Texas-Tough container gardens Plants, pots, and a pro’s tips that are unfazed by heat and drought

The whole world seems to be in love with container plants. So much so that some gardeners can’t control themselves. Their whole gardens have gone to pot.

Texans have embraced container plants since the earliest Spanish settlers first introduced the concept. After all, they make great mobile horticultural displays. They provide added architectural interests in their construction form and materials. And, of course, they allow those who don’t own a piece of terra, or the ability to reach the ground, the opportunity to garden. Many a patio, deck, and porch can thank containerized gardening for its comforting greenness and feel.

Form and Function

There are many kinds of containers on the market, ranging from relatively inexpensive to “if you have to ask how much, you can’t afford it.” To be quite honest, however, most plants don’t care what the actual container is made of, or what it costs. Homemade containers and recycled containers are just fine if they fit your design theme. At my place of business, I happen to own more than 15 Michelin tire planters myself! (Don’t try that in your local Prosper neighborhood, unless you’re trying to find out more regarding your HOA.) Plants only demand that the chosen container hold a proper growing medium and that there be a drain hole at the bottom.

Although pots are available today in myriads of artificial materials as well as natural ones, terra cotta clay pots remain the most popular. In my horticultural experience, it’s pretty much like everything else, “you get what you pay for.” Experience has shown that clay pots from Italy are high quality and long lasting, while inexpensive clay pots from domestic sources tend to succumb quickly outdoors. Mexican clay pots also seem to break down relatively quickly.

Generally, the thicker the clay and the longer it’s fired, the longer it will last. My favorite long-lasting clay pots are those made of white East Texas clay in Marshall, Texas, by Grubb pottery. I’ve never had one even think about falling apart. I even still have some that once belonged to my Grandmother Derestine and are now considered to be family heirlooms. Grubb has been making them for over 100 years, so they obviously know what they are doing. My favorite Ceramic Glazed ones come from Jacksons in Dallas.

Container Basics

The very first thing to consider when choosing a container is what size it will be. Just remember, the larger the pot, the less water it needs. Also, remember that it’s a myth that adding pot shards or gravel at the bottom of the container will make it drain better. It actually makes it drain less.

However, too much drainage is a bad thing as well. Drying out during our hot summers is the limiting factor in container gardening in Texas. Due to the added gravity and the limited root-growing area, all plants in pots will dry out faster than the same exact plants in the ground. For this reason, I suggest only growing drought-tolerant plants, only using large containers, and only using a soil mix that retains moisture. This normally means the predominant ingredient is sphagnum peat moss. Bark-based potting soils often require watering as often as several times a day during the hot summer. Anything more than once a week, I deem a horticultural design flaw. I’ve even been known to break a basic horticultural rule by filling up half or two-thirds of large containers with clean topsoil and then topping it off with high-quality potting soil. The topsoil helps decrease the drainage and reduce the costs.

But, the best all-around soil mix for most showy bedding plants is a professional peat based potting soil containing sphagnum peat moss, vermiculite and perlite, with a slow release fertilizer like Osmocote added. It’s important to use a slow-release fertilizer in containers, as water-soluble nutrients are prone to draining right through the pot and being totally wasted.

The Planting Plan

You have the option of using plants that persist year-round, like evergreen shrubs, succulents and groundcovers, or rotating color plants adapted to particular growing seasons. The primary seasons for specific plant growth in Texas would be cool-season (late fall, winter and early spring) and warm-season (late spring, summer and early fall).

A typical color rotation would include frost-tolerant plants like pansies, dianthus and ornamental kale when the cool temperatures arrive. These plants would then be replaced by mild-temperature-loving selections like petunias, verbena and snapdragons in spring, or perhaps heat-loving tropicals like Fire bush, Esperanza, Hibiscus and copper plant that would all last until the first frost. I personally suggest skipping the “spring” plants and only using the tough, heat-tolerant troticals, but it’s entirely possible to include some of both in mixed plantings and let the heat-tolerant summer plants overtake those that perform best in the spring.

One of the benefits of container gardening is that the limited area makes it much easier and more economical to change out color schemes on a more frequent basis to suit your design taste, or the often-changing Texas climate.

A Better Option

In the past, I maintained numerous containers that were changed out frequently. As I’ve gotten older and wiser, I’ve started limiting the number of containers that I use and placing them closer to sources of water. My current interest is experimenting with succulents that don’t require any additional water (other than rainfall alone). Yuccas, Agaves and their varied relatives are literally living sculpture and make great container plants in Texas.

High-maintenance or low-maintenance, annuals or perennials, homemade pots or imports, there’s something in container gardening for everyone. Just try somehow to contain your enthusiasm. Please allow me to apologize for not getting to your questions this column, I have been extremely busy with work and promise to get to them as soon as I am able and will respond to each of you personally. Until next time…Happy gardening!

Jimmie

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Send your landscaping and gardening questions to Jimmie Gibson Jr. at http://www.absolutelybushedlandscaping.com or jimmie@absolutelybushed.com

Jimmie is a Prosper resident and the owner of Absolutely Bushed Landscaping Company, an award winning, family and veteran owned and operated business created in 1980 to provide the highest quality custom Outdoor Renovation available to homeowners in the Dallas Ft. Worth metroplex.

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