“It’s exciting times. We’ve come into a relaxed stage of gardening, mixing annuals and perennials, even vegetables together. It’s a new paradigm.”

There’s no denying people’s passion for annual flowers, he says, and he’s all for it. But he also advises green thumbs to toss in perennials, peppers and maybe a strawberry vine or two while you’re at it.

“We’re just not purists anymore,” he says. “That’s what’s so great about container gardening. Anybody, any age, can do it in almost any setting from decks to patios, townhouses, window boxes. Even a half inch of rain the night before won’t prevent you from gardening the next day.”

Here are his secrets for planting successful containers:

Containers: Plastic, true terra cotta, poured-in-place concrete … the material doesn’t really matter to him “as long as the gardener is happy with it.” That said, the easiest to handle is some kind of recycled plastic to deal with the breakage and weight issue. And some of the faux stone plastics are excellent reproductions. Terra cotta has its fans, but the salt from some soil and watering end up discoloring the container. And it’s also susceptible to cracking in winter.

“The important thing is to choose different heights, depths and varying textures and make sure there are drainage holes in the bottom,” he says. Adding a layer of gravel on the bottom or cracked pottery bits also prevents holes from being plugged up and adds a little weight to plastic containers to prevent tipping.

Soil: “The new technology is that we are recommending soilless mixes,” he says. “Today’s potting mixes are the same that greenhouse growers are using. Nobody is planting containers using garden soil anymore.”

There are five basic ingredients in the new mixes: perlite, vermiculite, bark from the tree and logging industries, sphagnum moss and peanut hull waste products that keep the mix unbelievably light with supreme drainage and quick root growth. “The whole secret is greater and quicker root growth than in garden soil,” he says.

Additions: “I recommend adding a slow-release fertilizer, timed release, like Osmocote, but no more than three ounces per five gallon container,” he says. He also recommends a periodic watering with a soluble fertilizer such as 20-20-20 nitrogen, phosphorous, potassium mix like Peter’s or Miracle-Gro.

Plants: Choose plants of varying heights that will give the container the appearance of a bouquet, says Smith. That would include something tall in the center surrounded by medium-height growers and fillers with trailers added around the edges.

“Plants and people belong together,” enthuses Smith. “Containers stimulate the senses and allow people, even those without yards, to get out there and garden.”



TOM'S CONTAINER PICKS:

FLOWERS

VEGGIES