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Colorful Container Combos for Houston Summers

By Linda Gay

TIn Texas there are two seasons: summer and almost summer. The almost summer season runs from November to May and is also known as our fall/winter season. Summer season starts in June and runs through October, which may have some cool days and nights.
            This past winter is reminiscent of the winters we had in the 1980s when we were Zone 8. Did you know that Houston's USDA climatic zone has changed three times in 25 years?  In 1985, Houston was Zone 8; in 1990, we became 8b, and in the year 2000, we changed again to 9a-WOW! This winter doesn't seem to reflect global warming does it?
            So what will this summer be like? One thing is for sure if you don't like the weather in Houston just wait a while, and it will change. To experience severe degree temperature swings in a day can be quite common here.
            Where am I going with all this? If you are new to Houston or new to gardening, plant what you think is pretty, and see how they perform. Gardeners should shop local, independent, nurseries for plants that will grow well here.

There are some guidelines successful gardeners follow:
1) Soils must be porous and allow good percolation or drainage, whether in a container or in the ground.  Tip: Most plants need the soil to dry out in between watering, as this is when plants manufacture carbohydrates (food).

2) If you are gardening in containers, use a "real soil," such as compost. This holds moisture and promotes good strong root growth. Strong roots produce healthy, strong plants. When using a bark-mix potting soil, you will notice as you water that the water runs right past the roots and out of the pot. This mix requires three times more hand watering in the summer to keep the roots moist, but this can be a great mix for the person who has a tendency to overwater! When using a peat-based potting soil, the soil gets water logged because the mix never dries out and this kills roots on the plants. A peat-based soil is a good mix if you forget to water.

3) When using clay pots you need to know that clay is porous and breathes, which removes 50 percent of the water out of the soil and away from the plant. Clay is good to grow cactus, succulents, and dry loving plants. It is also good for the overwaterers!

4) Plastic containers keep the soil moist and dries out slowly, especially if using a peat-base mix which can be too wet for many plants. Use plastic pots for those plants that like to stay evenly moist like ferns and other shade loving plants.

5) Using a topdress of leaves, pine needles, or mulch will keep the sun from baking the soil dry and maintains a more consistent moisture level, ideal for maximum plant growth.

Two plant combinations that are not only flameproof
but vacation-proof are:
Canna ‘Australia,’ Russelia aka Firecracker, and yellow Lantana
Dark Blue Plumbago, ‘Goldstar’ Esperanza, and African Iris
Two plant combinations for a shady location are:
Alocasia,  Begonia, and yellow sweet potato vine
Calathea 'Roseo-picta,' Black Coral Sansieveria, and silver Dichondra

For gardeners who will only grow what they can eat,
two combinations are:

Peppers, Basil, and Oregano
Kumquat citrus, Lemon Balm, and Kentucky Colonel Spearmint

Linda Gay is a horticulturist at The Arbor Gate in Tomball.

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