planting, and reapply in the spring. Keep the soil uniformly moist, allowing it to dry out between waterings. Mulch your plants to keep roots moist in summer and insulated in winter, but take care to keep mulch away from the crown of the plant. In the spring, prune dead wood out of the plants.

Dees-Rosemary

Dees-Rosemary

Whiteflies, spider mites, scale, and mealybugs can all bother rosemary, as can powdery mildew and root rot, particularly in humid regions. To prevent mildew and rot, be sure your plants enjoy good drainage and air circulation. In zone 7 and northward, extreme cold will kill the tops of the rosemary plant. In areas where it is likely to be hurt by winter, plant in a protected spot such as one near a south-facing masonry wall and away from the prevailing winter wind; also mulch to protect the roots. In zone 8 and farther south, rosemary needs no winter protection.

Design for a top lightweight terrazzo pot

As a professional container designer, I have a few customers who want the biggest and best containers on the block. They like the attention, and they love to report that people stop to gawk and sometimes take pictures. So there is considerable pressure on me to push these containers over the top. Through the years, I’ve come up with a few strategies to do just that. With these basics under your belt, you’ll be able to design your own big, bold, showstopping containers with dazzling combos of lush leaves and bewildering flowers.

cement big pot

cement big pot

A big, explosive display requires a large lightweight terrazzo pot. It must have enough volume to accom­modate the roots of the plants’ ultimate size. A stunning combination can be sustained within a smaller terrazzo pot, but it requires constant monitoring to ensure that the container is getting enough water, fertilizer, and pruning. Without the greenest of thumbs, a pot that’s too small will almost always disappoint. At minimum, the container should accommodate a soil volume of at least half the size of the eventual volume of plants. This is important visually, as well.

I almost always use the rule of thirds when designing containers. The rule is based on an aesthetically pleasing compositional proportion used in painting, photography, and design. The rule can be used in one of two ways, each one opposite from the other. Starting with the lightweight terrazzo pot, visualize the overall look of the planting you desire according to your plants’ eventual size. The lightweight terrazzo pot must take up either one-third or two-thirds of the eventual total height of the container and the plants together. And the plants must take up the remaining two-thirds or one-third, respectively, of the planting. If, for example, your pot is 2 feet tall, your plants’ eventual height can either be 1 foot tall (which would have your planter being two-thirds of the overall height of 3 feet) or 4 feet tall (which would have your container being one-third of the overall height of 6 feet)

cement container

cement container

I like to cram lots of different plants into one container for a lush, abundant look. I occasionally have to yank out some poor performers throughout the season, and it’s nice to have lots of other favorites in the mix to keep the show going. But there is such a thing as too many plants. Rather than filling the entire surface of the soil with plants when potting up your container, leave a couple of inches between each plant. This will give the plants a better chance of getting off to a good start. Adding new plants to a container later in the season doesn’t seem to work for me. The soil surface is usually full of roots, which makes it difficult for new additions to establish themselves.

How to Plant Tulips in large cement garden Pots

Hybrid tulips can be unspeakably beautiful, but they also come with a daunting array of caveats. For starters, most don’t reliably return for more than two or three years—and ideal conditions are necessary for even that much longevity. Then there are the issues of disguising their dying foliage and filling the bare spots they leave behind—assuming, of course, that voles, squirrels, and other garden predators don’t snatch the bulbs well before they bloom.

Growing tulips in large cement garden pots, however, lets you skip most of these frustrations. In pots, tulips are eye-catching, portable, and protected. All gardeners—regardless of whether or not they’ve had success growing tulips inground—should give this simple technique a try.

tulips1

The best time to pot up tulips is in early fall, the same as if you were planting them in the ground. Have ready several containers with outside diameters of at least 18 inches and outside heights of at least 15 inches. Using anything smaller reduces the impact of the planting and the viability of the bulbs.

If you want a certain mix of colors to emerge at the same time, choose from the same class of tulips. Short groups, such as Single Early, Double Early, and Triumph, are obvious container choices as they mix well with spring annuals and will not tower over their pot. There’s no harm, however, in experimenting with taller or more exotic types, such as Parrot and Viridiflora. Tulips of every type and color can work—just be sure to group together varieties with similar bloom times. You’ll only have room for 18 to 22 bulbs per container, so successive blooming (six tulips blooming one week and another six blooming two weeks later, for example) won’t look nearly as stunning as a design that flowers all at once.

To make the containers less heavy and easier to move, place an upside-down plastic grower pot at the bottom of each cement garden pot. Fill the  cement garden pots two-thirds full with any inexpensive, lightweight potting mix. Don’t bother with fertilizer. Ignore traditional spacing guidelines, and place the tulip bulbs in a tight circular pattern. Cover the bulbs with potting mix, planting the bulbs at the same depth you would plant them in the ground: generally two to three times the bulb’s height.

Animals are less likely to disturb tulips planted in cement garden pots than those planted in the ground. But for added protection, place a wire grid, such as a round peony support, on top of the soil (photo, below), and cover it with a thin layer of potting mix.

cement pot

cement pot

If you live in USDA Hardiness Zones 4 to 7, place the planted pots in an unheated garage. This protects them from undergoing a freeze-and-thaw cycle, which turns potted bulbs into mush. Water them when they’re in place; you won’t need to water again until spring. If you don’t have an unheated garage and live in a region with freezing temperatures, you’ll need another strategy for keeping the containers cold, dry, and insulated. The goal is to keep the planted bulbs just above freezing.

Check on your pots in early spring. Water them lightly. When the tulips start peeking above the surface, bring them out and place them on display. Water as you would any container plant; the tulips will bloom at the same time as those planted in the ground.

Once the blooms fade, you can gently transplant the bulbs into a sunny bed, but all the caveats regarding inground planting still apply. The best and bravest option is simply to compost the spent bulbs and start planning a different color scheme for the following year.

If you know which group a tulip belongs to, you can usually predict when it will flower. Designing a few containers that contain tulips with different bloom times is an easy way to prolong the tulip season for as long as possible. This is not a perfect science, however, so be prepared to welcome your tulips if they flower a little early or a little late.

How to Grow Tomatoes in outdoor cement pot

We planted our tomatoes and tended them carefully. They grew, sometimes to astounding size. But they always fell victim to the bacterial wilt endemic to our soil. The tomatoes of our dreams, meaty and juicy with a balance of sweet and acid, always eluded us.

We knew that growing tomatoes in the usual way would never produce anything but frustration. Thus we began to experiment with growing tomatoes in large concrete pots. The work came to involve not just soil but also tactics to fend off high humidity, broiling heat, frosts, and insects, insects, insects. Our efforts evolved into a system that works well in our small space.

garden-catwalk

garden-catwalk

We began with large concrete pots and whiskey barrel halves. Both proved impractical. Cement pots large enough to retain water for more than an hour in late July were too heavy to move and big trouble to sanitize at the end of the season. The half-barrels were even more unwieldy. They provided a haven for wood roaches, which like tomatoes almost as much as we do, and they were also susceptible to termites.

When the barrels fell apart in the third year, we sighed with relief and purchased 20-in. plastic pots and saucers. They are colored and styled to look like old fashioned concrete pot. At the end of each year, we scrub them to remove most of the dirt, mold, and algae, and then drop them into our heavily chlorinated swimming pool for cleaning. Dollies my husband made allow us to move the potted tomato plants around the patio with ease.

Good drainage and healthy roots go together. At first, we tried to achieve the goal by layering pebbles in the bottom of each cement pot. However, at the end of the season we wanted to dump the exhausted potting mix into our raised-bed vegetable garden. Deliberately adding rocks to our garden beds seemed perverse.

So we moved the river rock into the saucer instead. But we also line the bottom of each concrete pot with a layer or two of plastic window screening, cut to fit. Our soil stays put and drains well.

Succulents-in-Birdbath-Container-Garden

Succulents-in-Birdbath-Container-Garden

In heavy rains, we siphon the nutrient-saturated liquid from the saucers with a turkey baster demoted from the kitchen. We recycle the liquid, conserving nutrients and getting rid of the standing water mosquitoes love for breeding.

We fill each pot with 6 in. to 8 in. of potting soil and set a transplant at the bottom of the garden cement pot. As the tomatoes grow, we trim the leaves from the stem and add more of the enriched soil mix until the pot is filled. This practice helps build root mass along the stem as it is buried, which is similar to laying the stem in a trench.

This method also allows us to plant earlier. Since the plants stay below the pot rim for a couple weeks, we can cozy the plants in old mattress pads if there’s a cold snap or cover them with old shower curtains if there’s a deluge. Best of all, we can tie layers of nylon netting over each pot to keep early insect marauders at bay.

Wonderful Winter tall concrete pots

During the cold months of January and February, when the setting is bleak and the sky is gray, winter containers can cheer up the soul and provide a colorful punch to the landscape. Many gardeners give up on their potted creations in the fall, but that can be a horrible waste because winter is when color and interest are most vital.

cement container plant

cement container plant

Creating a winter design is not difficult. The general rule for container-plant survival through the winter is to use plants hardy to at least two zones colder than your USDA Hardiness Zone; this, however, is not always a steadfast rule. Many trees, shrubs, and peren­nials that are hardy in your zone will live and even thrive in containers through all four seasons. In this case, a frostproof pot with a drainage hole is important. Cement pots are the best weather-resistant containers to use.

Assemble your designs early enough that the plants have time to acclimate to their new tall concrete pots before the hard freeze. Also, winter containers usually need to be checked only monthly for water to make sure they haven’t dried out; when the soil eventually becomes frozen solid, watering is no longer necessary. Apply an antidesiccant such as Wilt-Pruf to broad-leaved evergreens and to branches of cut greens to protect against drying winter winds. When it comes to design, I like to use a mix of live plants, cut branches, colorful berries, and interesting evergreen foliage to dress up the pots for maximum seasonal appeal.

 

container

container

The vibrant colors of this tall concrete pot planting set it apart. Red­twig dog­wood’s scarlet stems are strikingly prominent and add a structural component to the container. To highlight them, it helps to have a solid evergreen background so that the thin branches stand out. Surrounding the base of the dogwood are two small Japanese pieris, whose glossy, dark green leaves provide bulk and texture to the design. The lemon yellow foliage of ‘Golden Sword’ yucca complements the dogwood. Two perennials, ‘Bressingham Ruby’ bergenia and ‘Caramel’ heuchera, are tucked around the bottom of the pot to add an additional punch of color. The ‘Ivory Tower’ Japanese hollies on each side of the dogwood add more color interest with their creamy yellow berries. Branches of gold-thread sawara echo the yellow tones from the holly berries. The result is a colorful explosion dy­namic enough to brighten the grayest of winter days.

Many people feel that winter containers are a waste of time because they can’t be appreciated when covered in snow or ice. Using strong architectural forms in your containers will allow them to stand out even when encased in snow. Hardy ‘Green Mountain’ boxwood has this kind of profile. Its clean, simple lines stand out against almost any backdrop, especially when dusted with snow. To highlight the dark foliage of the boxwood, I pair it with the slender leaves of silver-variegated Japanese sedge. The soft green and white mottled foliage of ‘Snow Angel’ heuchera gives mass to the arrangement, and ‘Angelina’ sedum is wedged in for its cascading tendency. The yellow pansies may not survive throughout the winter but are wonderful for a short time. The strong form of this design will make it a showstopper throughout winter.

 

Although the hues featured in this tall concrete pot are not necessarily traditional, they are still dramatic and seasonally appropriate. The strong vertical form of the evergreen beaked yucca makes it a perfect focal point for a design. The dark foliage of a ‘Plum Pudding’ heuchera provides contrasting color at the base of the combination, and steely blue cut stems of smooth cypress pick up the silvery hues of the shimmering hairs along the edges of the yucca. With their opposing shape and color, orange winterberry branches also accentuate the sculptural yucca leaves. These fruits usually form earlier than red winterberry, so the berries do not last as long on the branch, but the color is worth the effort. The thick vertical leaves of the yucca and unexpected hues of this design stand out in winter, despite the absence of traditional red and green.

Staging a Container Plant Display

I have a passion for plants in cement pots. I grow them by the score in a sprawling garden of containers arranged like a border on my patio. By early summer, my garden of 50 or so cement pots of annuals, tender perennials, and the odd hardy plant has become an extravaganza of texture, fragrance, and color. To keep things lively as the plants grow, I simply move the containers—farther apart, up, down, to the front, to the rear—to create a display that is always evolving. The portability of plants in large cement pots frees me from some of the constraints of traditional earthbound gardening. It gives me the flexibility to tweak my jungle all season, adding bits of color as something new comes into prominence or removing anything that’s past its prime.

pic_container_care_1

pic_container_care_1

And although I take a more-is-merrier approach to container gardening, numbers alone don’t mean much. Five large cement pots are enough to create a dramatic composition on a porch or patio. The trick is not how many pots you have, but what you do with them. And for raising my container garden’s beauty to new heights, the use of simple staging—by which I mean the overturned nursery pots, bulb crates, logs, and homemade plant stands that give plants and ornaments a boost—has been the greatest trick of all.

By placing short but stellar plants atop staging that’s hidden amid other plants, I can create compelling combinations that wouldn’t be possible with plants grown in the ground. I especially like a combination of rubylike Euphorbia cotinifolia foliage and the coral-colored flowers of Fuchsia ‘Coralle’. Unfortunately, the euphorbia is about 4 feet tall and the fuchsia, a mere 2 feet. But by giving the fuchsia a boost on a foot-tall support, I can unify the two, adding a few coleus—also piggy-backed on stands of varied heights— to round out the combination.

I’ve also found that staging can be a real boon to creating color echoes in my container border. Coleus and dahlias, for example, seem made for each other since it’s easy to find a coleus with colorful foliage to match the hue of almost any dahlia. But the dahlias I like are 3 or 4 feet tall, while few coleus top 30 inches. By giving the coleus a boost of a foot or two, their decorative foliage becomes a colorful companion to the dahlias’ floral fireworks.

pot-eclectic-landscape

pot-eclectic-landscape

Staging is also a good way to make the most of fast-growing plants in a container display. Golden fruit of the Andes, the big-leaved plant in the center of the display in the opening photo, is a plant I love for its huge, furry, spiked leaves, but it grows so quickly it’s hard to maintain it in a starring, close-up role. So early in the season I raise it on staging to a position of prominence, then as the plant grows, move it to shorter platforms until finally, by late August, there’s no need for any staging at all. Small, slow-growing plants as well as plants that display flowers with strong visual appeal or fragrance can also benefit from staging by bringing them closer to eye level.

Staging can also be an effective way to display ornaments such as small fountains, sculptures, or handsome empty pots.In a container garden it’s easy to place ornaments where they look best, and with staging, the options are unlimited. I have a fountain of copper large cement pots but it’s only about 18 inches tall and would be immediately overwhelmed by a surround of abutilon, dahlias, and coleus. So, I just piggyback the fountain on some staging, and it rises to a place of honor.

Almost anything can serve as a plant stand, provided it’s tall enough to lift the plant to the desired height, stable enough not to topple in the wind, and sturdy enough not to collapse when the pot on top gets a heavy watering. I’ve found that heavy-duty black plastic nursery pots work well, the kind that usually contain small trees or large shrubs. Their only drawback is their rather limited range, typically 10 to 18 inches high. For something taller, I often use logs that measure a foot or so in diameter, cut to length. For larger supports that will hold several large cement pots at once, I sometimes use overturned bulb crates, the hard plastic containers used for shipping bulbs. If need be, they can be stacked one atop another. I’ve also built benchlike stands using 2×10 or 2×12 pressure-treated lumber. All it takes is a length of lumber and two shorter pieces for legs.

terrazzo pot plants

terrazzo pot plants

To further the illusion that some of my plants are of unusual height, I hide supports behind a rank of containers planted with sprawling lantanas or coleus, which act as a ground cover. For plant stands that will be visible, options include attractive concrete or ceramic supports available at many garden centers. In winter, I sometimes retreat to my basement workshop to build plant stands out of pine lumber. I make them whatever height I want, embellish them with ornamental molding, then add a coat of paint. All these supports really give my garden a boost and give me the chance to rejigger a border without digging anything up.

Growing thyme in a cement pot

Plant thyme in your herb garden, at the edge of a walk, along a short garden wall, or in cement planter. As a special garden treat, put a few along a walkway and between steps, and your footsteps will release its aroma. It even makes a pretty patch of small ground cover. Growing thyme provides an anchor in an herb garden in areas where it is evergreen in winter. Thyme is also perfect for cement pot, either alone or in combination with plants that won’t shade it out. The flowers open in spring and summer, sprinkling the plant with tiny, two-lipped blossoms attractive to bees.

Growing-Harvesting in cement planter

Growing-Harvesting in cement planter

Soil, Planting, And Care

Thyme does best in full sun. Start from young plants set out in spring after the last frost. Plant in well-drained soil with a pH of about 7.0; it prefers slightly alkaline conditions. Add lime to the pot or ground to raise the pH if needed. Also add a slow-release fertilizer to the soil at or before planting and again each spring. Thyme must have excellent drainage. Mulching with limestone gravel or builder’s sand improves drainage and prevents root rot. German thyme is perennial in zones 5 to 9, lemon thyme in zones 7 to 9. Easy to grow, thyme needs little care except for a regular light pruning after the first year. Do this after the last spring frost, so that the plants do not get woody and brittle. Pinching the tips of the stems keeps plants bushy, but stop clipping about a month before the first frost of fall to make sure that new growth is not too tender going into the cool weather. Cut thyme back by one third in spring, always cutting above points where you can see new growth, never below into the leafless woody stem. Lemon thyme is more upright and more vigorous than the other thymes. In the North and cold climates, cover with pine boughs after the soil freezes to help protect from winter damage. In zone 10, thyme is usually an annual, often succumbing to heat and humidity in mid-summer.

thyme-herb in cement pot

thyme-herb in cement pot

Troubleshooting

Spider mites can be a problem in dry weather. Also watch out for root rot and fungus diseases in humid climates. Good drainage, good air circulation, and proper planting as described above will help prevent disease.

Harvest And Storage

Harvest leaves as you need them, including through the winter in places where it is evergreen. Although the flavor is most concentrated just before plants bloom, thyme is so aromatic that the leaves have good flavor all the time. Strip the tiny leaves from woody stems before using.

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