Category Archives: Container Gardening

Finding Achimene Rhizomes

I’ve posted in the past about how impressed I am with achimenes. This hard-to-find plant is so easy to grow and it offers a very impressive show of flowers during the summer.

Hard to Get Achimenes

Hard to Get

Last year I discovered an online greenhouse that offers over 75 varieties of achimenes. Kartuz Greenhouses in Vista, California sells each variety as a package of 5 rhizomes. I have to say that I was very impressed with the rhizomes that I received from them. They were healthy and each variety was individually packaged with a plastic plant label that included the variety name and the address and website of Kartuz Greenhouses. (The only negative I would give to this site is that the list of achimenes includes no pictures. While there’s a written description of the flower, if you want to see it, you have to Google the name. With so many varieties, Googling each of them can get a little tedious.)

I tried three different varieties: Hard to Get, Caligula and Yellow Beauty.

Hard to Get was my favorite. The plants were large and filled with blossoms all summer long. As an extra bonus, this variety produced a ton of rhizomes! I started with 5 and I now have well over 40.

Caligula Achimene


I like the color of Caligula, but at the end of the season, there weren’t a lot of rhizomes for the next year. I’m assuming this is just a varietal difference; some plants multiply more than others.

Yellow Beauty Achimene

Yellow Beauty

Yellow Beauty was OK, but it was never covered with blossoms. I think that might be because the standard colors of achimenes are pinks, reds, whites, and purples. Yellow is an unusual color and often in plants, unusual colors didn’t have the vigor that you find in plants with the standard colors.

I’m continuing to look for new varieties of this plant. There are lots of achimenes on eBay, but I’m always a little hesitant to order plants from an unknown source. Also, most of the eBay listing are for one single rhizome. However, there are some really cool looking varieties for sale there. I might try one or two and see how it goes.

The basic varieties of achimenes that I found on Easy to Grow Bulbs hooked me on this amazing plant. I look forward to trying more varieties and finding which ones grow the best for me.




Container Garden Failure 2013 – SunPatiens

What SunPatiens Should Look Like

What SunPatiens Should Look Like

While most of the container plants did well this year, there was one that was an utter failure – SunPatiens. This plant has been touted a lot lately as a great plant for containers and beds. It’s more vigorous than New Guinea impatiens and it’s also resistant to the fungus that’s killing standard impatiens. According to the growers web site, these plants are free-flowering and can grow to 2′ tall and 3′ wide.

My SunPatiens Plant in the Process of Dying!

My SunPatiens Plant in the Process of Dying!

I decided to give the SunPatiens a try this year. The plant did well for about a month but then is started to turn brown. This discoloration continued until the plant was dead. I know these flowers can be great container plants; a local garden center has pots and pots of SunPatiens decorating their entryway.

So what went wrong?

I’m sure it has to do with watering. While SunPatiens can take full sun and even a little drought, the one thing they can’t tolerate is wet feet. If the soil stays moist for too long, they’ll develop fungal root rot caused by the fungus Rhizoctonia solani. If the rot has just started you might be able to stop it if the soil drys out but most of the time, once the plant has it, it’s a goner. Rhizoctonia solani is present everywhere so the only way to control it in the home garden is through proper cultural practices.

I think I know the two things that cause the death of my SunPatiens. The first is that I used MiracleGro potting mix. While this is a fine potting mix, it tends to be a little heavy and dense. I noticed that when I watered the SunPatiens pot that was filled with MiracleGro potting mix, the mix compacted a lot and didn’t seem to provide much aeration to the roots.

The other issue is that the pot I planted the SunPatiens in had a saucer attached. This isn’t a problem for most plants but the saucer meant that when I watered, the excess water couldn’t fully drain out of the pot; instead some of it sat in the saucer, making sure that the soil was saturated. In the case of SunPatiens, saturated soil equals fungal root rot.

While this plant was a total bust this year, I’ll try it again. Next year I’ll be sure to use the potting mix from Esbenshades that stays open and light all season long. Also, I’ll only use pots without saucers; that way the excess water can drain and not keep the soil too moist.

Now that I know what I did wrong, maybe I can correct it and grow some large and healthy SunPatiens in 2014!

Container Garden Runners-Up 2013 – Zinnias and Cosmos

zin1If the begonias were the winners in the container garden, a couple of plants I grew from seed are close runners-up. The containers of zinnias and cosmos have been great this year.

I started these flowers from seeds sown directly into large pots. While it took awhile for the plants to grow and start flowering, it was an inexpensive way to fill some containers. (See The High Cost of Instant Gratification) And in my opinion, it was worth the wait.

Bright Lights Cosmos

Bright Lights Cosmos

I planted the cosmos variety Bright Lights because it’s one of the shorter varieties of cosmos. The nice thing about cosmos is that they require very little care and have few if any disease or insect problems. The only “problem” I noticed with these plants is that they needed to be dead headed regularly or there’ll be seeds everywhere. Also, I recently cut the plants back to about 6″ in the hopes of revitalizing them and getting another show of color for the fall. I was surprised to see how attractive these flowers are to bees; any flower that brings more bees to the garden is one that I’ll keep growing.


Cactus Hybrid Zinnias

Cactus Hybrid Zinnias

My favorite zinnias are the cactus varieties so I planted Cactus Hybrid zinnias from Jung seeds in a large pot. Since I knew these plants would get over 3′ tall, I added a support structure to the center of the pot. Once the plants started growing, I was amazed at how well they grew. The blossoms have been non-stop and they last for weeks on the plant. Also, it’s the beginning of September and the plants have no powdery mildew on them! It might have something to do with the variety or the weather but my guess is that because the plants are elevated and have good air circulation, the conditions just aren’t right for this fungus to grow.


The zinnias are getting a little out of control as the plants keep growing larger. I could cut them back but I know that their season is soon coming to an end; I’ll just let them grow as long as they can.


While it took some time for the show to begin, in the case of zinnias and cosmos, it was worth the wait. I’ll definitely be growing these in containers next year.


Container Garden Winners 2013 – Miscellaneous Begonias

I do a lot of container garden, almost all of it flowers. This is the time of the year when I look around at the various containers and decide what’s grown well and what hasn’t been so good.

This year the clear winner in the container gardening category is a variety of begonias.

Big™ Begonia

Big™ Begonia

A large pot in a location that gets afternoon shade from a tree is home to three Big™ begonias that I started from seed in February. The variety I’m growing is rose with bronze leaves. This plant is just amazing. It’s a hybrid that’s part angel wing begonia and part fibrous rooted begonia. Unlike fibrous rooted begonias of the past, it can take full sun or partial shade. Like it’s angel wing parentage, the plants are huge, growing up to 2′ tall and wide. This begonia has been blossoming since late spring and it’s shown no sign of slowing down. The only thing I would do differently next year is that I’d just one plant in the pot – three is a overkill!

Angel Wing Begonia

Angel Wing Begonia

In addition to the Big™ variety, I also have a pot with a tradition angel wing begonia. This begonia gets its name from the shape of the leaves – they look like angel wings. While Big™ is an upright grower, angel wing begonias drape over the side of the pot. In full sun, one plant in a large pot blossoms from spring until fall.

Santa Cruz™ Sunset Begonia

Santa Cruz™ Sunset Begonia

The other begonia is  Santa Cruz™ Sunset. This plant with a mounding/trailing growth habit is amazing. It’s filled a pot and has been putting out an endless flow of orange/red flowers on plants that remain neat and clean – no need for trimming or dead-heading. Here in PA it does well in full sun though hotter parts of the country might need to give it a little shade. The leaves have a little texture to them unlike the glossy leaves of Big™ and angel wings, adding an interesting contrast.

All of these begonias have been blossoming non-stop since spring. I’ve had no problems with insects or disease. I’m planning on growing more of the Big™ variety from seed next year. While these are catching on around the country, they’re still a little hard to find in garden centers. I’m thinking of taking a cutting of the Santa Cruz™ Sunset begonia to see if I can keep alive over the winter. If not, I know I can find it to plant again next year.

Begonias for the garden used to be limited to small fibrous begonias and tuberous begonias. Both of these grew in the shade and were prone to various diseases. Begonias have come a long way since the 60s and 70s.  Now they’re strong plants that resist disease and grow in sun and shade. And for me, they’re the winners of this year’s container gardens.

Corn in a Container

It seems like people are growing everything in containers today. From tomatoes to carrots, zucchini to lettuce, containers are the new craze in vegetable gardening.

While I don’t grow vegetables in containers, I do a lot of container gardening – mostly flowers and some herbs. But recently I’ve been reading about people growing corn in containers. There are even special varieties of corn that are smaller and better adapted to container growing. I really doubted that this would work, the main reason being that corn is wind-pollinated. It’s recommended that when you grow corn in the garden, you grow it in blocks of at least 3-4 rows instead of one long row so that the ears can be fully pollinated. I wasn’t sure how a few plants in a pot would be able to pollinate each other.

While I had my doubts about container grown corn, I decided to give it a try. I used a large storage tub filled with potting mix to grow the corn. The seeds germinated well and the plants looked pretty good. But I recently noticed that there’s a problem with my container corn. The plants are tasseling but there aren’t any ears present with silk to receive the pollen from the tassels.

So what’s the deal?

Container Corn

Container Corn

I think I know the problem. While I’ve been careful to keep the corn well watered, corn needs a lot of water. In a container, it’s easy for a plant to become drought stressed. For many plants, some drought stress isn’t a big deal – water them and they come right back. But when corn is stressed, the plants go into survival mode. The goal of all plants is to spread their genes around and make sure that the species survives. A stressed corn plant stops the development of the ears and focuses on making pollen. The “thinking” of the plant is that while it might not be able to set seed, at least it can spread its genes by making pollen.

In a large field this might not be a problem – when the stress is removed and the ears develop, there’s likely to be some plants that are tasseling. But in my container of isolated corn plants, tassels without ears means that there won’t be any corn to harvest.

Maybe some people can get corn to grow in a container but I don’t think I’m one of them. You probably have to be much more careful about watering than I am. I’ll stick with flowers and herbs in the containers – they’re a lot less finicky – and I’ll keep the corn in the garden!

Alstroemeria in the Garden

If there’s one flower that’s a mainstay for many florists, it’s alstoemeria. Sometimes called a “Peruvian Lily,” alstroemeria – known in the biz as “alstro” – is bright and colorful, long-lasting and fairly inexpensive. If you’ve every received a mixed arrangement of flowers, odds are there was some alstroemeria in it.

I learned to like this flower while doing floral design but I was surprised to see it starting to appear in garden centers in the past few years. In 2006, the company Könst Alstroemeria BV in the Netherlands started to market Princess Lilies, a dwarf alstroemeria variety. Early varieties were tall and could become invasive. Princess Lilies solved these problems and made alstroemeria available to the home gardener.

Princess Lilies Alstroemeria "Fabiana"

Princess Lilies Alstroemeria “Fabiana

This year I’m growing an alstroemeria plant to see how it does in the garden. This plant grows from small tubers just below the surface of the soil. According to the instructions on the plant label, alstroemeria can be grown in the garden or in containers. It needs full to partial sun and should blossom throughout the summer. It’s described as a “tough” plant, one that can withstand a variety of cultural conditions.

The Princess Lilies are hardy to zone 7 – zone 6 with heavy winter mulching. Since I’m in zone 6 I decided to grow the plant in a container that can be brought inside over the winter to make sure that it survives the cold. Time will tell how this plant grows and blooms in its container.

There is one small warning when it comes to growing alstroemeria. This plant is a member of the Amaryllidaceae family which includes amaryllis, daffodils, snowdrops, agapanthus and others. This family of plants produces various alkaloids that if ingested can cause intestinal problems. Someone growing alstroemeria just needs to be aware that this plant is not to be eaten! Also some people’s skin is sensitive to these alkaloids and exposure can cause a mild rash. I’ve never had a problem with this but if you get a rash from daffodil sap, you might want to be a little careful when handling an alstroemeria plant.

Right now the Princess Lilies variety Fabiana looks great. I’ll be interested to see how it grows throughout the summer and also how easy it is to overwinter. I’m hopeful that this new plant will become a keeper. It’d be great if a florist flower could become a mainstay in the summer garden here in PA!

The High Cost of Instant Gratification

A week ago I was picking up some plants for the container gardening that I do. As I strolled through the garden center, I realized something – plants are really expensive.

Wait, that’s not true. Let me try again – large plants that are in full bloom are really expensive.

I was amazed at some of the prices of annuals growing in quart size containers. If you have a large pot, you’ll need at least 4 or 5 of these and the container will end up costing a minimum of $30 with plants and soil.

I certainly don’t begrudge the garden centers for the prices they charge – it took very early planting and a lot of care to have a large annual in bloom for sale in May. I also understand the appeal of these plants. It feels good to take an empty pot and transform it into a blooming masterpiece all in one day – instant gratification at its best!

As I moved through the rows and rows of plants, I found myself picking up a couple of 6-pack containers of annuals and a few smaller single pots of calibrachoa, lantana, angel wing begonia and wave petunia. Between these plants, the seedlings of begonia, datura and hibiscus that I’d started from seed and some packets of seeds, I was able to fill the many containers that I have outside.



I’ll be the first to admit that the pots aren’t much to look at right now. The plants are small and the seeds are just starting to germinate. But when I look at these pots, I can envision what they’ll look like in a month or two. I can picture a pot of cosmos with calibrachoa spilling over the sides. There might only be 6 leaves on the datura but I can see the double blooms in purple, white and yellow already. The marigolds might be small but I know that after a few warm weeks they’ll be full and healthy.



I understand the appeal of instant gratification when it comes to container gardening. If I had only one pot, I’d embrace it. If I was making a pot for a gift, I’d want the instant gratification look.

But there’s also something nice about seeing a plant grow and watching it move through the different stages of its life. In a world of emails, downloads and video on demand (all things I dearly love!), gardening can provide an opportunity to slow down and embrace some delayed gratification. It won’t be long before those pots with seedlings and small transplants will look just as good – if not better – than the instant gratification containers.

Plus, they’re a lot less expensive! (And that means you can grow more!!!)