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One of the easiest and most decorative ways to add color and interest to your home this summer is to plant window or deck boxes and portable "gardens" in containers.

Whether it's attached to the house or sitting on the deck/porch/walkway, choose a container that's at least 8 inches wide and deep. Wood, ceramic, metal, and plastic are the most commonly used container materials, and to avoid back strain, it's always wise to place the box where it will be growing before you plant. Most homeowners plant directly into the box using planting "soil" specifically suited for container growing, readily available at any garden center. Alternatively, you can keep the pots holding the plants you choose and set them individually into the box, filling the spaces between with bark or other material to hold them: This facilitates any replacements during the summer.

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When you choose your plants, consider using the reliable "Thriller-Filler-Spiller" technique:

 Thriller: The exceptional central feature, usually the most upright-growing of the arrangement

 Filler: Medium height, provides structure as well as complements and ties together the design

 Spiller: Low-growing, trailing plant that overflows to cover and soften the edges of the container

Professionals at your local garden center can help you navigate the varieties available to fulfill these functions and, of course, will recommend your best choices.

WINDOW AND DECK BOXES

FULL SUN
Geranium
A wide range of colors and foliage types
Verbena
Trailing color in a variety of flower types and colors
Lantana
Both upright and trailing, drought-tolerant, orange, red, yellow, and coral flowers

PARTIAL SUN
New Guinea Impatiens
Upright-
growing, brightly colored, large, showy flowers, rich green foliage (Note: These are immune to the downy mildew disease that has devastated the traditional Impatiens walleriana)
Lobelia
Trailing/mounding varieties in shades of blue, lavender, and white
Ipomoea
(Sweet potato vine) Vigorous trailing, textured foliage in hues of lime green, dark red/burgundy, pink, and white

SHADE
Begonia
Upright/mounding, with a broad range of flower types and colors and attractive foliage
Coleus
Vast array of foliage sizes and colors, mounded and upright-growing
Torenia
Fluted flowers of purple, blue, yellow, or white with a cascading
habit
Fuchsia
Choose upright or trailing types with vivid purple, red, pink, and blush flowers that hummingbirds love
Houseplants
Ferns, ivy, spider plants, Dracaena, Pothos, African mask plant — all do well

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PLANTS FOR HANGING CONTAINERS

FULL SUN
Portulaca
Succulent foliage in attractive tropical colors, very drought tolerant, loves the heat of summer
Dipladenia
A type of Mandevilla with pink or red flowers, grows in a upright-mounding form rather than climbing

Calibrachoa (Million Bells) Cascading and trailing with miniature, petunia-like red, orange, blue, yellow, pink, or white flowers

PARTIAL SUN
Begonia
Upright/mounding, with a broad range of flower types and colors and attractive foliage
Torenia
Fluted flowers of purple, blue, yellow, or white with a cascading habit
Lobelia
Trailing/mounding varieties in shades of blue, lavender, and white
New Guinea Impatiens
Upright-
growing, brightly colored, large, showy flowers, rich green foliage, and immune to downy mildew disease
Fanfare Impatiens
More spreading in habit and also immune to downy mildew

SHADE

Fuchsia Choose upright or trailing types with vivid purple, red, pink, and blush flowers that hummingbirds love
Begonia
Upright/mounding, with a broad range of flower types and colors and attractive foliage
New Guinea Impatiens
Upright-
growing, brightly colored, large, showy flowers, rich green foliage, and immune to downy mildew disease

Houseplants Including ivy, spider plant, Pothos — all do well

Tropical yellow hibiscus towers over geraniums and other plants in this container.
Tropical yellow hibiscus towers over geraniums and other plants in this container.Joanne Rathe/ globe staff

Plants for groupings of containers for a deck, porch, or patio:

 Any of the annuals described above work well in traditional pots, too. For optimum eye appeal, select types with contrasting foliage size and color and complementary flower hues.

 Even though perennials like sedum, Hosta, Vinca, daylily, Russian sage, and ornamental grasses have shorter flowering periods, they can add a different foliage and flower dimension when used in combination with annuals.

 Try adding a woody plant as the “thriller”: Upright evergreens like juniper, Chamaecyparis, boxwood, and holly are all appropriate for growing in the container, as are small deciduous trees and shrubs, including cutleaf Japanese maple, dogwood, lilac, and hydrangea.

 Of course, no kitchen garden is complete without herbs: Many are aromatic and visually attractive with a wide range of foliage and flowers; most thrive in containers, offering the added advantage of being portable so they are growing close to where they will be used.

Consider also using perennial and woody plants in addition to the traditional annual flowers: At the end of summer when you disassemble your containers, they can be planted directly into your yard for continuing enjoyment.

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And, before I forget . . .

Don't neglect your watering!

Roots growing in aboveground containers dry out rapidly, and container-growing soils drain well, so make sure you water those plants every day.

There's little risk of overdoing it.


R. Wayne Mezitt, a third-generation nurseryman and Massachusetts certified horticulturist, is chairman of Weston Nurseries of Hopkinton and Chelmsford and owner of Hort-Sense, a horticultural advisory business. He currently serves as trustee chairman for the Massachusetts Horticultural Society at Elm Bank in Wellesley. Our thanks to the staff at Weston Nurseries for creating the plantings pictured here. Send comments to Address@globe.com.