Containers for Sun – August Update

It’s August, a good time to evaluate my plant choices for containers in sun, particularly those I am trying for the first time. There are some definite stars, and one surprising disappointment.

Star Flower, Floss Flower, Calibrachoa, and Zinnia in containers on the front step. Photo: Judy
Star Flower, Floss Flower, Calibrachoa, Salvia, Bacopa, and Zinnia in containers on the front step. Photo: Judy

Firecracker Plant (Cuphea ignea). This guy is also known as Cigar Plant, but Firecracker Plant is both more descriptive and lacks the negative connotations. Either way, this plant has definitely been one of the garden stars, the hummingbirds think so too!

Firecracker Plant with Star Flower.
Firecracker Plant with Star Flower. The violets obscure the fact that these are in a container. Photo: Judy

As an annual in zone 5, Cuphea grows to about 2′ and gets very bushy. Depending on the size of your pot it can be your thriller and your filler. The tubular red and yellow flowers and the red-tinged glossy green foliage are wonderful.

Firecracker Plant
Firecracker Plant. Photo: Jason

Unfortunately, Japanese beetles love Firecracker Plant as much as the hummingbirds. To prevent the damage from getting excessive, I’ve been picking the little bastards off daily and dropping them in a container of soapy water.

The Cuphea leaves were turning white during the first weeks after planting, and I feared they were infected. However, it was just a reaction to the colder than normal temperatures. These plants want a warm climate.

Salvia 'Black and Blue'
Salvia ‘Black and Blue’. Photo: Jason

Salvia ‘Black and Blue’ (Salvia guaranitica). This plant always looks great in the containers at the Chicago Botanic Garden, so I expected something similar at home.  In my containers, it is merely OK.

While the blooming got off to a good start, it has become increasingly sparse – not the case with my other container plants. Not sure what I am doing wrong.

Also, the stems are quite fragile. SInce our front walk is not all that wide, there are lots of broken stems as people brush past this plant. I doubt I will plant ‘Black and Blue’ again.

Mexican Petunia
Mexican Petunia. Photo: Jason

Mexican Petunia (Ruellia brittoniana). If you want something vertical, Mexican Petunia is 3′ tall, with an airy “see through” texture. I love the blue/purple trumpet-shaped flowers. I placed two of these on the landing behind the shrub rose ‘Cassie’ to contrast with ‘Cassie’s’ white flowers

This plant has been problem-free so far, a winner in my book.

The remainder of my sun container plants have been good to excellent. I planted Star Flower ‘Butterfly Red’ (Pentas lanceolata) for the first time last year, and I am still infatuated with the clusters of five-pointed flowers that draw hummingbirds and butterflies.

Flowering Containers up the steps to the front door. Photo: Judy
Flowering Containers up the steps to the front door. Photo: Judy

Floss Flower ‘Blue Planet’ (Ageratum houstonianum) is a tall variety that has been useful for adding blue flowers and a vertical element to containers.

Million Bells (Calibrachoa xhybrida) has been a reliable bloomer with a trailing habit that spills over the container edges. Ditto for Bacopa (Sutera cordata). I trim them back if they start frizzling in the heat.

How have your containers been faring in the sun? Do you have any new favorite plants?

62 Comments on “Containers for Sun – August Update

  1. Great report, Jason. Surprised to see the word “bastards” from such a congenial fellow,, but indeed they are inglorious ones at that, to be sure. I’m a huge fan of the Mexican petunia and don’t know why it isn’t more popular. To my dismay, I couldn’t even find it this spring. It self-sowed around my grandparent’s house in the Outback, so it’s very special to me. After this season, I’m going to stop using million bells because I don’t have the patience to put up with their need to take a break between bloom cycles. Prefer everblooming plants.

    • I guess in some warmer areas Mexican Petunia is considered invasive. Perhaps it is not more popular because the flowers are not profuse – at least they weren’t for me, though I didn’t mind.

  2. Cuphea Ignea was among one of my first plants I bought and grew a long time ago, I don’t see it in many peoples gardens these days. You have a wonderful selection of plants growing in pots.

  3. The sun is always rough around here in August. It’s not the best time for any of the plants really. My potted gardenias in particular had fried blooms so I had to relocate them.

    • You have a hotter and drier summer – and longer – than we do. I can imagine how that would create some major challenges.

  4. Hi from the UK ,I love the salvia and I have it come up around the garden as it seems to be perennial for me …even with our recent harsh winters….

  5. Your pots do look smashing, Jason. Do you feed them weekly? I have a Salvia Black Knight which is quite thirsty and hungry. Quite large plant but the flowers are just amazing. Maybe if you’d cut off the old flowers to encourage new growth? But you probably do that anyway. Always a pleasure to stop by in your garden 🙂

    • I deadhead the Salvia, but not consistently. I gave all my containers a slow release fertilizer once, perhaps that is not enough. Glad you enjoy the garden here, Annette!

      • Slow release is good but I think it tends to peter out later in the season that’s when I start using liquid feed.

  6. Thanks for the list. I am going to find these flowers and try out. I don’t think I will find them in any garden store here; need to look wider.

  7. Your containers looks lovely. With more farm chores and camping dates, I put perennials in my containers. They aren’t as showy but are stronger, survive better, and I recycle back into the ground in the fall. That’s what is great about gardening – beauty is in the eye of the beholder. 🙂

    • I have put some Heuchera in shade containers. I see the value of perennials in containers, but I am greedy for lots of color, all the time, and for that you need annuals.

  8. Beautiful! Though I do wish you would consider a bit of colored foliage to break up all the green. (Or perhaps you have considered and rejected the notion). With your white painted brick I would think a bit of gray would look especially nice. Re B&B, my experience is that it doesn’t want rich soil as some have said, but likes good drainage and lots of sun. Maybe the weather has just been too wet and cloudy?

    • Would gray look good with red/orange/blue? And what annuals are there for gray other than dusty miller? So sorry about your flooding, by the way.

  9. I love Black and Blue. It reseeds itself on occasion, although not too vigorously. I like Cuphea also. You look to have a number of containers in your garden. I have to water mine sometimes three times a day. BTW, I brought the storm damaged ones back. I was amazed after the hard cut-back that they are looking good again so fast.

    • I don’t water them that often, maybe every other day in the hot weather. That may be because they are mostly somewhat drought tolerant, plus the mix is shaded by thick plantings. Also these are plastic pots that dry more slowly, So gad your containers are looking good again!

  10. I think all your containers look great! I like that they are so full you can’t see the containers. They look like flower bubbles on your sidewalk. Lots of variety, too. I like that. Good job!

  11. I’ve been surprised by how much water my ‘Black and Blue’ wants. Maybe it just wants more consistent moisture than a pot can provide? Your pots all look great!

  12. Those containers look wonderful! I do like the blue salvia, even if you think it hasn’t done so well. My star this year has been a deep purple summer verbena planted with a licorice plant (helichrysum?). Both loved the heat and looked great together. My Bacopa barely flowered this year, but grew very bushy… any ideas why this happened?

  13. I am with snowbird, how really lovely to have hummingbirds visit your garden. All of your planters look lovely and vibrant too, this year, mine have an (experimental) mix of misty coloured perennials – persicaria, verbena bon, nepeta, alchemilla mollis and different grasses in, I am hoping the grasses will look interesting when we get some frosts in the winter.

    • I like to plant tulips in my containers in the fall, so that makes it harder to plant perennials in them. V. bonariensis is an annual here.

  14. I love your plant selections. Mine was terribly boring this year. I will refer back to yours when it comes time to plant them again next year!

    • I just like to keep experimenting. The Cuphea I had never seen before, one of the local nurseries had just put out a few and I had to buy a couple!

      • I usually just see what they have at the nursery. I need to expand what I buy. I do have two pots of coleus in the shade that are doing great this year.

  15. Beautiful and successful containers!! I agree with you about Black & Blue salvia — I always expect so much and get such little reward. I’ve tried containers and now this year I’ve tried growing it in the ground. It blooms, but not much, and like you, I doubt I’ll try it next year.

    • We see eye to eye on this. There are too many good plants and new plants that need trying to keep struggling with one that doesn’t perform.

    • There are some coleus varieties I really like. I don’t like the ones with a lot of red in them, though, and it feels like that is most of them.

  16. I discovered Million Bells cannot compete with sweet potato vine. The latter did great and crowded out everything else in the pot. Next time, fewer sweet potato plants and bigger companions.

  17. I’m liking all of your selections here…especially the firecracker plant. I have been pleasantly surprised by the annual Wendy’s wish. It is a salvia and has beautiful foliage and trumpet shaped flowers. A nice filler as I see how my other plants grow and change. I will be book marking several plants here! Have a great weekend Jason!

  18. You’ve had much better luck with your planters than I have this summer. I need to re-evaluate for next summer. Regarding the Salvia, would it help to deadhead them? I deadhead my Salvias several times each summer for repeat blooms. Thanks for sharing all the great ideas for container plantings!

  19. You use a lot more annuals in your containers than I do but I’m changing that next year. I’ve seen cigar plant but have never grown it. I may have to give it a try. I usually grow pentas every year but this year I tried a few others. I miss having it in my container garden. Zinnias, gomphrena, and Blue Daze evoluvus are my favorite container plants.

    • I do love Zinnias, especially ‘Profusion Orange’. I’ve never done well with Gomphrena have never heard of evoluvus, but I’m going to look it up.

      • Do you put something in the pot for the evolulus to climb on or do you just let it climb on the other plants?

      • I don’t know. I buy it as an annual every year. Gomphrena wants full sun, dryish, well drained soil and a shot of fertilizer every other week or so.

  20. I like your annual combos! Sorry that Black and Blue didn’t work for you as it’s such a beautiful plant when it does. Not that I speak from personal experience but my friend grows it to perfection!

  21. Your containers look great, Jason. I’d always seen Cigar Plant as a houseplant, but it does look nice in your containers. I’m still waiting for my Pentas to bloom again after all of the flowers from its first bloom cycle faded. The containers on my side porch are doing pretty well, but the ones on my back porch, which are more shallow and receive a lot more direct sun, are suffering. First, they had too much rain in early summer, and the geraniums and vinca protested with yellow leaves that eventually dropped. Then we had too much heat and not enough rain, and I couldn’t keep things moist enough. Now we are in another period of too much rain. Sigh. . .

    I’m glad you gave us a picture of all the containers together. Such a pretty entrance!

    • My Pentas seem to have continuous bloom, but I do some deadheading. I really find it a challenge to water containers enough, but not too much.

  22. Jason, I love your containers! I grow petunias in containers as well, from seeds. And salvias I have as annuals, but this year they bloom a little less than the last summer.
    Have a nice weekend!

  23. Mexican petunia! Thanks for reminding me that I really wanted to find this after seeing it in bloom at the Linnaeus Garden in Tulsa. Not that I’ve seen it in garden centers in Denver but someone must have it. I’ll be looking for it now. As for Black and Blue Salvia, it’s the backbone of my container garden and I couldn’t do without it. Love the color, the everblooming flowers, and the hummingbirds who ignore everything else but the Black and Blue. In our dry climate I water it every day but it is in containers and in part sun, part shade. Great roundup of your container plants!

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