Container Gardens for Hot Climates

I just can’t get the hang of gardening in containers. I live in a condo, with just an elevated deck for gardening space and everything in is in containers. Our weather is very hot and dry in summer and I just can’t seem to keep things alive.

You don’t need much space to have a garden; in fact you don’t even need a yard. As you can attest containers are sufficient for growing many plants. The fundamentals for success are the same no matter how you garden: soil, plant selection and maintenance.

My first bit of advice is to use good quality potting soil. Container garden soils are blends that are designed to help plants thrive in conditions unique to that environment. Many are pre-mixed with water retentive polymers, those small granules that look something like rock salt. When they are wet they become soft, full of water and gelatinous. These granules can expand over 10 times their original size as they hold the moisture. They are great for plants in containers because as the plants need moisture they can draw from the water held in the granules. They act like a water storage system.

Next, there are some plants that do better than others in hot, dry environments. Here’s a list of some you might want to consider.

  1. Agave americana (Century Plant) – This is a bold plant that is exceptional as a focal point because of the large, fleshy leaves. Perennial in zones 7b –10. Needs good drainage. Full sun.
  2. Bracteantha bracteata (Strawflower, Paper Daisy) –These little daisy like blooms will bring super saturated color to your container gardens. Colors include white, pink, yellow, orange and bronze-red. Annual. Full Sun.
  3. Diamond Frost® Euphorbia –This plant has a deceptively delicate appearance; it’s one tough cookie. It has the same ethereal quality as baby’s breath, but it’s much easier to grow. It is a compact grower reaching a mature height of 12 to 18 inches. Perennial in zone 10; treat as an annual in cooler climates. Full sun to partial shade.
  4. Gaura lindheimeri ‘Siskiyou Pink’ (Wand Flower) –This Texas native plant has star shaped blooms borne on long wispy stems that are a dark pink highlighted with lighter pink edges. When a breeze blows the blooms look like shimmering pink stars. Perennial zones 6 –9. Full sun.
  5. Ornamental Grasses –There are a wide selection of grasses that are suitable for container gardens and even though they are graceful in appearance, grasses are quite resilient, low maintenance plants. It’s surprising how many sizes, colors and variations are available.
  6. Lantana –This plant LOVES hot weather. In fact, it doesn’t really start blooming until the heat of summer. The blooms are quite colorful and butterflies love them. Perennial zones 7 –11; treat as an annual in cooler climates. Full sun.
  7. Herbs –Lavender, thyme and rosemary all thrive in hot, dry environments. They don’t require much maintenance and you can harvest them for use indoors.
  8. Plumbago –This tropical shrub sports a bright, baby blue flower, which is well complemented by bright green foliage. I often recommend this plant for poolside containers. Perennial zones 8 –10; treat as an annual in cooler climates. Full sun to partial shade.
  9. Cordyline –Cordyline is a sensational container plant. It’s similar in form to a yucca, without the sharp tips. I like ‘Red Sensation’, which is burgundy. Perennial zones 8 –11; treat as an annual in cooler climates. Partial shade.
  10. Salvia – You just can’t beat a salvia when it comes to plants that can take the heat. There are a number of varieties available so you will easily be able to find one to suit your needs.
  11. Succulents –Echeveria, aloes, and sedums have seen a recent resurgence in popularity. The funky shapes and colors make for a fun container garden. They are very easy to grow in hot, dry environments.

And finally, here are some important tips about caring for your container gardens. Plants in container gardens need to be checked every day because the soil dries out quickly and they need more water than in-ground plantings. Just stick your finger into the soil and if the top few inches is dry; it’s time to water.

If daily watering doesn’t fit into your schedule or you would like to conserve water usage select drought tolerant plants, consider a drip irrigation system on a water timer. There are kits available that lets you water several containers on the same hose connection. Also look into plants that are native to your area. Native plants will be adapted to your growing conditions and stand a better chance for survival.

Container gardens also need to be fertilized frequently. I feed my flowering annuals weekly with a liquid fertilizer. Apply a slow release fertilizer to container grown perennials and shrubs in spring.