Container plants by Sunset

Though I dream of owning a home in the near future and landscaping a yard into an outdoor oasis, for now I must settle for small containers that are easy to care for and light-weight for mobility. Living in an arid region, I’m well aware of the variety of drought tolerant plants, like ornamental feather grasses, lavender, and succulents. Usually these types of plants are very low maintenance and require little care and water. However, once you place them in a container or pot, instead of the ground, their maintenance needs increase. The amount of water needed increases since the small amount of soil in any pot can’t hold onto the water nearly as long as ground soil that has been saturated by a recent rainstorm or weekly dousing. Over the years, and through experimenting with different varieties of plants, I’ve found some great ways to extend the life of potted gardens that saves me money in the long run.

Selecting Pots and Containers Matter

Last year, I purchased two beautiful hanging baskets with coconut weaved bottoms. The coconut bottoms replace the old fashioned moss covered bottom baskets, and I thought that maybe they had finally perfected the drainage issues that had made the moss bottoms unsuccessful. I planted a gorgeous variety of perennials such as petunias and lobelia, and even lined the basket with a little bit of plastic wrap to help hold in the moisture. The coconut weave bottom has some disadvantages and advantages, but a huge disadvantage is that it doesn’t hold any water in the basket! Not unlike the old-fashioned moss bottom ones. As the days got hotter, no matter how often I watered my hanging basket plant, the water didn’t stay in the soil long enough for the plants to drink it. In the end, my poor petunias, the last remaining plant to survive, couldn’t take the heat and perished.

Selecting pots and baskets that have proper drainage is important, a few holes will do;  too few, and your soil can become mildewy, too many holes and the soil can’t hold the water in long enough for the plants to benefit.

Selecting the Right Plants

Depending on where you live, your local nursery should carry plants that grow well in your region. However, every so often they will also carry plants that require much more care than your region can support. Be sure to check the tag of the plant before purchasing, make sure you also follow the directions of that tag. Many indoor plants don’t do well outside, even if it is only sitting out on a patio, and many outdoor plants won’t do very well inside. Luckily, by planting in containers, you can move your plants around where they will best benefit.

Going that Extra Mile

Container plants don’t have the benefit of leaching minerals from the surrounding soil, like in-ground plants do. Some plants need nutrients added to their soil every few months. Here are a few tips to extend the life of your potted plant:

  • Add Miracle Grow or mulch to your potted plants every so often, especially if the plant is looking a little yellow-ish or droopy even after watering.
  • Trim off dead leaves and flowers to help promote new growth.
  • Soak your plant with water every few months in addition to its weekly watering needs. Just be sure that the soil isn’t continually drenched.
  • Transplant your potted plant into a larger pot once the plant begins to out grow its original container.

For more ideas on what to plant and how to cluster your container plants, check out Sunset Magazine’s slide show.