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Eek! The landscape outdoors is paring down. Every day more plants shed their leaves and drop off the scene. We hear you: The loss of those layers is turning you blue. So, it’s time to seek solutions. You need to add volume indoors.

Combo Containers

How about bringing the concept of a layered landscape inside your home? Just like you’re piling on the blankets at night and gathering bouquets of gleanings from the garden (like fluffy dried hydrangea bracts and puffy baptisia seed heads), you could combine houseplants into mini scenes that echo the garden outdoors. You’ll want to combine groundcovers with slightly taller plants. Of course, you could just huddle plants of different heights together. But how about nestling them together in a combo container? It’s surprisingly easy to concoct a mini garden in a pot.

Strategies for Success

First rule when you’re composing a garden-in-a-pot: Tuck plants that prefer the same growing conditions together. And success will only be achieved if you have the right window space to host the combo. Oh, and we’ve got to mention: Good, fertile, muscular, organic potting soil is key to turning this little idea into a happy, healthy, growing reality. Coast of Maine has you covered with Stonington Blend Organic & Natural Grower’s Mix to make this happen. Or, if you are going the cacti and succulent route, go for Mount Desert Island Blend Organic Cactus & Succulent Mix. So, here’s the game plan:

The Underground Story

            Beyond the soil you select (see recommendations above), think about the flow of moisture when you water. Containers with sufficient drainage holes will be fine with a substantial potting soil underfoot. But if your container does not have a drainage hole, you should lay down a base that will keep the soil from going stagnant. Depending on the depth of your container, start with an inch or two of pea stone pebbles on the bottom of the container. Add a tablespoon or two of horticultural charcoal. Mix the charcoal (which acts as a filter), and the pebbles together and then add your potting soil above the pebble layer. When you water a container without drainage, it’s wise to be a little less generous with servings and always wait until the soil is slightly dry before adding water.

Plant Play Dates

Select compatible plants for simpatico co-existence in your mini kingdom. For example, shade-loving mosses and ferns will usually grow together in peace and harmony. Similarly, if you stick to one family—like peperomias, miniature begonias, miniature aloes, or kalanchoes, you’re likely to succeed if you heed their mutual growing preferences. For example, aloes, kalanchoes, and other succulents will want to bask in the sunbeams of a south-facing window while peperomias (and there are plenty of very diverse peperomias on the market) will do fine in east or west-facing windows.

The Layered Look

Now for the design: Select creepers and low-growing plants to carpet the soil and lay a base for other bedfellows to stand above, creating the sense of a mini-landscape. Play with textures and color. Are you working with shade-loving ferns in a low-light area? Sprinkle in some gold or silver-leaved plants to brighten the scene.

The Planting Process

Lay out the design for your little landscape before planting. Dig holes to receive each plant and then firm the root systems solidly into the soil. Bury each root system totally and snuggly in soil. Tamp the soil around the neck of each incoming plant to firm it in place. When the design is finished, give the whole scene a drink to settle the soil around each plant. Meanwhile, watch for gullies—they are the telltale sign that you haven’t firmed a root system solidly in place. Add soil where necessary. Then, sit back and admire your genius. And that’s just the beginning. Combo containers indoors are going to grow on you.

Written by award winning author, Tovah Martin.  Photos also taken by Tovah Martin.  Find her books and more information on her website:

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