Having a tough time lending that perfect spark of color or greenery to your landscape, patio or walkway? Do as I do — use your ingenuity to create gorgeous potted flower and plant assortments.

But before heading to the nursery, choose a site in need of a fresh look and observe it for a few days. Does it have at least six hours of sunlight each day? If so, you’ll be selecting plants labeled “full sun.” (I have found that pots receiving a bit less sunshine will generally yield beautiful flowers, no matter.) If it’s always shady, you’ll need varieties labeled “shade.” Keep in mind that all plants within the same pot should have the same light requirement.

Choosing a suitable pot can be tricky, because northern Arizona’s freeze-thaw cycles can wreak havoc to terra-cotta, cement, plastic and some ceramics. If you don’t want to bother putting pots in storage each winter, you may want to consider ceramic pots from Vietnam or China (Warner’s Nursery has a nice assortment). Cedar pots and resin faux whiskey barrels also hold up well. Check to make sure your pots provide adequate drainage, and use a good potting soil.

Now comes the fun part: selecting your plants. Color combinations come into play when you wish to impart a particular ambiance to your space. For instance, when I want to create an aura of tranquility, I display an assortment of pink, violet and blue flowers, along with lush greenery.

If you wish to make a small area feel larger, go for the warm colors: reds, yellows and oranges.

Color-echoing is an eye-catching technique. One of my favorite pots holds a burgundy coleus that echoes a rusty-red sweet potato vine, which in turn echoes a cascading chocolate Calibrachoa.

Don’t forget to fill your space both vertically and horizontally. Famed Master Gardener Melinda Myers suggests planting each pot with a thriller, (a tall specimen that draws the eye to the planting), a spiller (spills over the edge of the pot) and a filler (fills the in-between spaces).

Small, slow-growing shrubs or even trees can work beautifully as thrillers in large containers. While my staghorn sumac affords a lacy green background to an assortment of annuals during the summer, in autumn its stunning display of rusty leaves gives my whiskey barrel a wholly new look. Blue or red salvias, gauras, tall coleuses and Shasta Daisies are among the oodles of eye-beckoning thrillers available for medium or small pots.

My spillers of choice are sweet potato vine, whose colors range from neon green to deep burgundy; creeping Charlie, a vigorous vine; and alyssum.

Serving the dual role of spiller and filler are the flowering annuals calibrachoa, scopia and brachyscome. The silvery velvet leaves of Dusty Miller will fill in and complement nearly any container arrangement.

To be certain flowering plants bloom during the season you want them to, check the labels.

Caring for container plants is fairly easy, but during hot spells, you may need to water a couple of times a day. Also, your plants will bloom more profusely and stay vigorous if you keep them fertilized.

Cindy Murray is a biologist, a tutor of schoolchildren and a Master Gardener.

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