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Gardening and More: Tricks for creating colorful and healthy potted patio gardens

Get inspiration for your own containers at the Celebration of Coleus & Color Show at the Buffalo & Erie County Botanical Gardens.

HAMBURG — “Nothing will kill a plant quicker than poor drainage,” said Jeff Thompson, director of horticulture at the Buffalo and Erie County Botanical Gardens.

You might have large containers with no drainage holes, but you can make sure your plant has good drainage with a few tips that Thompson shared with me recently, as he gave me a behind-the-scenes look at the preparations for the Celebration of Coleus & Color show that opens on June 14.

The show will run from 10 a.m-5 p.m. daily through July 27 at the Buffalo and Erie County Botanical Gardens, located at 2655 S. Park Ave. in Buffalo. This is a show you can enjoy outside as well as inside. Make sure you take some time to enjoy the plantings that line the front sidewalk, and don’t forget to stroll through the perennial gardens that surround the building. There’s color everywhere!

Admission is $9 for adults, $8 for seniors ages 55 and older and students 13 and older with identification, $5 for children ages 3-12 and free for members and children under 2.

To make sure your containers have good drainage, fill the pot partway with foam packing peanuts. Another material you can use is the six-pack containers that plants come in when you buy them at a garden center. Crumple up those containers and put them in the bottom of your pot.

Cover the packing peanuts or crumpled plastic containers with landscape fabric, then cover the landscape fabric with your potting mix.

Many of the plants need only a foot of soil, so there’s no reason to fill the entire pot with dirt, Thompson said, adding that some large trees inside the Botanical Gardens are grown in pots that are half-filled with packing peanuts.

Potting soil can be expensive, so you can save some money using this tip. Plus, the pot will be lighter and easier to move.

A couple more tips on moisture: If you want a pot that holds moisture better, choose a glazed pot rather than an unglazed pot. You can aslo add those gel-like particles that you can buy under various brand names to the soil before you plant. Thompson said they do help to retain moisture.

Another tip for creating an attractive container is to mix different kinds of plants in one pot. Choose a plant that cascades over the side of the pot, a plant that is upright or spikey and a plant at the middle level.

“You can get a lot of interest in a small space, which is the object of container gardening,” he said.

Thompson had aisles of plant material to choose from, much of it donated by Zittel’s in Hamburg. However, you have to choose plants that will grow well together.

Read the plant tag and choose plants that have similar growing conditions. Don’t mix sun-loving plants with shade plants. Don’t mix plants that prefer drier soil with plants that like more water.

Keep an eye on your plants as they grow throughout the season, too, he said. The various plants may not grow at the same rate. If you don’t watch out, one plant could grow much larger and overpower the others.“It’s not just plant and forget,” Thompson said. “You’ve got to pinch the plants back. It’s like controlling a little world.”

Connie Oswald Stofko is publisher of, the online gardening magazine for Western New York. Email


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