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Potted Pleasures

Turn drab spaces into compact, low-maintenance sanctuaries.


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Hawaii's climate and soil conditions challenge gardeners with even the greenest of thumbs.  However, container gardens offer above-ground solutions and add warmth and intimacy to your favorite outdoor (and indoor) areas.

Photos by David Croxford

Step 1: Choose the plants.

  • Note how much sun, rain, salt spray and wind your planting area gets each day. Match your plants to those growing conditions.
  • Choose a theme. Do you want a flowering haven, a tropical oasis or an edible garden? A theme will help you select pots, soil and accessories.
  • Select a color scheme. For harmony, stay with one hue in different shades, like lavender, lilac and purple. For drama, go for contrasting colors.
  • Vary the plant heights and layer your garden with large focal plants, mid-range fillers,
  • trailing plants and low-lying ground covers. Also, use rocks, wood, plant stands or steps to vary plant height.
  • Ask the nursery for native and/or noninvasive plants.
  • Use a statue, large rock, pond or grouping of plants to create a focal point.

Step 2: Prepare the soil.

  • Show a nursery specialist your plant selection and ask for a potting mix that will meet the plants’ needs. A good mix will physically support the plants, retain water, aerate and drain properly.
  • Read labels. Many general-purpose mixes contain pesticides that aren’t needed in Hawai‘i. Consider the water runoff and who might play in your garden-children, pets, good bugs, etc. Ask about organic potting soils.
  • Don’t reuse old soil, which can transfer diseases to new plants.

Step 3: Pick out containers, pots and novelties.

  • Take a look around the house for unconventional containers. A tea pot, woven basket, strainer, or mug can be repurposed. Be sure to create drainage holes in “found” pots, or simply double-pot the plant. Sphagnum and Spanish moss are useful for concealing gaps in double-potted plants.
  • Consider the container’s weight, porosity, cost, strength and aesthetics. Options include wood, clay, concrete, metal, plastic and stone composites.
  • Simple plants show off an ornate pot, while flamboyant plants are showcased by simple pots.

Tip: For a non-toxic way to rid your garden of white flies, try a solution of one teaspoon of biodegradable dish soap or Tabasco in one liter of water. A few drops of cooking oil help the mixture stick to leaves.

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