Seasoned gardeners know that a good layer of mulch is essential for holding in soil moisture and keeping weeds down, yet when it comes to container plants, these little potted gardens are often left with their soil exposed for all the world to see. Here’s what I use when I create container plantings for myself and my clients–they not only have a practical function, but they finish off the planting beautifully.
Moss is one of my favorite materials to topdress containers! I typically use sphagnum moss–just pull apart handfuls of it and tuck between plants–but sheet moss is also beautiful. This is best for annual flowers. I once created a container with a Japanese maple and creeping jenny spilling over the sides, and I topdressed with green chunky moss that looked like hills. Very Zen.
Aquarium gravel is awesome for topping container soil! It’s inexpensive, readily available and comes in almost any color you can think of. I’ve used it quite a bit with succulents.
Black sand is a rather exotic material that I’ve also used for succulents–I’ve found it at one of my nurseries (The Great Outdoors) and a specialty hardware/garden shop (Breed’s). You could probably find it at a good craft store as well. I was hesitant to use it at first because I thought the sand would simply disappear into the soil after watering, but I tried it at my client Dave’s place and it’s held up well for a year now. Beautiful!
Marbles are super cool to use, but get the flat-sided ones so they’re not rolling around in your pots. I tend to pick one color for impact (usually blues and greens), and it looks fantastic.
I use lowly pea gravel a lot because I love the colors, the cost and the availability. It’s often mixed up with some sludgy substance in the bag, so remember to rinse it off before using it. A quick way to do that is to pour some into a bucket with holes in the bottom and then rinse it off with the hose. Great for cacti and succulents! Other rocks I use are washed river rock (available at craft stores) and Tejas black rock (expensive and available at rock yards, but very Zen).
Try some of these materials out in your own potted gardens–it’s an often overlooked detail that really finishes off your planting for very little money. Even the expensive rocks are relatively cheap overall because you only have to use a small amount. And if you have a topdressing that you like that you didn’t see here, please leave a comment and share your ideas with the rest of us!