Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Lower South
May, 2004
Regional Report

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Batfaced cuphea is a heat-loving annual that thrives in a southern summer. It's quite drought tolerant and looks best spilling over the sides of a container or hanging basket.

Container Tips for Southern Gardeners

Containers are a great way to bring instant color to the landscape. They offer versatility and add a unique look for otherwise boring porches, driveways, and balconies. In the spring, containers are a snap, but when summer arrives here in the south, containers can pose a challenge.

Our hot, sultry weather can turn a great landscape beauty tip into a recipe for trouble as we enlist the family in a water bucket line to try and keep containers adequately watered. However this need not mean that containers are only a spring and fall option. You can have container color all summer if you just follow these simple guidelines.

Choose large containers. There are many charming tiny container designs out there, but they are a problem when hot weather arrives. The more soil volume, the less often you have to water and the more resilient the plants can be. Rolling casters are a nice way to keep these large, heavy containers mobile. I prefer to use a dolly to move them around with very little effort.

The new, lightweight containers made from special plastics are tough and look like the real thing. I like the new polyurethane products that offer the look of terra cotta, cement, or stone in a container that is 80 to 90 percent lighter. You can mix a few smaller containers in a grouping, but make sure they have small plants in them, and be ready to water them more often.

Realistic Plant Choices
Choose plants that can take our climate. Clematis and fuschia are beautiful flowers but they will fry faster than a skillet of battered okra in our sizzling, southern summers. We have many great species and selections that can take the heat and, in fact, love it.

For sun, a few of the many great choices include batface cuphea, scaevola, blackfoot daisy, portulaca, Dahlberg daisy, narrow-leaf zinnia, dwarf lantana, melampodium, Mexican sunflower (Tithonia), and Salvia coccinea 'Lady in Red'.

Various succulents and dwarf agaves also work well as heat and drought-tolerant options. There are also many ornamental grasses, such as dwarf fountain grass and Mexican feather grass, that work great in a large container. In a part-shade spot, Egyptian star cluster (Pentas), begonias, blue daze (Evolvulus), flowering tobacco (Nicotiana), coleus, and wishbone flower (Torenia) work well. For a bright shade area, try Mexican petunias (Ruellia), impatiens, and caladiums.

This brings us to the third tip. Place plants in their preferred sun exposure. It takes lots of light to get most plants to bloom. However the more shade you can provide, the less stress your plants will suffer and the less often you will have to water them. Some insist on the full brunt of the sun, while others must have a bright shade exposure. In general, cheat just a little toward the shadier exposure, and, if possible, provide morning sun and afternoon shade.

Finally be ready to trade things out. The nice thing about containers is that they are mobile. When one starts looking ragged, I simply bring in another one. Flowers have their peak seasons so you may want to plan on changing some of the plantings in spring, summer, and fall.

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