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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Tuesday, Sept. 16, 2014

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In Living

Succulents stacked in troughs or pots can create a desert feel in the landscape. (PHOTO: Melinda Myers, LLC)

Melinda Myers' tips for making your own garden paradise in a pot


Create a backyard escape with the help of container gardens. Whether you're looking for a visit to the desert, an English garden or tropical paradise, a few planters can help create the mood.

Reduce your workload and increase your enjoyment with a bit of planning and proper planting.

Select a container with drainage holes, as well as one that mimics the color and feel of the location you are trying to recreate. Use troughs, stone or other containers made from neutral colors when growing succulents. The container should complement, but not overpower, the simple beauty of the desert plants.

If you're going for a more tropical feel, keep things warm and natural. Wicker, bamboo and other natural materials work well with the lush foliage and vibrant colors of tropical plants.

On the other hand, when creating an English cottage setting, add a few terra cotta, metal and basket type containers. Set them on your patio, steps or in the garden to create a focal point.

Keep your plants looking good throughout the season with the proper planting mix. Look for potting mixes with good drainage and water holding abilities, like Schultz Potting Soil Plus (schultz.com). Check the label as some mixes contain enough fertilizer to last the entire season and water-retaining crystals to reduce the need to water.

To provide the perfect growing conditions for cacti and succulents, use a cactus mix. The potting mix should retain the moisture and nutrients the plants need while also providing the excellent drainage that is a must for these plants.

Plant any orchids added to your backyard tropical paradise in a potting mix designed for these plants. Use an orchid mix that has excellent drainage and aeration, yet retains the moisture and nutrients these beauties need to thrive.

Check your planters daily and water thoroughly whenever the top few inches of soil are crumbly and slightly moist. Allow cacti and succulents to go a bit drier.

Mulch the soil in tropical, herb, vegetable and annual container gardens. Spread a thin layer of shredded leaves, evergreen needles or twice shredded bark over the soil surface. Use fine pebbles for cacti and succulents that like things hot and dry.

And don't forget about garden accents. A wattle fence and arbor of twigs and branches work well for an English garden setting, while a water feature can enhance a tropical paradise themed garden. Meanwhile, some southwest garden art can complete the desert scene you're going for.

So start your vacation this year with a trip to the garden center. Invest in a few containers, the right potting mix and plants. Then plant your way to the retreat of your dreams.

Gardening expert, TV/radio host, author & columnist Melinda Myers has more than 30 years of horticulture experience and has written over 20 gardening books, including Can't Miss Small Space Gardening and the Midwest Gardener's Handbook. She hostsThe Great Courses "How to Grow Anything" DVD series and the nationally syndicated Melinda's Garden Moment segments. Myers is also a columnist and contributing editor for Birds & Blooms magazine. Myers' web site, melindamyers.com, offers gardening videos and tips.

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