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Thursday, 31 May 2018 14:12

Summer Container Plants

Now that May is here it's time to start planning your summer garden!

Summer is the perfect time of year to plant container plants. We have creative ideas that we want to share with you to help you get some fun new inspiration into your garden.


You may be wondering: what is a container garden? A container garden can be a playful tub filled with vegetables, a window box with annual flowers, or an old crate filled with flowers.

It is truly any pot containing plants so get as creative as you'd like and utilize plants that will flourish and grow in your conditions (taking into consideration sunlight, shade, geographical location, etc.).

Selecting the container for your garden:

As you pick what container best fits your garden, think about the types of plants you want to grow in it, where you plan to put it, and whether there's proper drainage.

Setting up your container:

Start with an inch or two of crushed gravel, Styrofoam pellets or broken shards of terra cotta that will provide sufficient drainage in large pots. However, before you get started, make sure you've considered what kind of pot to use.


Container Pot Options:

o Rooftop gardens: For rooftop container plants large pots are recommended to avoid small pots being blown over in high winds. Sometimes these pots are anchored with cables attaching to the rooftop surface to be extra safe from the winds.

o Terra cotta pots: Terra cotta pots are very popular with their medium-priced costs and the flexibility of sizes available which make for a beautiful grouping. The porous clay evaporates faster than plastic which is great for the plants but does provide extra work for the gardener!

o Cement composite containers: Cement planters such as hyper tufa English troughs are wide but shallow, great for alpine plants, miniature conifers, sedums, and other small collections. These mini gardens are ideal to be placed on a table top, a step, garden wall, or within a larger garden.

o Plastic containers: Plastic containers are inexpensive, lightweight, nonporous and ideal for hanging baskets or for plants which are inserted into a larger more decorative container. Plastic trays are ideal for window liners.

o Molded plastic pots: Molded plastic pots are well priced, lightweight and simulate terra cotta, limestone, and other natural materials at a much smaller cost.

o Natural wood: Natural wood is beautiful in a garden but will rot unless you line with metal or plastic. Treated wood will last longer but is not advisable for growing edible plants.

Once you've selected your pot, don't forget to choose the right soil, water, and fertilizers.


Soil, Water & Fertilizers:

Soilless potting mix is recommended for container plants because of its lightweight and how quickly it drains, encouraging quick root growth. Most soilless mixes are made of peat moss, vermiculite, and perlite, sometimes with a little sand and fertilizer.

Container pots tend to dry out quickly, especially in climates like Chicago that experience hot summers and windy weather. This type of climate requires frequent watering which can flush out the soil nutrients. To combat this, we recommend regular use of fertilizer to add back the nutrients. Begin by watering the plants before fertilizing with a diluted quarter-strength balanced product and continue to use a few times a month afterwards. Plants that flower constantly until frost need fertilizer the most.

Now that you've set your container plants up for success, consider planting these 12 “best bet” flowers recommended by Apartment Therapy for the Chicago area.

We hope this has helped you get started planting your very own summer container!


When an Evanston homeowner, birder, and photographer learned about the devastating loss of monarch butterflies due to habitat loss, she became motivated to take action.

“I can only control what’s in my own yard,” Tamima Itani said, and she wanted to use her yard to create a sanctuary for pollinators like butterflies, bees, and birds.

She knew she would need help to create strategically placed pollinator plantings and chose James Martin Associates (JMA) for the job. Together they determined that turf – which does not attract pollinators – should be removed and replaced with native plantings with winding gravel paths throughout.

This lack of grass meant that she would no longer have to mow or water the grass to keep it looking green, which reduced gas emissions, water usage, and the application of herbicides. She and her landscaping company would only have to focus on the garden beds.

Photo Credit: Tamima Itani

Itani sought plants native to the Chicago and Illinois region, such as common milkweed, palm and burr sedges, black-eyed susan, white woodland aster, and other local plants that were known to attract pollinators.

Although she wanted to create a haven for these important pollinators, she also wanted it to look organized and coordinated, which required a trained eye and plant knowledge. JMA designed individual garden areas that incorporated large drifts of plants and flowers so the insects and birds did not have to travel long distances to pollinate, and kept them looking neat and orderly as well.

JMA also created interconnected gravel paths that allowed her to observe individual plants during flowering and other stages of their growth cycles as well as to photograph the pollinators without disturbing them.

Photo Credit: Tamima Itani

“You can have a native plants garden that looks polished and finished,” Itani said. “My neighbors and friends say how much they admire the work that’s been done.”

After everything was planted in June, she expected the process of attracting pollinators to take quite a while but was pleasantly surprised when she started seeing caterpillars in August. Eventually, beautiful monarchs and swallowtail butterflies emerged from these cocoons, and by September, she was seeing bees and dragonflies as well.

To date, she has documented 67 bird species that have visited her pollinator garden, including the American goldfinch, the ruby-throated hummingbird, and the northern cardinal. During spring and fall migration, warblers, Baltimore orioles and rose-breasted grosbeaks make frequent visits.

Photo Credit: Tamima Itani

Itani stressed that if homeowners are not able to commit their entire property for native or pollinator-friendly plants, they can easily create corners or circles that incorporate them. She believes this could easily apply to businesses as well.

“I think this kind of landscape would especially appeal to commercial sites, since they won’t have to mow or water the grass,” she said. “And typically we only have to weed every other week during the summer.”

Evanston is trying to get certified as a City Wildlife Habitat, and part of the certification requires the city to show that they have a certain number of properties with native plants.

Itani is happy to contribute to this cause: Her yard is now certified as a Wildlife Habitat. By having this type of landscape, “You are rewarded with exuberance, joy, and color,” she said.

She hopes to see more of her neighbors in the Chicago area incorporate gardens that take pollinators such as birds, butterflies, and bees into consideration.

Photo Credit: Tamima Itani

Itani is doing her part to provide a sanctuary for them, and as a bonus, is delighted to be able to take pictures of these incredibly important and beautiful creatures.

“I love being able to spend time among the plants, flowers, insects, and birds,” Itani said. “My whole yard feels alive now.”

Contact James Martin Associates to learn about creating a pollinator garden for your home.

We are thrilled to share that Jim Martin, President and Founder of James Martin Associates (JMA), recently received an award from the Illinois Green Industry Association (IGIA) at the 13th Annual Chuck Tosovsky Memorial Tribute Dinner. Jim was honored for his outstanding emphasis on education and mentorship over the past 40 years.


Martin graduated with honors from the University of Illinois in 1972 and was a scholarship recipient all four of his years there. Since graduation, he has been an Annual Fund Contributor to the Department of Landscape Architecture.

He became a member of the President's Council of the University of Illinois Foundation in 1992 and also served as a visiting professor in 1987. Upon Professor Terence Harkness's retirement, Martin created the Terrence Harkness Lecture Endowment Fund for the Department of Landscape Architecture.

As additional evidence that Martin places strong importance on mentoring and teaching, James Martin Associates has awarded over 30 scholarships to students in the field of Landscape Architecture and has trained more than 120 industry professionals through its internship and management training programs. This focus on scholarship and mentorship led to Martin's nomination at the annual IGIA gala.


The event attendees had nothing but accolades for their fellow green industry professional, such as this statement from Ann Tosovsky of Home Nursery:

Congratulations and thank you Jim for your ongoing support of the IGIA and the green industry of Illinois. Thank you also for your continued commitment in supporting the legacy of my dad and other forefathers who made the pursuit of public policy efforts and legislative initiatives a top priority to ensure the continued growth and sustainability of our nursery and landscape industry. As a proud sponsor of GIPAC and the Chuck Tosovsky Memorial Dinner, we are thrilled to be honoring you this evening.

The event was celebrated with other professionals in the landscape industry, team members from James Martin Associates, and Martin's family. All funds raised were given to the Green Industry Political Action Committee (GIPAC), an organization that supports lobbyists for the nursery and landscape industry.


Published in Events