How to Produce Stunning Combination Containers

Combo-at-Youngs-Plant-FarmYoung’s Plant Farm, nestled in Auburn, AL, has an impressive trial garden each year that includes hundreds of individual varieties, along with hanging basket and container trials. Each year, Young’s tries out its own combination containers, besides breeder combos.

Research and Development Coordinator Penny Merritt-Price is the designer behind these combinations, which include creative mixes of vegetables, herbs, and flowers. We caught up with Merritt-Price to ask her to share a few tips with growers on how to create stunning combos that are both functional for end-consumers and production friendly for growers.

What would your top three to five tips be to other growers for designing combos that are attractive and production friendly?

Penny Merritt-Price: I recommend growers pair colors together like a designer, and that they try to understand the habit of each plant to offer the filler, thriller, spiller effect in each container. Also, think about individual plant texture, as well as color. For production, it is important that growers understand the grow time of each individual component, so they can schedule everything to bloom together. That way, the full potential of a combination is recognized at retail. Finally, they should look for compact varieties that will blend well without overtaking the combination.

What is the best way to schedule combos when they include a mix of annuals, veggies, and other crops?

Merritt-Price: The easy way is to pick items that bloom and grow together naturally, but this limits your options. Instead, at Young’s we will adjust the plug scheduling so that when all the plants are transplanted at the same time, they will bloom together at the end. By scheduling the plugs in detail, you can open a whole new array of options.

If one plant needs more or less time than the average plant in the combo, you can transplant a smaller/younger or larger/older plug to ensure all components bloom together. You can also use plant growth regulators (PGRs) on a plug to slow down a vigorous plant so it will be controlled once planted in the combo, and to ensure it will stay controlled and not overgrow the other items in the combo. A good grower can make a lot happen with scheduling, lights, temperature, fertilizer, and PGRs. The key is to have a facility that allows for these environmental options and a conscientious grower.

For our vegetable/annual/herb combinations at Young’s, we did extensive trialing to figure out exactly which varieties played nicely with others. Equally important is to have a grower who focuses on details, to ensure a successful combination at retail.

Is there anything else you think would be important to mention to growers about producing and designing combos?

Merritt-Price: Combinations have to work for everyone, including the consumer, retailer, and grower. The consumer will always be No. 1. If it sells, then everyone else is happy. At Young’s, we start by making sure our combinations are attractive and that they will hold up for the consumer in our trial garden. If they pass this test, then odds are we can grow it!

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