Summer is right around the corner and it's tempting to whip out your wallet and splurge on your garden. But which plants should you invest in and which will probably only last a short while? P. Allen Smith, the CEO of Hortus Ltd., pinpoints the top plants that will extend beyond bikini season and into the fall:
Summertime will soon be upon us and that means longer days and more time outdoors enjoying the sights and sounds of nature. For me, my objective in every season is to blur the lines between inside and out and sometimes that means thinking ahead on how I can use this season’s plant in the months ahead. Some plants that are considered traditional for indoors actually make wonderful accent plants on patios and decks and then when temperatures start to fall again those same plants can be brought inside again to serve as a houseplant.
A few of my favorite houseplants that have a double duty include:
- Palms — Popular from the Victorian times, these plants need indirect light and consistent moisture
- Ferns — Varieties such as Boston and Bird’s Nest are popular for both indoor and outdoor use. Note that Boston ferns are known for shedding leaves no matter where they are so give this plant a periodic shake to remove brown leaves. Putting down newspaper seems to make this job a little less messy.
- Mother-in-Law’s Tongue — Reliable and nearly indestructible, this is a plant I highly recommend for the novice gardener. It can take low light and infrequent water as well as living in the same container for years.
- Diamond Frost® Euphorbia — This is traditionally a garden plant, but I like to grow it in pots so that I can bring it in and use it during the winter holidays. It looks great mixed with poinsettias.
- Croton — Fall colors are brushed on to the leaves of this plant and I enjoy keeping some of these beauties on hand for autumnal decorating. During the summer I combine them with other festive “hot” colored plants in containers.
A few tips about using houseplants both inside and out. Lining the containers with sheet moss allows the plants to hold in moisture. When you move plants from inside to out, check to see if it’s time to repot your houseplant. If you go on vacation during the summer and don’t want to hire someone to come and water your container plants then find a shady spot and fill a child’s wading pool about a ¼ way up with water. Then you can set your plants into the water and they will draw up what they need while you are gone.
Before bringing houseplant back indoors in fall, check for insects or signs of disease. Giving the plant a sharp blast of water from a watering hose usually knocks off spiders or other little hitchhikers and I take this opportunity to spray my houseplants with an insecticidal soap. It’s an organic way to deal with bugs that may have stayed on the plant.
I’m crazy about using herbs and right now is a good time to start seedlings and get them into the garden. For an even easier approach to growing herbs you can purchase “plugs” or plants already started plants. Some that are great performers for me are parsley, rosemary, thyme, and basil. It just wouldn’t be summer without basil and tomatoes!
Here’s a great tip for preserving this flavor of summer long into the winter. Chop up some of your herbs and then fill an ice tray with 1 tablespoon of the fresh chopped herb. Fill it with water and freeze the herbs into cubes. Once frozen, pop the cubes out of ice tray and put them into labeled zip top bags. In the fall and winter when a recipe calls for herbs you’ll have the option of using fresh!
Now while herbs do great outdoors throughout the summer, a lot of people try to bring them indoors when temperatures start to drop and get frustrated because the plants don’t do well. It’s hard to recreate the ideal environment for herbs indoors so enjoy them while they last—if you get an extra two or three weeks out of your basil or thyme then great!—just keep in mind that most herbs are annual plants for us.
What are ideal conditions for herbs? Full sun, well drained soil (I like to take ½ potting soil mixed it with ½ sand) and not too much fertilizer. Maybe fertilize once a month with an all purpose liquid fertilizer. Pruning is actually really good for the herbs because it causes them to become bushier and produce new growth. If your herbs start to flower then you want to pinch out any blooms to try to keep the flavor in the leaves. It’s the essential oils in the plants that give us fragrance and flavor.
P. Allen Smith is the CEO of Hortus Ltd., a media production company responsible for two nationally syndicated half hour television programs, numerous magazine columns, a popular website, a best-selling series of garden-design-lifestyle books, lecture series, and news reports which air on stations around the country as well as on The Weather Channel. He is also the principle in P. Allen Smith and Associates, a landscape design firm.