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Minter: Size matters for summer containers. Yes, it does!

Now is a great time to add value and beauty to our outdoor living areas, says master gardener Brian Minter.
Summer containers add colour and quality to your decks and patios. Master gardener Brian Minter explains.

Colourful containers add so much to our summer patios and decks, but it’s important to have plants which perform well in your particular location.

Hot sun, heavy shade and wind are all factors in the success of your display, and there are plants that will thrive in all of these situations.

Size matters! Larger containers — those measuring at least 16 to 18 inches (40-45 cm) wide and deep — will hold a critical soil mass sufficient to maintain moisture levels even in challenging circumstances. 

Soil, too, is an important component. Professional blends, like ProMix and Sunshine Mix, are great, but the addition of moisture-retaining materials, like Sea Soil, can make all the difference.

For those warm, sunny locations, I like to use showy focal plants.

Canna lilies, especially the colourful foliage varieties, are dramatic, and vibrant phormiums, like "Yellow Wave" and "Rainbow Summer," are great too, as are many of the new dracaenas, like "Chocolate Mint," "Torbay Dazzler" and "Lemon Surprise."

Some of the nicest summer plants are the many varieties of salvias.

"Blue Victoria" and "Misty Blue" add an important blue colour to the mix, and bi-colour reds, pinks and mauves of the "Summer Series" will certainly get people’s attention, as well as the attention of both hummingbirds and bees.

Fibrous begonias are pure gold in sunny locations, and I love their contrasting foliage and flower colours.

As well as the traditional varieties, for a change try the larger growing and flowering "Whopper" series. For a nice spillover effect, red, pink or yellow "Dragon Wings" work really well too.

Silver is a wonderful accent colour, and it’s hard to beat "Angel Wings" senecio, dusty miller and the new "Silver Swirl" centaurea. All these varieties will add a classy pop of interest.

The gazillions of new petunias available today will provide an attractive, softening, spillover-the-edges effect, especially when you choose a colour that accents your other plant selections. Creeping Jenny, particularly the gold type, will create a nice tumbling-over look, and some of the many new marigolds will add an extra touch of yellow.

These plants are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to sun/heat-loving choices. Verbenas, sanvitalias and bidens can also be added to this list.

For the past few years, shade locations have been dominated by coleus, especially the Dummen Orange "Main Street Series," which is both sun and shade tolerant.

These varieties come in so many interesting colours, and they look great blended in with other shade lovers like impatiens, trailing begonias, upright fuchsias and even with New Guinea impatiens.

I also love to add lime coloured grasses, like "Everillo" carex, perennial ferns, such as "Japanese Painted" ferns and autumn ferns, with their contrasting bronze foliage, to my summer shade containers. Hostas, too, can bring a whole new dimension to shady patio containers.

Now that the weather is beginning to warm up, it is a great time to add value and beauty to our outdoor living areas.  As a bonus, hummingbirds and other pollinators will be attracted to our gardens.