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Beltrami County Master Gardener: Put pizzazz in your pots

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Ho-hum. Spring planters can be boring after seasons of the same old stuff -- geraniums, petunias and spikes.

Instead, let's create pots of plants that take our breath away when we see them on our front porch. Consider three things: focal point, color and movement. These factors help us create pots of pizzazz that we'll remember well into next winter.

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Focal point: every planter and arrangement needs one to catch and hold the eye. Think of the preacher on Sunday morning. All eyes zero in on this central figure. The congregation fills in, and the basement ladies get coffee ready, but the preacher's sermon is center stage. So it is with planting up pots. Use the unique texture and appeal of garden vegetables, as an example. Colorful 'Bright Lights' chard, flowering kale and leafy dill with broad seeds heads look great in pots. In a shady spot consider caladiums ('White Christmas' is my favorite), begonias or 'Redhead' coleus. Pick the preacher first; then fill in the congregation.

Color is important in our gardens, and even more so in containers. What are your favorite colors for clothing or indoor decorating? Use these colors outdoors as well. But here's the clue: find a plant to combine with that color that makes it pop! The new chartreuse coleus hybrids, Wasabi and Limelight, make this an easy job; 'Key Lime Pie' heuchera. 'Purple Ruffles' basil or 'Blackie' potato vine set off orange flowers perfectly. Use vines such as 'Silver Falls' dichondra and 'Margarita' sweet potato vine with hot colored flowers. 'Dusty Miller,' 'Diamond Frost' euphorbia and white 'Supertunias' set off bright colors as well.

Nothing beats the swish and sway of grasses in pots. Get rid of the rigid spikes that wouldn't move even in a tornado, and replace them with grasses. 'Frosted Explosion' (Panicum elegans) and fountain grasses such as 'Fireworks' practically explode in a pot! 'Red Riding Hood' is a pennisetum that offers color in addition to seed heads. Last year I used 'Vertigo' in pots by the front door. I could tell by the name that it wouldn't just stand still all summer. Ornamental millets -- 'Purple Majesty' and 'Jester' -- are grand although it takes a stiff wind to move them about. Include their gorgeous late summer seed heads for fall arrangements. Corkscrew rush looks like a kinky haircut and loves moisture. Papyrus, available in two sizes, is also a water lover: 'King Tut' grows to 5 feet, and 'Baby Tut' to 2 feet. 'Toffee Twist' (Carex flagellifera) isn't a moving grass, but its blades give that impression. It's terrific with oranges and other autumn colors. The perennial, Gaura, isn't a grass, but it can be used as one since its small, graceful flowers rise above on willowy stems that swing in the breeze.

Take inspiration from magazines, garden center displays and your gardening friends to add pizzazz to your pots this spring. Nothing makes gardening more interesting than experimenting with something new.

You can reference the University Of Minnesota Extension Service website, www.extension.umn.edu/garden/yard-garden, for more information on horticultural topics. In addition, local Master Gardeners will again answer your questions on home horticulture. Call (2180 444-7916, leave your name, number, and question and you will receive a return call.

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