Monday, July 22, 2013

Mailbox Planter: Lessons Learned

One of the charming things about our yard is the little planter box to the left of the mailbox.  Cute? Yes. Well-tended? Um, no.

When we moved in, it looked like this:

These are what I refer to as weeds. 

One Sunday afternoon (Lesson 1: plant when it's cooler than an Arkansas June afternoon...), I donned my long sleeves and garden gloves (just in case any of it was poison ivy/oak) and got to work.

First I pulled our all the lush, undesirable flora and threw it away.  There was still some dirt left in the planter, but I filled it the rest of the way up with Miracle-Gro Moisture Control Potting Mix

Next, I watered the plants just a little, removed the plants from their containers, and loosened the root ball slightly. (They're packed very tightly in their store-issued pots, so just loosen them a little to help them grow)

Using a trowel, I dug holes a little deeper and a little wider than the root ball.

I placed them evenly around the planter to give them plenty of room to grow into.  As I talked about with the monkey grass (read about it here), plant them further apart that you think is necessary.  

Lesson 2: avoid over-planting, as the plants will fill in.  They may initially look sparse, but they will look lush by the end of the season.  You'll also save some money by not buying enough plants to completely fill the area.

After I was all finished planting, I watered again with the addition of Miracle-Gro Plant Food Mix.

Here is the planter as soon as I finished planting:

See? It still looks a little bare, but it's still an improvement from two-foot-tall weeds.  

Here is the planter today (about 6-8 weeks later... it has looked this full for a week or two):

Let's talk about the plants I used.
The top row, left-right: Purple and white petunia, a smaller-bloom purple petunia, and a prayer plant
Bottom row: Sweet potato vine, white petunia, purple and white petunia
(In the first picture, I had creeping Jenny, but it wasn't thriving because this area gets so much direct sunlight, so I moved it to a pot, put in sweet potato vine, and shuffled around the petunias.)

This area is FULL SUN. All sun, all the time.  The dirt dries out quickly. (Sprinklers hit this area twice a day, and I water with plant food added once a week. The plants could probably survive with less water)  Lesson 3: keep the soil moist. I water if the dirt doesn't feel slightly wet to the touch.

Petunias like the heat and full sun, so all the varieties have done really well here.  

The white petunias are "wave" petunias, so they spread like a ground cover.

  The purple and white petunias are not "wave" petunias, so they kind of grow up and out.

The purple petunias with the smaller blossom didn't bloom quite as much initially, but now they are.  They have stayed lower to the ground also.

Sweet potato vine also likes full sun.  I wish I would have added it to the planter earlier in the season because it could have been fuller by now, but oh well.  I love how they're already spilling over the side of the planter.

The last plant in the box is the prayer plant.  It doesn't like sun as much, so planted it right next to the mailbox in hopes that it would shade the plant a little. 

This plant is cool because the leaves roll up at times to show the pretty red underneath part of the leaves.

So when perusing the aisles at the nursery looking for plants for something to fill your planters and pots, use annuals in places where you want lots of color and in areas small enough you wouldn't mind changing out seasonally. (Because the mailbox planter is probably only 18" x 30" and the first area you see from the street, I was willing to use annuals.)

I like ground cover plants (or plants low to the ground) for the perimeter or the front.  In the planter box, the sweet potato vine fit the bill by spilling over one corner, an the white "wave" petunia spilling over the front.   Another nice option is creeping Jenny, if the area can stay more moist, seen here:

Then I fill in the middle with plants that grow upwards, like the purple and white petunias.

The plants I have in the mailbox planter would be great in planter beds or in pots where you want some impact with relatively little maintenance.  They are doing well in full sun, but they would also do well in part-sun (especially the prayer plant).

More to come on easy-to-maintain plants!



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