Thrillers, Fillers, and Spillers

When designing summer, autumn, or winter containers be sure to follow the thrillers, fillers, and spillers rule for maximum effect. The “thriller” is the center, tallest plant. The spillers go around the perimeter of the pot; choose ones that sprawl “spill” over the edges. The fillers go in between the thrillers and the spillers to fill in the bare spots.

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Annuals or Perennials?

Most people choose annuals over perennials for their summer containers. That’s because annuals bloom all summer until frost kills them off. Perennials, on the other hand, bloom for two weeks on average, if you’re lucky. You can use a combination of both for your thrillers, fillers, and spillers. For example, perennial ornamental grasses make an awesome, inexpensive (dig a clump up from your garden) “thriller” (center) for containers.

Sun or Shade?

When designing your container, be sure to take its intended location into consideration. Some plants (both annuals and perennials) like full sun, others full shade, with others somewhere in between. Don’t try to combine these different requirements in the same container. If you do, some will thrive, and others will fizzle.

You can probably tell from these pictures that coleus and hibiscus are my favourite annuals for shade and sun containers respectively….

Fertilizer

Containers of annuals can be fertilized weekly right up until frost. This practice will keep the annuals looking cheerful as long as possible. Perennials need less fertilizer, especially those in garden beds when monthly is ideal up until August (in zone 4/5).

Deadheading and Pinching

Deadheading, or removing spent blossoms, helps to keep your containers looking nice all season. For annuals and perennials with flowers on stalks, remove the stalk right back to the first set of leaves after the flower has passed its peak. This practice often encourages repeat blooming. Others just need the faded flowers picked off.

Pinching the center of annuals and perennials encourages them to get bushier instead of leggy.

Frost Warnings

While annuals will be affected by frost, most perennials will not. Some annuals tolerate a light frost, others not so much. Of course, the first frost date varies across the globe, sometimes year to year within the same area.

In other words, frost is unpredictable.

Perennials can overwinter in your containers if you choose plants two zones hardier than what is normally hardy in your area. Otherwise, you can stick them in the ground to overwinter, to use again the following spring.

You can extend the season on both ends by heeding frost warnings in your weather forecast. In the spring I tend to start my containers early to ensure I get the annuals I want. If a frost warning is issued, I move the containers into my garage, off the (cold) cement floor, for the night in question. The same technique can be used in the fall when a sporadic early frost is in the forecast.

Once frost has set in for several days, you are fighting a lost cause. It’s then time to switch your concentration to

Household Toxins Might be Making you Sick

Common household toxins may be making you sick.  In some cases you don’t even know you are sick. Toxins are present in your home in the form of cleaning products, paints, furniture, synthetic building materials such as particle board and insulation, carpets, and even your printer and photocopier! Learn about the common culprits and just what they can do to your health.

VOCs are Household Toxins

Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) are harmful gases released by all of the common household items listed above.  These gases cause lethargy, skin rashes, headaches, drowsiness, itchy eyes, asthma-like symptoms, and even cancer.

Be aware of what you are bringing into your home!  I was reminded of this a few weeks ago when I was cleaning my house.  Out of my usual brand of toilet cleaner, I grabbed a bottle of Javex sitting around the house from my pre-toxin awareness days.   I used it (sparingly) to clean the toilets in my home…

Symptoms of Household Toxins

The next day I woke up with what I thought was the start of a cold.  My chest felt heavy and I could not seem to draw a full breath into my lungs.  I also had a vague headache, and a “tickle” in my throat, but no other cold like symptoms developed.  Later on that day, I developed a shallow, dry cough which felt like my lungs were trying to clear whatever was irritating them. 

These symptoms lasted for four days.  Coincidence?   I don’t think so; this is how my lungs felt most of the time before I switched to non-toxic products. The products I now use are all made with tea tree oil, an anti-viral, anti-bacterial, natural ingredient.  My respirologist agrees, as my asthma-like symptoms have disappeared since switching to these non-toxic products.

Houseplants Remove Household Toxins

You can also make your home healthier by adding house plants to your decor.  Not only do plants look nice, but they can also help keep your family healthy.  Carbon dioxide and the VOCs described above, as well as other harmful gases such as benzene, formaldehyde, and trichloroethylene are absorbed through the roots as well as through pores in the leaves of plants.   In exchange, beneficial and healthy products like oxygen and moisture are released into the air for us to breathe.

Choose plants such as spider plants, dracaena, English ivy, mother-in-law tongues, bamboo palms, and other tropical plants. These choices are all easy to grow and readily available.  Tropical plants are suitable for indoors in homes and offices because they are used to growing and processing gases in reduced light under the canopies of jungles and rain forests.  Water your plants thoroughly with warm water and let the soil dry out between watering; too much water is the easiest way to kill your house plants.

Fifteen medium to large plants (greater than six-inch pots) in an average-sized 2000 square foot home can greatly improve the air quality in your home. So, get growing!

In Conclusion

Get rid of the common household toxins making your family sick by removing offending chemical compounds and adding houseplants. Check out a recent post on what I’ve learned about houseplant care. My house is fast becoming a jungle, but I love it.

A green landscape outside can improve the air quality in your yard and even your neighbourhood as well. Planting lots of shrubs, trees, perennials and annuals can turn your yards into a healthy environment for you as well as the birds and other wildlife.