Early September

early September containers (13)Come September, there are sure signs that the garden is waning. The day breaks late, and the dark comes earlier.  The sun is lower in the sky, and is beginning to cast those long shadows that foretell the coming of fall. Though our weather is still firmly entrenched in a summer long pattern of hot days, the over night temperatures are decidedly cool. It is never easy to tell when a container garden has reached its peak, but I am sure anyone in my zone who gardened in containers this summer was working at a peak level all summer long to maintain them. Week after week of extremely high temperatures and near drought conditions meant the delivery of water to container plants was a job never done. My best ally? My big pots. This pot is 40″ square. Routinely someone who is shopping at Detroit Garden Works remarks that only a person with a very large yard would have a pot this big. Though my side garden is actually quite small, this big pot looks right at home. But the best part of its size is the size of the soil mass inside it. That big body of soil retained moisture for a relatively long period of time before I had to water again. Once the plants shaded the soil, the water evaporated at an ever slower rate.  At the height of the heat, I only watered this pot every 3 or 4 days.  The plants like fewer waterings as well. It is hard on plants to be soaked one day and bone dry the next.

early September containers (12)It goes without saying that smaller containers dry out faster. The two small pots in the foreground of this picture are planted with zinnias and the cascading geranium “Acapulco Compact”. Both of these are highly drought resistant. None the less, they needed a good soak every other day, if not every day, due to the small soil mass. Mandevilleas do thrive in high heat, but they also like to be kept on the dry side. The petunias were too dry. As simple as it is to grow petunias, this year’s crop had no end of problems. Petunias decline quickly when they are too wet, or too dry.  A summer such as ours made it easy to over water and under water. A small pot soaked through and through was still dusty dry by day’s end.  The smaller the pot, or the smaller the root system, the harder it is to maintain an even moisture level.

early September containers (11)The scented geraniums were perfectly happy to be dry.  The fancy leaved geraniums wanted more water. The zinnias with too much watering was the perfect environment for fungus to take hold.  After a long day working outdoors in blistering heat, the prospect of having to fuss over 32 containers was not the first thing on my mind when I got home. The larger pots were more forgiving if I let them go until the morning.

early September containers (9)I firmly believe that every fuchsia and lantana comes with a population of white fly – standard issue. Of course the heat brought them out in droves. I completely defoliated this Ballerina tree fuchsia, white flies in a swarm around my head, and put the leaves in a bag that I dropped off the deck into the trash can below. Yes, I immediately put the lid back on that can. That was not the end of them. I did resort to pest strips. My lantana was green most of the summer, as the white flies went first to the new growth. A lot of new leaves and flower buds went in the trash.  Though this is the smallest of my pots, it is placed on a north wall that gets very little in the way of sun. It got a little water once a week, and that was enough. Small pots are great in the shade.

early September containers (3)This medium sized pot is home to a white dahlia, Acapulco cascading geranium, and white petunias. These white petunias are the best petunias I have this year. I attribute this to the fact that they did not get too wet, nor did they go too dry. How do I tell if a pot needs water?  I put my finger, or a bamboo stake down into the soil.  If the soil has adequate moisture, it will stick to my finger. Dry soil does not stick to anything. The soil on top may be dry, but of concern is the moisture level at the roots.

early September containers (6)The cordyline and trailing verbena in this pot like dry conditions too.  This pot has a fairly large soil mass, although some moisture will evaporate from the terra cotta.  I was very careful to delay watering this until I was sure the plants were in need. My choice of container plants was absolutely influenced by the National Weather Service 3 month prediction. Their unsually hot and dry prediction was correct.

early September containers (1)The Bounce impatiens in these urns need a serious soaking every day now. The soil mass is not that great, and I am sure the plants are root bound. Buck actually watches these for me.  Coming home to these plants flopped over makes me grumpy. Their name is fitting – they will bounce back from being too dry. The lavender New Guinea impatiens below them are in a much larger  rectangular pot. Once they grew enough to provide the soil surface with some protection from sun, the pot held its moisture much longer.

September 4 2016 019By and large my containers on the deck look happy. We have a garden going on that took a lot of work to maintain. Even the corgis disliked being stuck outside when it was too hot, but they were too well mannered to ask or expect me to go it alone.

early September containers (15)This pair of Italian terra cotta rectangles are home to a very happy group of plants. They have plenty of soil to live in. I watered the smaller plants on the edges of the pot more often than the middle or back section. When the weather is really hot, watering all the way around the rim of a pot is important.  Terra cotta can draw the moisture out of the plants on the edge at a much faster rate than the interior plants. I rarely shower a pot. I water with however much I think each plant needs.

early September containers (16) This has to be the most successful planting I have ever done in these planters. I am enjoying them.



















  1. Your containers are beautiful. This Summer was difficult, at best, with the high temps and no rain. I grew morning glories on a triangle wire trellis atop a large container and they are still blooming. Like you, I watered every 2-3 days. Sadly my other container plantings did not do as well. This year i lost plants more than any other year. I love the Fall and look forward to cooler days. Some rain would help. Unfortunately, I did not get rain from the tropical storm following the MA coast.. .

  2. Wow your pots are amazing… I live in Chicago and it’s been a hot summer. We have had rain but in between extremely warm! Your urns are beautiful! Just love the caladiums, impatiens and maiden hair fern. The post about pest strips was interesting. What did you use? And did you hang them near your plants? Thks. Maggie @magsjag

  3. I cannot wait to rip out my summer annuals! Lots of work & water & mine look nothing like Deborah’s! Fall cannot come soon enough. Beautiful containers from Detroit Garden Works & give lots of inspiration for next year. Thank you for your post.

  4. Also what do you use to fertilize and how often?

  5. Deborah Silver says

    Maggie, I feed with osmocote when I plant-a 3 or 4 month formula. Once that runs out, I feed every 10- days with liquid feed. best, Deborah

  6. Deborah Silver says

    Thank you for reading, HK.

  7. Debbie Buckingham says

    Hi Deborah! I really enjoy your blog posts! I discovered you when I did a Google search about Limelight Hydrangeas. Following the link to your blog, I was thrilled to find so much good information! And I love it that you’re a fellow Michigander, so I know the wisdom you share will apply to my gardening here on the west side of the state! I’m not a proficient gardener at all and I usually consider myself to have a brown thumb but reading all that you share I think I’ve been inspired to keep on trying! We actually live in a condominium so my gardening is minimal. This is a newer community with our condo being finished and the landscaping installed in June of 2015. The developer planted 5 Limelight Hydrangeas in the front area of our duplex style units. All the other units have short compact bushes with smaller blooms. Ours are very large but gangly with huge columnar blooms. (I have a suspicion that we didn’t get the dwarf variety that the other units got!) I think I need to cut them way back, especially the taller centers that just seemed to sprout taller than the bottom of the bushes. There were so many young blooms early on that I didn’t want to trim them back then. The result although very profuse and gorgeous with huge blooms, was little if any foliage underneath, alot of thin dead looking branches and the taller branches flopping all over. I would love to send you a picture so you could see exactly what it looks like! I’m afraid if I trim them way back they won’t be alive in the spring again! What would your suggestion be? Any advise would.be greatly appreciated!!

  8. I am a new follower of yours and am thrilled with your post. I live on cape cod and like you we ‘ve Had no rain. Hottest July and August on record and like a previous commenter lost lot of plants. Your containers are gorgeous. Can’t wait for your next post.

  9. Deborah Silver says

    Dear Debbie, prune them down to 24-30 inches in the spring. not now. If they keep getting too big, take them out, and plant Little Limes. thanks for reading, Deborah

  10. Deborah Silver says

    Thanks Christy!

  11. Just sat down to take a break after watering all of my container plants. It’s hot and muggy and every plant has a severe case of the droops. I clicked on your post and needless to say the photos of your beautiful container plants was a welcome sight! Also left me with a case of container plant envy. On the up side I’ve learned a lot from your postings and vow that “next year will be different”. Enjoy Dirt Simple so much. Thank you.

  12. Barbara Mewborn says

    So very very much have I enjoyed your site for many years! Have survived a terribly hot and dry Midwest summer (Toledo). Have hovered over a new fig plant (potted) on my patio this summer and have three varied sizes of figs (one 50% brown) and 3 recipes waiting patiently in my kitchen! Keep up the wonderful work! Barbara

  13. lisa Schwarz says

    Dear Deborah, I really enjoy your site and lovely planting ideas. Can you tell me what variety of , ( I think rex begonia ) , is in the bottom of your fuchsia pot that got white fly. Thank you , Lisa

  14. Your containers with your flowers were really nice and beautiful. I appreciate getting the opportunity to see them.
    I did plant some dusty miller with my petunias – I did not know there were more than 1 variety of dusty miller. I really liked the large leaved ones.
    Thank you very much.

  15. Linda Gallinatti says

    Your containers stuffed with giant kale varieties were the best ever for fall. Will the green and white kale hold through the Christmas Season? I am ready to pull the plant material out of my pots fill them with kale then add Cinderella Pumpkins to my stone pillars. Be sure to show us more examples of your fall container plantings.

  16. This is the most helpful blog to date for me, as I live in Portugal which experiences long very hot summers. The past two have been the hottest on record, with many days above 35 Centigrade and quite a few above 40. You have accomplished small miracles with these containers, and it is an inspiration to me to get going once our new house is built. Just a small niggle: “It is never easy to tell when a container garden has reached it’s peak…” You mean “its peak”, which uses the possessive form of the pronoun “it”. The other – “it’s” means “it is”. The apostrophe is a ‘place holder’ for the missing letter! Americans make this mistake a lot. I’m American. And an editor. Cheers and thanks for the great posts.

  17. Deborah, what is the deck exposure for your rectangular pots? North-ish? I fight (and always lose) the battle for living maidenhair fern….these are a handsome combination. B

  18. Hi Deborah:
    I have a question for you. I, like you, have many planters. This time of year, I am often seduced by the beauty of my outdoor planters, which invariably leads me to start planning to bring plants inside my home – I don’t have a greenhouse. This year, I’m toying with the idea of bringing in my Begonias, Abutilon, and Oleander, among others. Of course, I know that the plants will be shocked (substantially less light, less humidity, etc). I will likely be unhappy, too (bugs!).
    Do you ever bring your plants/pots/planters inside? If so, how do you prepare them? Feel free to (try to) talk me off the cliff.
    Looking forward to your feedback!

  19. Deborah Silver says

    Dear Chris, yes, northish. best, Deborah

  20. Deborah Silver says

    Dear Jen, I never bring plants indoors. I like a plant free winter, with the exception of seasonal plants at the holidays. So I am not a good person to ask. Maybe you can find something on line about it. It can’t hurt to try to over winter them, but it is not easy. all the best, Deborah

  21. Deborah Silver says

    Dear Lisa, the rose pink leaved begonia is from the “King” begonia series. best, Deborah

  22. Oh dear. I was afraid you were going to say something sensible! Thank you.

  23. Deborah Silver says

    Dear Jen, ha! I think you already knew the sensible answer. If you have a mind to try it, don’t be shy. best, Deborah

  24. I bring in my geraniums every winter (no greenhouse). They can take the dry air and only need 65 degree temperature; in a sunny window they will even bloom again. I’ve never had a pest problem with them. My mother used to over winter one ‘mother’ impatiens plant for cuttings next spring. As Deborah says, fuchsia and ivy are hosts for pests so I don’t bother with them. You could try your other candidates and dump them if they get buggy.

  25. Lynn Fiorentino says

    Hi Deborah- I absolutely love the combination of color and texture in the last containers shown. What is the fern used? Is it an annual or perennial? Thank you, Lynn.

  26. Deborah Silver says

    Dear Lynn, it is an annual (tropical) maidenhair fern. best, Deborah

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