KC Gardens

How to breathe new life into faltering summer containers

With a little extra care, your pots can look spring-time fresh despite summer’s hot, dry weather.
With a little extra care, your pots can look spring-time fresh despite summer’s hot, dry weather.

Brightly colored containers have worked hard this summer. Hot conditions take a toll on plants, especially those with smaller masses of soil. These quickly heat up, limiting growth.

I know my containers, while still looking good, can use a little primping so they shine for the rest of the season. Here are some tips to help carry them through fall.

Cut back the overgrown

It seems like one plant always outgrows the others and eats up the space in the pot. They either crowd the others or make the pot appear overgrown. Coleuses are often an offender, since they can grow so big.

Many plants can be pruned back, which will reduce the height and spread. The point where the cut is made is where the new, vigorous growth will appear.

Sometimes a few nips and tucks is all it takes to create a more balanced look with healthy foliage and flowers.

A little grooming goes a long way

Just as we dust and pick up the house, so should we straighten up our container gardens. At this point in the summer there are spent flower buds and yellowing or tattered foliage.

A few minutes with a pair of shears removes this old growth. This may leave a temporary hole in the pot, but give it a few weeks, and new growth will soon fill in for a refreshed look.

Feed the starving container

By now, fertilizer added to potting soils has run out. Unless you are fertilizing regularly, then the container needs a good feeding. This can be accomplished in several ways.

Water-soluble fertilizers work great as long as you use them. If you go this route, be sure to read and follow instructions and fertilize as recommended.

All-purpose garden fertilizer can also be used. Something like 13-13-13 works well when used at the rate of 1-to-2 teaspoons per pot every month. For bigger pots, add a little more; for small pots, a teaspoon is plenty. Be sure to water in thoroughly to help the fertilizer dissolve and work into the soil.

When in doubt rip it out

If a plant has failed or the entire container has failed, it is not too late to start over. With proper care, there are still at least two months of summer conditions for the pot to shine.

Nurseries and garden centers are winding down for the season, but annual and perennial plants are still available to help breathe new life into a tired or neglected container.

Now that summer is on the downward side, take stock of your containers. Prune, groom, fertilize and replace as needed so that even as the summer sun is beating down, your container looks as fresh and alive as it did on a spring day.

Dennis Patton is a horticulture agent with Kansas State University Research and Extension. Got a question for him or other university extension experts? Email them to garden.help@jocogov.org.