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The Black Thumb Guide to Gardening

How to Care for Potted Plants

Tips for keeping plants healthy; plus our favorite flowers and plants for container gardens.

By Madaline Sparks
Plants in yellow potsRichard Felber

Watering 
If you plant in the spring and the weather is mild, you can probably get away with watering about once a week. As the summer continues, plants need more water. Not only is the warm weather evaporating the moisture before the plant can use it, the plants need more water as they grow larger. Hanging plants and small pots may need watering twice a day (best times are morning and evening); once a day is enough for large pots.

Water your plants until the water comes out of the drainage holes. That way you know the soil is getting moisture all the way to the bottom.

Water the soil, not the leaves and flowers. Wetting the foliage can lead to fungal diseases and sometimes scorched spots on leaves.

Don’t worry if plants and flowers look wilted in the hottest time of the day. As long as the top of the soil is moist, you probably don’t need to water. Wilting is a self-protective mechanism to prevent too much moisture loss from the root area. Wait and see if the plants perk up after the sun goes down.

Don’t let pots sit in water; this can cause root rot and death. If you are using saucers, empty them after you water and after it rains.

Feeding 
Plants growing in containers need more fertilizing than those in the ground. The more you water, the more quickly you flush the nutrients out of the soil. It’s good to use a time-release fertilizer when planting (see “Step 2: Choose the Potting Mix”), but it’s the bare minimum. If you want really healthy and happy plants, feed them a liquid or water-soluble fertilizer every couple of weeks according to package directions.

Deadheading 
Pinching or cutting off faded blooms, known as deadheading, is essential. It encourages a plant to keep producing more flowers.

Some plants have so many tiny flowers and stems, it would be too time-consuming to snip or pick off individual flower heads. For those types, it’s best to shear the whole plant back to about one-third of its size. It will look “whacked” for about a week, but you will soon be rewarded with a flush of new buds and blooms.

Some flowering plants are “self-cleaning,” meaning they don’t generally require deadheading or shearing. These are usually prolific bloomers covered in smallish flowers, which just shrivel up and almost disappear on their own. Some examples are impatiens, mini petunias, diascia, and browalia. If they start to flag late in the summer, cut back the plant by one-third to rejuvenate blooming.

 
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