What kinds of pots are best in the desert sun? This question is asked in every class I teach.
Before I answer, let’s break that question down further: What pots should you not use? And what size pots do you need?
Followers of this column know I often extol the virtues of large pots. In the sun, you don’t want a pot with less than an 18-inch interior diameter. You need a solid volume of soil, ample moisture protection and insulation of the plants’ roots.
I do not recommend metal or plastic pots. I also recommend skipping black pots (unless they’re ceramic); definitely do not leave your plants in the black nursery cans. They just retain too much heat.
Consider these types of pots:
Terra cotta, clay and Mexican pots: These pots tend to be less expensive than other styles; many are fired at lower temperatures, making them less durable to high-salt water and heat. Some Italian and Chinese clay pots are “high-fired,” however, which means they will stand up to our harsh climates much better.
Since some clay pots are of the “old world” style, they fit Mediterranean-style homes. Mexican pots are happy in a hacienda-style home.
To make them last longer, use a lawn-and-leaf garbage bag with a hole in the bottom—for drainage, to protect the pot from fast deterioration, and to help with water retention.
Glazed pots: All glazed pots are high-fired, making them well-suited to the desert climate. They will retain moisture, stand up to the heat and sun, and outlast most of our lifetimes. There are many beautiful shapes, colors, textures and styles. I plant 90 percent of my gardens in one type of glazed pot or another. I’d rather spend extra money on a quality pot once rather than replace a pot and repot a plant after just a couple of years.
High-gloss pots: With a huge array of colors and shapes, high-gloss pots stand out. Use rimmed pots for a more traditional-style home, and rimless pots for a contemporary look. Pots are finished in all colors.
Rustic glazed pots: Rustic glazed pots are much more organic in their style. They will fit into a natural desert landscape, complementing the design rather then popping out. The colors usually reflect those found naturally in the desert. These pots can always be counted on to hold up to the heat, and their weight will make sure they stay in place despite the wind.
Talavera pots: People often ask if these pots are suitable for the desert sun. The answer: As long as they have been made by reputable potters, and the colors are glazed rather than painted on, these pots will do well in our desert landscapes. They, too, are high-fired, and their superb color and design will add a lot to a Hacienda-style décor. Just don’t go overboard and combine too many of them in one spot. Use them with monotone colors, and have the Talavera pot as the focal point.
What about your small pots? Choose your favorites, and plant them with shade plants, especially soft succulents. Group them in a shady area on a baker’s rack, table or other shelving unit to create a work of living art.
February Care in Your Desert Potted Garden
In order to keep your winter flowers blooming into May, provide them with regular attention. Take a morning coffee break with your garden a couple of times a week so that you can enjoy your labors for several more months!
- Deadhead your flowers weekly. Be sure to pinch them back to the originating stem, not just the flower. This will support continual bloom.
- Cut back ornamental grasses to just above ground level.
- Fertilize your potted plants every two weeks with a water-soluble fertilizer, best applied with a hose applicator.
- Fertilize any potted citrus or other fruit trees around Valentine’s Day.
- Plant color annuals such as pansies, petunias, larkspur, primrose, poppy, stock, violas, alyssum, snapdragon and marigolds.
- Watch shallow-rooted newly planted annuals, which can quickly dry out with spring winds.
- Adjust your watering schedule according to winter rains, if there are any.
Marylee Pangman is the founder and former owner of The Contained Gardener in Tucson, Ariz. She has become known as the desert’s potted garden expert. She is available for digital consultations, and you can email her with comments and questions at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow the Potted Desert at facebook.com/potteddesert.