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Smart Garden

Growing tips to bring your potted plants to life

Bring your potted plants to life

It's summer and your container garden is looking good, not great. An expert reveals how to renew (and keep growing) potted plants. If you look out the window during the dog days of summer and the potted plants you're growing are looking a little dull, you're not alone. It's very common, says bird and flower horticulturist Melinda Myers. Don't worry. Here are some reasons why your potted plants need attention. We have some easy ways to put a little life back into your small space garden.

Problem: Too much vegetation

"In mid-season, some plants fade and are crowded out by more vigorous plants. The bigger ones take off," says Melinda.

Part of this is the instinct to pack as many plants as possible into a container when planting in the spring. Sure, doing so gives instant gratification, but you don't take into account that these potted plants keep growing big, developing huge roots in their pots and taking up a lot of space.

Solution: Try a new container

Freshening up your garden may mean adding a couple of new pots. You'll find some great deals at this year's garden center. Placing a new container next to an old one can hide unsightly parts of your spring containers. Plus, starting a few extra pots will give your green thumb extra exercise.

Problem: Too hot and too busy

Another reason is carelessness. By August, busy summer schedules can have many people forgetting their pots. This, combined with hot temperatures, can be detrimental to potted plants. "A lot of plants thrive in warm, but hot temperatures. When it's hot, we need to water more often, but in the middle of summer, we're not as careful," says Melinda.

Solution: Don't delay watering

Wilting, scraggly plants can benefit from a little extra hydration, especially if you've had a very hot and dry summer. Here are some tricks to determine if your pots need good watering. First, throw away the pot - if it's really light, give it a drink. Second, stick your finger into the soil. It sounds simple enough, but if the top few inches are dry, you can tell right away that it needs a good soak.

Be generous with water. It's really difficult to overwater pots if they have proper drainage holes. Melinda says for best results, check the pots daily, water at the beginning of the day, and check them again later. You may find that they need to be watered a second time. Climate change and rising temperatures can be brutal for potted plants, so staying on top of watering is a simple way to encourage plants to keep going at the end of summer.

Problem: Behind maintenance

Ideally, plant trimming should be done throughout the growing season, but if you're not deadheading and trimming, it's certainly not too late to start.

Solution: Deadheading and food

Your plants will still bear fruit later in the season, so it's worth taking the time to pick off spent flowers now. The basics—trimming tall, leggy plants, setting heads and pinching back plants—can do wonders, even late in the game.

The same goes for annual fertilizing. Just because you don't keep up with the work doesn't mean it's too late. Some containers are much needed if they are expected to continue the flower show into late summer. Give them an interim boost with a slow-release fertilizer.

Problem: Nothing helps

You may find that all the watering, watering and fertilizing in the world won't improve your plants. There's no shame in throwing in the towel, grabbing a trowel and carefully digging out the underperforming plants and replacing them with new ones.

Solution: Add new additions

"If you've tried pruning and the plant doesn't seem to be reviving, it's a good idea to replace it," says Melinda. But without doing this, remove the old plant and its roots to make room for the new additions. Be careful not to damage the roots of any remaining potted plants you grow.

While the garden center selection may not be as exciting as when you first visited in the spring, you can find some healthy annuals to fill the empty spaces in your containers. Also look for ready-made containers. Additionally, the month of August Expect to score some great deals on a trip to the nursery.

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