The Summer Containers

By no means have I had a chance to go back and look at all of the container projects we planted in late May and June, but I have had a chance to see a few.  The season so far has been very friendly to the tropical plants. I am referring to the heat, of course.  Any gardener that has been able to keep up with the daunting task of watering their containers properly has been rewarded with an astonishing display of lush growth and lavish flowering. Proper watering is not constant watering. It means watering ahead of that moment when the plants stress from lack of water. A consistent and measured watering hand makes for great looking summer containers.People ask me what my protocol and procedure is for watering all the time. My best advice is to never assume a plant needs water. Assess whether it needs water first. The roots of plants that get too much water will rot, and will not be able to absorb water no matter how much is available. Keeping plants on the slightly moist side encourages root growth. That said, every plant has preferences about what level of moisture they require.  Planting containers with plants of a similar inclination makes a watering routine easier. The box pictured above is watered by hand. The boxwood and hosta had substantial root balls before they were planted into the container. Add a bright shade location to the mix, and you have a container that does not require a daily drenching to prosper.

The mandevillea this year are blooming profusely. They love the heat. In Michigan, they thrive in full sun.They also like just the right combination of regular water and good drainage. A mandevillea sporting yellow leaves is either getting too much, or too little water. You will not be able to figure out which until you try more or less water, and see if the trouble stops. This container is mechanically watered via a dedicated container zone on the irrigation system. Figuring out how often to water, and for how many minutes each time is a trial and error process. It is simple to tell by looking at these plants that the amount of water they are getting is just right.

The window boxes pictured above and below also have a mechanical watering system, but I happen to know my client does not rely on it.  His irrigation buys him some time, if he is busy and can’t get to the watering immediately. He checks them routinely.The exposure here is easterly, so the boxes are shaded from the sun in the afternoon. All these plants like the heat, and a reliable source of water.

The ability to look after plants does not come standard issue. It takes patience, observation, and experience to figure out what way works for both the gardener and their garden. Fortunately, a lot of ways work. Plants can be incredibly forgiving of mistakes, but over the course of a summer season, their water needs are not negotiable. It doesn’t hurt to site pots and pick plants with some thought to how they will be maintained. I am pleased with how our summer plantings are getting along.

My pots at home are doing fine. Karen, David and Marzela give me a hand with the watering on occasion. I have 43 containers. 20 boxes and pots in the front now have their own automatic watering zone. The two pots by the front door are hand watered – that much I can do. The remaining pots are all watered by hand. They were all soaked on Friday. Today’s a day I will need to check to see if they need water, or restraint.


  1. Michaele Anderson says

    All the container planting are glorious and getting to enjoy their Goldilocks just right amount of watering. I assume that some kind of fertilizing goes on also although I’m wondering if it’s just handfuls of a slow release kind mixed into the soil when the initial planting takes place? Do you ever recommend supplementing with a water soluble like Miracle-gro?

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Michaele, we use a water soluble fertilizer-especially given that our long run of heat ran the slow release fertilizer out more quickly than usual. Although all of the pictures in this post but one are on client’s properties-and I do not know if they liquid feed. We use a custom blended soil based mix, which has a lot going for it to begin with. best, Deborah

  2. Jennifer says

    WHAT is that electric blue petunia in the 2nd to the last and 4th to the last pictures? It is glorious.

    You have convinced me that the reason my containers looked so lush and fabulous last year is that I watered and fertilized religiously. This year I have slacked off, to say the least, and my containers are frankly embarrassingly dismal.

    I repent.

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Jennifer, that is surfinia Sky Blue – it is a great color, and a great grower. Your letter is hilarious-thanks for sending it! best, Deborah

      • Jennifer says

        Thanks so much. It will be on my shopping list next year!

        Thanks for your posts. They are a highlight of my day.

  3. M Dale Rodger says

    Dear Deborah

    Water brand water soluble fertilizer do you use and what is the NPK ratio?


    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Dale, my grower Karen is on holiday this week-I will ask her when she gets back. all the best, Deborah

  4. Exquisite color and beautiful pots!

  5. Elephant Ears in a window box! So beautiful and unexpected.

  6. Rob Beebe says

    Dear Deborah
    The simple wisdom shared herein is truly of great value. How fortunate we are that you give to us so much of what you have discovered, experimented with, and learned from a long career. We are grateful. Very grateful.

  7. Robert Beebe says

    I am in charge of one of the featured windowboxes in this blog. We water as is needed,,with the referenced “mechanical system” providing the basics. What each plant wants will vary a lot through the entire summer. But as to fertilizer, Deborah typically uses a slow-release water soluble micro-bead product that lasts through the year well into October most of the time. This year may be different, as she has explained, but so far no problems have surfaced, I’m thinking that, possibly by early to mid September, the windowboxes will be wanting some fertilizer, but no signs of that are evident so far.

  8. Anita toney says

    Always a pleasure to read and learn from you. I am in zone 8 middle Georgia. It is always a challenge. But an interesting one . Keep on doing what you do and for all the inspiration you provide.

  9. Hi Deborah. Watering has been a hot topic for us as it’s been an incredibly hot summer. I’d love to know what you like to use in the pot when they’re mechanically watered. Do you use a 1/4″ drip tube with emitters spaced 6″ apart and loop it around the pot? Or do you like a micro-spray? I have clients that hate having a dirty patio from the water run-off too. It’s a delicate balance and it feels like it takes forever to get it just right.

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Stacie, I have 1/4 inch drip tubes with emitters spaced 6″ apart at home-I like this system. I previously had micro sprays-which I did not like. They would spray into the base of a plant that had gotten big, and leave all the neighboring plants thirsty. The emitters water more evenly. It is up to me to decide how long to run them-that is the hard part. How long to run them changes every week. My big boxes on the roof at the store have the micro spray, which puts out a lot of water quickly, but we have to clean the heads regularly. They can get stopped up with algae and other organic material. The upshot of this? No auto watering system has brains, or a feeling for when to water. “Auto” says it all. Any system needs a caring gardener to monitor an auto system, and hand water, cut it back or dial it up-depending on the weather. I hope this helps! best, Deborah

  10. Hi Deborah,
    I love your combinations of flowers and shrubs in your garden. I always look forward to your posts and love to experiment too. I am curious what the small purple and white flowering plant is in the 1st picture in front of the white cosmos. The picture if from your ‘Summer Containers’ post. Thank you for sharing your passion for gardening with us.

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Sharon, there are white million bells,surfinia sky blue petunias,and showy oregano in that picture. all the best, Deborah

  11. Jennifer Taylor says

    Absolutely stunning, each and every one. What you do is unique, beautiful and such a gift to your customers. Thanks for sharing Deborah!

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