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Make sure your container gardens go the distance with our easy tips.

Justin W. Hancock, Costa Farms garden guru
Photography, Anne K Moore


Summer can be a brutal time of year on container gardens: It’s often hot, windy, and humidity levels can go from desert dry to rainforest wet. These conditions can take a toll on even the toughest plants. What’s a gardener to do? Read on for tips!

The most important care tip for summer containers is watering. As you may have noticed, your plants need a lot of water during summer weather. The bigger they grow, the more their roots fill the pot, sucking the moisture right out. Add in the effect of evaporation from wind and heat and it can mean you have to water once or even twice a day to keep moisture levels adequate.

One way you can reduce summer stress is to spread a layer of mulch over the top of your pots. Just about any type of organic mulch (such as shredded wood or bark) will do. Just like in your garden, the mulch cuts down on evaporation and keeps the soil a little cooler.

During the worst weather – or if you’re out of town on summer vacation – you can also give your container plants a bit of a reprieve from the heat by moving them to a shaded spot. Out of sun, you’ll find they use less moisture.

Help your plants hold moisture longer by placing a large saucer or drip tray underneath the pots. Excess water that runs through the drainage holes can be reabsorbed. And here’s a watering tip: Take your time. When potting mix dries out, it can be slow to absorb moisture. Running a lot of water through the pot quickly, such as from a hose, means the majority can run through the drainage hole and be lost before it gets a chance to be absorbed.

You don’t need to go crazy fertilizing your potted plants (they often need less fertilizer than gardeners think), but when all that water runs through the soil, it takes nutrients with it. Giving your plants a shot of fertilizer every month can keep your plants strong and healthy – and able to withstand tough conditions more easily.

Most plants aren’t too fussy about what type of fertilizer you use, as long as it’s balanced (when the three big numbers on the fertilizer package are relatively even, such as 10-10-10). If you don’t want to take the time to fertilize, look for a slow-release or timed-release product. These gradually release the nutrients for you.

Most plants don’t require pruning, but it can sometimes help your plants get through tough spells. Through transpiration, their breathing process, plants lose moisture through their leaves. So trimming your plants back at the onset of harsh weather may help them slog through that bout of bad weather. A little pruning here and there also helps keep plants bushy, compact, and full instead of tall and leggy.

Some varieties, such as coleus and basil, benefit a little more from pruning by giving you a better-looking plant. Their flowers can distract from that beautiful foliage.

Don’t Be Afraid to Make a Change
Sometimes it’s best to give up and replace your plants with tougher, more heat-resistant varieties in the middle of the season. It’s the most surefire way of giving your planters a fresh look. Some of our favorites for the summer heat include:

  • Angelonia
  • Gaura
  • Lantana
  • Mandevilla
  • Pentas
  • Portulaca (AKA purlane)
  • Salvia
  • Scaevola
  • Torenia
  • Vinca
  • Zinnia

Learn more at

About the author:  Justin W. Hancock is a horticulturist at Costa Farms, the largest grower of houseplants in the United States. He currently lives and gardens in Miami, FL (but grew up gardening in Northern Minnesota!).

Posted August 8, 2014

All articles are copyrighted and remain the property of the author.

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