Planting The Summer Pots

The day I go home to plant my pots for summer is a happy day indeed. I like planting my containers at home. But more importantly, it means that all of my client’s pots are done. Being last in line has its advantages. There is time to mull over a scheme. Having scouted and purchased plants for a number of projects, I take stock of what plants are out there that look interesting. Rob buys plants for the greenhouse at the shop. I shop my own shop too. A trip to pick up some trees for a landscape project may net an especially good looking specimen of an ornamental grass. When buying perennials for a garden, the future of that plant is primary. When buying perennials for containers, a handsome and well grown specimen makes that container planting look all the better. And there is time to think over the pots from last year. Surprisingly, the perennials, shrubs and trees in last year’s pots proved to be one of my favorite plantings ever. The plants grew much more than I thought they would. And the green color scheme proved to be a relaxing and refreshing change from flowers. I was inclined to try a new version of that idea.

We did plant containers well into July this year.  Part of that is routine.  Many of my clients have us plant spring pots.  In a good year, they are good into July. This year, very cold and rainy weather suited those spring pots just fine. But for those awaiting their first container planting of the season, the cold and the rain was very tough to take. Clients were not the only unhappy people. Growers had to run their heat longer than they wanted to. The gray skies meant none of the seasonal plants were growing much. The daily relentless rain kept people away.

The tropical plants we did put into containers in late May had a tough time of it. Most of them are native to hot climates. They have a strong distaste for cold soil. Some were puny to begin with.  Not that we lost any plants. But they sat there, and didn’t grow. Unhappy plants takes with wind out of a summer container planting. The pots we planted in June were better. The pots we planted later in June took off growing almost immediately.  My plants?  I had been collected them over the course of 6 weeks.  They sat in the shop greenhouse, under Karen and Chelsea’s watchful eye. On a 60 degree day, that greenhouse would be 80 degrees inside. The tropical plants were flourishing in that environment.

These pots were planted July 7. The plants had put on a tremendous amount of growth, not being planted in my pots. They were not root bound either. The cool May and June kept the root growth slow, and by the time the warm weather finally got here, they were ready to put on a substantial amount of top growth. Especially grateful for the time in a warm greenhouse were the caladiums. They sit and sulk until the weather truly warms up. Planted out in cool soil, they may even lose ground. The variegated scented geranium column pictured above spent the winter in a greenhouse. Brought to the shop, and placed outdoors, it blew over and out of its pot a number of times.  Once placed in our greenhouse, it began to grow. The tarantula shaped succulent in the bottom of the olive jar was purchased for a client who liked the hairy beast. I knew we would be left with the rest of them. I like finding homes for left over plants.  It is a challenge to make them work. And I am exposed to plants I would otherwise have passed by.

Did I like having empty containers until July? It was not half bad. Planting pots non stop for clients in the busiest part of our season did not make me long to come home to more container fussing and watering. It is not a time of year to relax in the garden and putter. It is a time to wash my hands and face, and unwind. I walk right by these containers with barely a glance, and sit in the shade next to my fountain pool. I have no scientific evidence to prove the following, but I feel annual plants that go in later in the spring and early summer can prosper into October.

There are some issues to address with a late planting.  These Kimberly ferns can take a good deal of sun providing they get enough water, but they have been grown in the shady part of the greenhouse.  I will cover these with floating row cover for a week or so. This will give them time to adjust to a drastic uptick in the amount and quality of light.

Some annual plants, notably petunias, can get leggy if left in a small container too long. Combining upright white with trailing white petunias helps to mitigate the look of those legs.

This umbrella pine spent the summer in this very pot last summer. That means stashing it somewhere for the winter, as this plant is not really hardy in my zone. It spent the winter inside my my landscape building without heat or light, and seemed to tolerate this treatment just fine. It is possible to take perennials and shrubs out of containers in the fall, plant them in the ground, and mulch them well. In ground planting in Deptember will allow a little time for new roots to form. What kills plants that go in the ground late is the ground heaving in the spring.  As frost comes out of the ground, that heaving action can literally pitch plants up and out of the ground.

Zinnias become very root bound in 4″ pots.  They are big growing plants, and they grow fast. Though they are difficult to handle once they get tall, it is amazing how readily they will root into a container and keep on growing. Other summer annuals are not so obliging in this regard. If it is a plant that you must have, a little judicious pruning of the top might encourage new growth. If the roots have grown around and around in a circle, some untangling or ripping could be beneficial. But plants do have a shelf life. Whenever I shop for plants, I will gently knock the plant out of its pot to see if there is a good root system. Plants that have been repeatedly over watered can have compromised root systems.  Rotted roots means a plant cannot absorb any water, no matter how much is available.

Let the summer begin.


  1. Colleen J says

    So happy to have found your site! I am a very amateur gardener and by researching my ideas (to see what works in our area) I found you! I enjoy your insight and advice specific to the challenges of our weather and area. Thank you very much for sharing and helping others. Your work is really beautiful.

  2. Ahtens gardener says

    Did Branch make the planter stands that are lifting your terracotta pots off the deck?

  3. Enjoyed, as always!

  4. Thank you for sharing. I have learned so much from your posts. I enjoyed all your potted plants and the pots they are in. Do you sell them? I also enjoy caladiums. My Grandmother used to have them. She was an excellent gardener. She could make anything grow. I have plants I would like to over winter and I was wondering, do green houses ever let you over winter tender plants?

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Lenore, my pots came from Italy many years ago. We may have a few-check the Detroit Garden Works website. best, Deborah

  5. Susan Senter says

    The plantings are beautiful and the containers are a work of art, especially like the stands that bring them closer to eye level. Where do you purchase them from?

    • Deborah Silver says

      The stands are custom made from galvanized steel by the Branch Studio-one of my companies. best,. Deborah

  6. Roger Boeve says

    Are these clay pots? How do they survive in Michigan

  7. Deborah H Polansky says

    The variegated fern mixed with caladium and hypoestes is VERY nice! Thanks for another informative & enjoyable post.

  8. Mary from Lilydale MN says

    Your summer pots are Beautiful many times over. My favorite summer planting colors have always been green and white which your pots are full of. Thank you for sharing and I am sure you are comforted now that your own plantings are completed. Here is to warmer weather and full sunshine

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Mary, I am indeed happy that we have summer now. What a tough spring! I am very happy that my pots are planted. Delighted, actually. best regards, Deborah

  9. Lynn M Taggart says

    Dear Deborah,
    As an interior designer and garden enthusiast, I must say that your choice of container creates a cohesive framework for your outdoor living and dining space. The soft terra cotta and metal shades work well with the exterior of your home and tie the plantings together. The longer I garden, the more I appreciate the world of green. I still love flowers, but green (and white) make space for quiet, contemplation, and conversation. Bonus: in the heat of summer, it makes us feel cooler. As always, a grateful fan.

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Lynn, many thanks for your letter. I draw so much pleasure from my garden, as you do. all the best, Deborah

  10. Always tasteful. Isn’t it interesting that longer we work in this business, the more we avoid “colour” in our own pot combos? You are creating beauty with foliage and lime greens, greys etc.
    So am I. Senecio “Angel Wings” with Petunia ‘Latte’, Dichondra , have replaced Coleus and Cannas for me…

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Thomas, I have switched back and forth on a color palette for a good many years on my pots at home. Whatever appeals to me at that moment.That is what I love so much about planting containers. I can start fresh every season. Good to hear from you, my friend, best,Deborah

  11. Wendy Stahl says

    I love your posts. Thank you for inviting us into your world, and for inspiring gardeners like me:)

    Bye for now,

  12. Deborah, thanks so much, as always, for your wonderfully inspiring posts and photos. I so look forward to seeing what you post each time. So much great eye candy. Brings a little peace and serenity into people’s chaotic lives 🙂

  13. Dear Deborah,
    I’ve always loved all your posts. I began gardening with color as my goal, but, echoing other posters, I find that I more and more appreciate green and white. Your green and white combos are fantastic and when I ran across an older post of yours on green and white that I’d bookmarked, I was in love again.
    Simple combinations can be so breathtaking when done as well as you do them. We were recently at Longwood Gardens and I was awestruck by the Italian Water Gardens in the light of that time of day. Blue, green, and white, and a vision of heaven.


  14. Mike Blough says

    Deborah – Very happy to have found your site. We’ve drawn inspiration from your posts and photos for our potted flowers this year. In fact we went with a green/white color palette this year.

    Do you have any advice or guidance for how many plants go into a given pot or planter? It always seems we end up with a very crowded arrangement. Thank you.

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Mike, I plant my pots with lots of plants, but I groom them-meaning I take leaves off that are interfering with another plant. Plant too sparsely, and you have to wait all summer for it to grow into something.If you think your pots are too crowded, plant a few less and see if you like it better. best, Deborah

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