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Dark Foliage Makes a Dramatic Container Garden

Dark foliage can turn a simple planting into a dramatic showpiece. The three plant choices in the shopping list provide summer-long enjoyment and require very little maintenance. The color echoes in this container planting are both subtle and distinct. There is the strong echo of burgundy in the coleus and canna leaves, then the subtle echo of yellow found in the edges of the coleus leaves and the eyes of the fan flowers. As the summer progresses, the blue flowers of the coleus will eventually echo the blue fan flowers.

Cannas have a very dense, bulbous root system that expands quickly, so even in a medium-sized planter you will want to plant only a 1 or 2 gal. sized plant. Canna root systems can literally break apart pots because there is no room left for them to grow during the summer. Place the canna in a large container that has been partially filled with potting soil, adding more as needed to stabilize the roots in the pots. Finish planting the coleus and fan flowers according to the planting diagram.

During the first two months, faithfully pinch off the budding flower heads of the coleus. This encourages the coleus to become bushier with more foliage and will lead to a fuller display of flowers in late summer and fall.

Water this planting when the top of the soil feels dry to your touch. Both fan flowers and cannas can tolerate full sun, but they grow just as well in a part-sun location, which is needed when they're paired with the coleus. Fertilize once a month with a bloom-boosting plant food. Snip off the dead flowers of the canna throughout the summer to keep it fresh looking and encourage reblooming.

Cannas start blooming in early summer and will bloom all summer if they're fertilized regularly. Even where cannas are hardy (meaning they can survive the winter outdoors), don't leave them outside in a summer container, because the roots can quickly expand and damage the container. To overwinter a canna, cut back all its leaves, remove it from your nice planter, and place it in a plastic pot to hold the roots. Then lightly cover in mulch or sawdust. Store in a cool, dry spot. The canna used in this planting can grow up to 6 ft. tall in one summer, so be careful to plant it in a container that is heavy enough so that its large wind-catching foliage won't cause the planter to topple.

Plant Options

When you only have three plants in a container design, substitutions mean you'll create a whole new look. But if you are a fan of foliage-only plants, substitute the sweet potato vine cultivar Ipomoea batatas 'Sweet Caroline Green Yellow' for the fan flower, and a burgundy-colored phormium (Phormium) or ti plant (Cordyline) for the canna.

TSC Shade Gardening Supplies:

  • Planter
  • Flower Fertilizer
  • Potting Soil
  • 1 1 gal. sized canna (Canna 'Australia') A
  • 5 coleus (Solenostemon scutellarioides 'Wizard Scarlet') B
  • 5 fan flowers (Scaevola aemula 'New Wonder') C