The Q&A Archives: Potted plants for a city patio

Question: Hello,
I'd like to have some potted plants on a deck that gets lots of dirt and dust from a busy city street in San Francisco. The lower the mainenance the better - any suggestions on practical plants for this type of environment?
Thank you!

Answer: Select some perennials with good all-season foliage. When daylilies, peonies, phlox, coral-bells, gas plant, astilbe, and hardy candytuft finish flowering, their leaves remain attractive. With Oriental poppies, bleeding hearts and primroses, the leaves turn yellow once blooming is over, though this does not mean they are undesirable. Bare spots left by them can be concealed by other plants like quick-growing annuals.

Perennials like daylilies and iris thrive where it is hot; lupines, delphiniums, and astilbes prefer cooler temperatures. You can have some biennials, too-foxgloves, canterbury-bells, sweet williams and verbascums-and discard them after flowering.

Acanthus or Bear's Breech. Tall and striking from southern Europe, whose leaf the ancient Greeks adapted for the capitals of Corinthian columns. Arching, deep-cut, thistlelike leaves, two feet long, shining dark green, are surmounted with tall, white, rose-tinged spikes. Give plants large pots with good drainage and full sun. Not hardy in the North where they need winter protection.

Asters. Handsome with starry blossoms for rich purple, lavender, rose, pink, and white autumn displays. Many varieties vary from nine inches to four or more feet. Plants need full sun and respond to feeding and watering, but are otherwise easy. They are best divided each spring.

Bearded Iris. Number one favorite, beloved for its exquisite blooms in rainbow colors. Hardy and easy to grow, spearlike leaves provide accent among other plants. Clumps need dividing every third year. Borers can be controlled with repeated DDT sprayings, starting in early spring.

Chrysanthemums. Free-flowering and invaluable for the pot garden. With these alone, you can enjoy riotous color from August even to December. Grow your own or buy plants in bud from commercial growers. They move easily when in bloom, if you take care to keep them moist. After flowering, plant in garden or cold frame and give winter protection or discard the roots like annuals.

Daylilies or Hemerocallis. Thriving in hot and cold climates, in shade or full sun. Straplike foliage remains attractive all season. For warmer regions there are evergreen varieties. Trumpet flowers, mostly yellow and crimson, open over a long period, even though each bloom stays fresh but one day. The Greek name, hemerocallis, means "beautiful for a day."

Delphinium. Regal plant with tall, stately spikes in shades of blue, purple, and white. Sow seed in February or March for flowering plants the same season or purchase seedlings in spring for large containers. Seed sown in June or July will bloom the following summer. Delphiniums need sun and staking up to their heads. Try some of the gorgeous Pacific Hybrids.

Hostas. These handsome perennials have broad leaves, green or variegated. Low growing types are ideal to edge large planters. Hardy, pest free and easy. Consider the August lily, with fragrant white bells in summer; Honey-bells, with tall spikes of purple flowers; and Thomas Hogg, with green leaves edged white.

Phlox. Dependable for bright color in July, August, and September. Thrives in sun or partial shade and needs plenty of water. Allowed to dry out, phlox wilts and the lower leaves turn brown. Comes in pink, salmon, rose, red, scarlet, lavender, purple, and white. If tips are pinched when plants are six to nine inches high, flower heads will be more numerous, though smaller.

Rose Mallow or Hibiscus. Spectacular for tall, bold effects. Large flowers, like single hollyhocks, appear during late summer and fall in red, rose, pink, and white. Hybrids measure nine and more inches across. Good for screening hedges. Plants like rich soil, abundant moisture, and full sun though partial shade is endured.

Canterbury-Bells. Choice biennial, with long-lasting bells in purple, lavender, blue, pink, and white. Worth the effort, even if they die after flowering. In the spring, garden centers offer budded specimens. For dramatic compositions, group several together. You can grow your own from seed sown in June or July.

Other perennials and biennials to grow are heuchera or coral-bells, veronica, showy stonecrop or sedum, helen-ium, Japanese iris, scabiosa, shasta daisy, lythrum, platy-codon or balloon flower, pentstemon, peony, Oriental poppy, monarda or bee-balm, lavender, liatris, tritoma, heliopsis, anthemis, gaillardia, gas plant, columbine, and butterfly weed. Do not overlook such rock garden plants as arabis, aubretia, basket-of-gold, snow-in-the-summer, thyme, viola, ajuga, dianthus, primrose, and auricula.

If you like herbs and enjoy them in cooking, you can have an herb garden in containers. Try sun-loving rosemary, marjoram, parsley, sage, fennel, mint and chives in individual pots or tubs or with other plants in large boxes. Grow with them some of the scented-leaved geraniums, like rose, cinnamon, nutmeg, lemon, apple, and peppermint.

Hope these suggestions are helpful!

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