Freshen Up Patio Planters

In midsummer, patio plants, window boxes and other containers can get a bit bedraggled looking.  In order to help them look new and fresh again, consider the 5 R’s:


Reduce – Trim out the growth that has become scraggly.  Carefully cutting away the tissue that is wayward allows for sunlight penetration and air flow over the plants that remain.


Replace and Replant – Once the old tired growth is gone, slip in some new, stocky plants in the holes that have been created…they’re really inexpensive in midsummer!


Rehyrade aka water them.  Container plants are especially sensitive to drying out due to the drainage capacity of the artificial soils that are recommended to support healthy growth.


Replenish nutrients – Apply a half rate of water soluble fertilizer to provide elements that the plants need to photosynthesize.  Though vermiculite and perlite promote the drainage that is essential, they don’t hold on to nutrients very well; frequent, light doses of fertilizer helps to keep planters growing well.


Reconsider sun exposure – Perhaps the reason that the container garden became scraggly in the first place, (or at least certain plants in the planter) was that they prefer a shady exposure and they’ve been placed in full sun.  This is a great opportunity to make sure all the plants in the container require the same sunlight provision.


After a hard frost, in the late October timeframe, it will be time for a 6th R – Remove and Replace…not the plants, but the soil.  The recipe for success with container soils is to use them for a couple of years, then replace them with new, well drained materials.  Why?  Over time, it’s common for a buildup of salts to accumulate on the particles of the media as well as disease organisms that can overwinter and lead to root rot in the next growing season spring.  So, remove the container soil, scrub out the inner walls of the container and replace with new soil the following spring.

John Fech
Horticulture Extension Educator at Nebraska Extension
John Fech is a horticulturist with the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and certified arborist with the International Society of Arboriculture. The author of 2 books and over 200 popular and trade journal articles, he focuses his time on teaching effective landscape maintenance techniques, water conservation, diagnosing turf and ornamental problems and encouraging effective bilingual communication in the green industry. He works extensively with the media to extend the message of landscape sustainability, making over 100 television and radio appearances each year.
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