By Mary Hance
Photos and video courtesy of Mary Hance
Don't you hate it when you buy a nice pretty plant for your patio or porch, invest in a nice pot, lovingly add soil and your plant — and and then have it shrivel up and die it on you.
It is frustrating, a waste of money — and embarrassing—to have absolutely nothing to show for your well-intentioned gardening efforts.
Well, you can take comfort in the fact that a lot of the time, the failure is not your fault.
It is the plant — you simply chose the wrong plant.
So today, I am offering a list of tried and true options for Middle Tennessee porches and patios — plants that will give you a more than fighting chance to be successful.
My expert gardeners include David Bates, owner of Bates Nursery and Garden Center on Whites Creek Pike, Diane Wells at Gardens of Babylon at the Nashville Farmers Market, and Dennis Troglen at Lowe's Garden Center in West Nashville.
Here are their recommendations:
Plants That Love Sun
This is one that all of our plant experts chose as a sun lover. "Great in the sun, easy, drought tolerant," said Wells.
"It is great for a hot spot," said Bates, who said the Lantana colors are nice too, with yellow, confetti and some lavender and white.
Troglen said a combination he likes to put in a large pot is a dwarf Alberta Spruce in the middle surrounded by with "sun loving flowers such as Lantana, which tends to spread out," he said.
Another colorful combination he suggests for sunny areas is red Salvia in the middle of a pot, with yellow Lantana around it. "It looks great and you will have color all the way into October and November," he said.
The plant gurus say the Wave Petunias are preferred over ordinary petunias because they last into early fall, compared to the standard petunias, which tend to get "leggy" about midway through the summer.
The Wave Petunias are "growing machines" in the sun and do not need to be dead headed, Bates noted.
A big pot of marigolds provides a lot of color and is easy to maintain.
"All you have to do is deadhead them," Wells said. Bates added that marigolds have the additional advantage of having some ability to repel insects that might get on other plants.
Troglen favors tropicals like Mandevilla and Hybiscus because they do well in the sun, provide a lot of color and last throughout the season with little or no maintenance other than watering.
"Just put them in a pot in the sun and they do great" he said.
Tropicals don't winter over very well, but for one season in direct sun around the deck or patio or pool, they are a good choice, Bates said.
Autumn Joy Sedum
Bates said that if you are looking for the most durable sun loving plant, the perennial Autumn Joy Sedum is your best bet.
"It is indestructible" and has a nice look in a pot, he said.
"They won't freeze. They won't burn up. They are bulletproof," he said. "It is my #1 of all sun things."
Plants That Love Shade
"Boston ferns are easy easy," said Wells. Bates agreed saying that ferns in general are "excellent shade plants."
Troglen said that while Boston Ferns are great in the shade, that if you have areas that have some sun, the Kimberly Queen fern "would be a better choice because it tolerates some sun."
Other varieties recommended by Bates are the Springeri (asparagus) fern and the delicate Maiden Hair fern as nice additions to shade pots.
Wells suggested Coleus, and Troglen agreed, saying it provides color through its leaves, is hardy, and can stand alone or be mixed in with other plants. Known for its colorful foliage, it is nice in a pot or around trees or shrubs.
There are a lot of varieties of begonias and they get a thumbs up because they are colorful (leaves and blooms), they are low maintenance and don't need as much water as some other plants. Bates said almost all varieties of Begonia should do well in shade pots.
New Guinea Impatiens
The garden experts all recommended New Guinea Impatiens for shade and for areas that have some sun, too. Bates noted that the common impatiens that were so popular for shade areas in past years, fell out of favor because of a downy mildew that plagued them. The New Guineas are resistant to that and are a hardy variety with larger, more showy blooms.
"The New Guineas are very tough and can take a bit of sun," Bates said.
Another shade lover, Caladiums, with their colorful heart shaped leaves, are pretty much carefree once they are planted, according to the experts. They are tubers, and they spread nicely. Although they don't have showy flowers, they brighten up shady spots.
Advice for Patio Gardeners
Troglen says to start with good soil for your pots: "If you start with cheap soil, you will have an uphill battle."
Bates agreed, suggesting an organic potting soil and or an organic compost mixed into soil.
"Success begins with the soil," said Bates.
The garden experts all say that plants in pots dry out quickly, so checking almost daily to determine whether they need water is essential. Also know that too much water can be even worse than not enough.
Troglen said the problem with overwatering is that it will rot the roots, while the danger of underwatering is that that the plants will dry up.
"Nothing takes the place of sticking your finger in the soil to see if it is dry or moist," said Bates.
Annuals like to be fed, said Wells, who recommended Flowertone, Monty's Root and Bloom as good organic fertilizers for potted plants.
Monthly fertilizing according to package directions should do the trick, they said.