Think About Planters

Casandra Maier- November, 2021

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The landscape has an impact on overall well-being.  The addition of a decorative planter is a fast and efficient way to immediately improve the outdoor space and contribute to a sense of wellness through design.  Landscape planters provide the opportunity for creative and artistic expression.  During the holidays they provide a space for classy, themed décor.  The aesthetic value and seasonal interest planters generate is used to mark entrances and enhance curb appeal for homeowners and businesses alike.  These manageable contained growing environments are suited for both beginner and advanced gardeners.  Like other areas of the landscape, plant and soil science, design principles, and maintenance plans all have an impact on the container's growth.  Success is increased with professional consultation from a landscape designer.  Many designers also offer procurement services, helping clients secure specialty planters outside of typical landscape retail.  The pros of adding planters to the outdoor space are numerous, with the cons amounting to solvable misconceptions.  From the vessel itself, to the plants and design elements chosen; there are endless options and combinations.  When a pop of color and texture is needed to brighten up the landscape, think about planters and container gardens.                  

Planter Pros

Adding a planter to the outdoor space is one of the fastest ways to take steps toward refinement and improvement.  Where other landscape plants and installations take time to fill-in and mature, planters offer instant:

  • Color 

  • Texture

  • Growth 

  • Interest 

Growing in a contained space is suited for a wide range of plants.  Traditionally, planters are filled with annual flowers that add a pop of color and mark the changing seasons.   Choose from a variety of successful container plants or consider combinations of the following:

  • Annual flowers

  • Perennials (depending on the climate zone)

  • Bulbs

  • Aromatic herbs 

  • Vegetables and fruits

  • Ornamental shrubs and grasses

  • Small trees

  • Aquatic plants  (in planters filled with water) 

Planters provide versatility.  Unlike other fixed plantings and installations within the landscape, their contents are easily swapped, making them interchangeable through the seasons.  Strategically placed planters are used to highlight areas in the outdoor space.  The impactful statement and first impression they make are good for:

  • Seasonal displays

  • Holiday décor

  • Creative and artistic expression

  • Accent features

  • Aromatherapy with fragrant flowers and herbs

  • Drawing attention to business entrances

  • Homeowner curb appeal

  • HOA community continuity

   

In places where traditional gardening and landscaping are impractical or not possible, a planter provides an alternative growing space.  A contained growing environment is more manageable in the following scenarios:

  • Rental properties

  • Personalizing HOA units

  • Limited space

  • Limited mobility to perform maintenance

  • Limited time for maintenance

The portability of planters means they may be placed anywhere in the outdoor space, creating the opportunity for year-round interest.  As a movable landscape feature, they may be relocated and oriented to optimize growing conditions.  Planters and containers are also suitable for all gardening and landscape skill levels, including:

  • Beginner/ first-time gardeners and landscapers

  • Intermediate plant and landscape enthusiasts

  • Advanced horticulturalists honing or showcasing growing skills           

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Image Credit: Property of ND Design Services Inc.  

Planter Misconceptions

When considering an outdoor landscape planter, there are many pros, but what about the cons?  Commonly, the drawbacks associated with planters and container gardens include:

 

  • Units are dense, heavy, and difficult to move/ install

  • Vessels are delicate and break easily

  • Daily watering and frequent fertilization are needed

  • The investment is short-term and will require replacement

However, these drawbacks are not always true for all planter units.  Many vendors defy these issues with specialty materials and features that provide practical solutions to these problems.  Depending on the vendor and vessel chosen, these cons contribute to misconceptions about container gardening.  Concerning the weight of planters:

  • Many vendors specialize in carbon neutral and LEED certified materials that are lightweight 

  • Recycled and eco-friendly materials are often significantly lighter than traditional units  

  • With proper installation, the unit is placed before the addition of soil, plants, and water, which add weight

  • Soil-less planters are filled with lightweight mixtures like peat moss, perlite, vermiculture, or ground bark

  • The overall weight of the unit may be advantageous for security purposes, and to prevent imbalance or tipping  

When considering the overall investment and delicate nature of these vessels, it is important to note that not all landscape planters and gardening containers are made from thin, brittle plastic or terra cotta.  Those made from durable, high-quality materials serve as long-term or even life-long investments.  These materials include: 

  • Ceramics

  • Porcelain

  • Eco-friendly resins/ high-density polyethylene 

  • Aluminum

  • Powder-coated/ corten/ galvanized steel

  • Wood

  • Cement

It is true that planters require more frequent watering and fertilization compared to fixed landscape installations, which gain moisture and nutrients from the ground.  Soil in a contained environment experiences quicker evaporation and nutrient loss, affecting overall plant health.  Fortunately, some vendors have taken this into consideration, offering planters with maintenance-reducing features such as:

  • Self-wicking reservoirs

  • Self-watering systems

  • Hydration systems that tie into landscape irrigation

  • Irrigation systems that also deliver soluble fertilizers

 

 

Self-watering and fertilizer delivery features that tie into landscape irrigation reduce the need for overall planter maintenance.  Such containers hold water and controlled release fertilizers, distributing them in a timed, even fashion.  These slow-release systems can hold water up to two weeks during the summer months, eliminating the need for daily watering.           

                          

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Image Credit: Property of ND Design Services Inc.  

Planter Design

Planters and container gardens are living micro-environments.  Like other areas of the landscape, the following have an impact on growing success:

  • Plant selection 

  • Plant science

  • Soil science

  • Container size

  • Container drainage

  • Moisture distribution

  • Planter placement

  • Sun exposure

  • Design principles  

Seeking professional consultation from a landscape designer bolsters the success of container gardening.  Many landscape designers offer hourly consultation and planter design services.  These services help clients navigate the following:

  • Choosing a container of the appropriate size to avoid problems associated with overcrowded plant roots

  • Choosing plants that adapt and thrive in a contained environment

  • Considering the amount of sunlight/ shade needed, based on the specific plant's growing requirements

  • Placing planters in the appropriate location for proper sun orientation/ protection from the wind and elements

  • Following design principles for aesthetic color, texture, shapes, and dimensions

  • Choosing the best soil mixture for optimal hydration and nutrient delivery, while reducing weeds, pests, and diseases  

  • Setting up a realistic plan for watering, fertilizing, and general maintenance

  • Choosing a planter with features that reduce the need for frequent maintenance

  • Choosing a unique vessel that serves as a functional and aesthetic site element

 

Landscape designers bring a level of refinement to planter and container design.  They set clients up for container gardening success.  When these landscape elements grow successfully, clients save time, money, and materials in the long run.  In addition to offering consultation and planter design services, many landscape designers also offer:

  • Planter and container procurement services

  • Specialty planter procurement outside of typical landscape retail

  • Material procurement services for plants, soil mixtures, and other design elements

When designers offer procurement services, clients have access to items they would not find otherwise through basic landscape and gardening retail.  Clients can browse a selection of planters and containers that are truly:

 

  • Unique

  • Artistic

  • Specialty

 

 

When hiring a landscape designer for consultation and planter design, ask about procurement services.              

                          

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Image Credit: Property of ND Design Services Inc.  

Other Considerations

There are a few other considerations when purchasing these accent features for the outdoor space.  In addition to procuring planters and making sure their contents grow successfully, landscape designers also help clients find containers that are:

  • Fair trade

  • Ethically sourced

  • Eco-friendly

  • Durable

  • Made from safe and certified materials

Choosing a planter made from safe, eco-friendly, and durable materials is important to ensure that the container garden does not:

  • Break down and fall apart over time

  • Leech chemicals or toxins into the groundwater

  • Leech chemicals or toxins into the contents of the planter, especially when growing edible plants

Other considerations for planters and container gardens include:

  • In commercial and residential settings planters offer security, delineating boundaries, and the flow of traffic

  • Fixed security planters provide an aesthetic alternative to bollard posts in commercial spaces

  • Seasonal annual flower planters are the fastest way to refresh/ brighten HOA communities and commercial spaces

  • Planters and containers made from corten steel are only suited for planting beds and natural grounds

  • Never place corten steel planters on concrete or hardscaping as the aesthetic color tends to stain surfaces   

  

Sources:

Dodge, N. (October, 2021). Interviews with ND Design Services Inc. 

Roll, M. and Wilson, CR. (August, 2020). "Container Gardens." Colorado State University. 
https://extension.colostate.edu/topic-areas/yard-garden/container-gardens-7-238/