Five-foot pots become huge "raised beds."

A large pot—one that is greater than 28 inches in diameter—offers a tremendous opportunity to express yourself in living color. With our temperate Palm Springs climate, we can enjoy winter seasonal color for a long time. What we plant in late October or early November will probably last long into the spring … or is that early summer?

When combining colors in this large of a pot, you can almost treat it like a flower bed. However, you do not want to combine every color in the flower spectrum in one pot or one area. Too many colors, although they may be pretty at first glance, quickly become too busy: The eye does not know where to rest, and the brain becomes overwhelmed.

Before deciding on your color palette for a pot, there are a few things to consider:

  • The color of the pot itself.
  • Your colors of your décor.
  • Other plantings in the area, and the colors of nearby flowers that will bloom during the same period of time.
  • Personal preferences.

In other words, you want to plan the colors in your pot in the same way you decorate your home.

The color of the pot: Organic colors— brown, umber, green and even matte blue—such as those of the desert can handle any color combination you may choose. These pots are purely the vessels that hold your bouquets.

Pots in bold colors need to have flower arrangements that complement the color of the pots. Bright blue pots might hold a combination of pinks, primary colors or pastels. These pots are strong enough in their own color that one might decide to plant only one color in the pot.

I find that the most difficult pot for which to choose colors is the Chinese Red pot. Red or pink flowers will not look good in them, but oranges, purples and yellows will work fine.

Your décor, your plantings and surrounding colors: If your pot is close to any decorated areas of your home, you will want to choose colors that complement the colors of your furnishings, cushions, umbrellas and walls. For example, if you decorate in earth tones, you probably will not choose a flower combination that includes pinks or blues, but instead, you’ll pick flowers that match the colors in your pillows or paintings—perhaps hues of orange, cranberry, purple, yellow or red.

Other plantings: The same principles apply to flowering plants that will be seen in the same view as the pot. If you have a lush bougainvillea against a wall, and the pot is in line with the bougie, I wouldn’t put a fire-engine-red plant in the same sight line—one of the colors is just going to lose the battle. However, white, yellow and purple would stand out nicely with fuchsia as the background.

Your personal preferences: We all have our color loves. The wonderful thing about annual flowers is that we can try something this year, and then do something different next season. I have designed container gardens for more than 15 years now, and I have never repeated the exact same design. There are too many flowers, colors and hues to choose from to be self-limiting—and each year, growers develop new hybrids and shades of flowers. Also, more and more flowers are being hybridized to become more tolerant of our desert climate.

If you only have 20 minutes in your desert potted garden this week: Plan what you want to plant in your winter potted garden. Next weekend will be a great time to start planting your winter flowers (and, if you are so inclined, vegetables and herbs).

Marylee is the founder and former owner of The Contained Gardener in Tucson, Ariz. She has become known as the Desert’s Potted Garden Expert. E-mail her with comments and questions at, and follow The Potted Desert on Facebook.