Barbara Storz (Photo by Larry W. Clubb)

Cooler weather means fall holidays and events are on the horizon. Container gardens at the entry to your home are a great way to set the tone for fall festivities. Over the next four to six weeks, most garden centers will receive their fall plants, providing an opportunity to create container gardens or freshen up containers we may have now. Here are some tips to keep in mind.

>> Invest in quality containers of varying sizes that are of similar design or color if you will be grouping containers. Choose two large matching containers for either side of the entry to achieve a formal look. For porches, group several at the entry, or along steps.

>> Containers need holes for drainage so that plants do not sit in water. For very large containers you may wish to sit them on a container dolly in case you need to move them out of bad weather.

>> Potting media is the best soil for container gardens. This is a sterile potting mix that does not contain minerals needed by plants. Some mixes may contain a slow release fertilizer, but this quickly breaks down in our heat. You will want to add a balanced water soluble fertilizer, especially during the time plants are actively growing.

>> Use plants that grow well in our environment. A local, licensed nursery is a great place to visit for ideas on plants and for information. These establishments usually have knowledgeable staff who can advise you on the best choices for south Texas.

>> Base your design on foliage with contrasting or complimentary textures and colors. Fall foliage is easily available in grasses, coleus plants, sweet potato vine and plants in the genus Dracaena (like Song of India). With coleus be sure to ask if they are a variety that can handle sun or shade, depending on where you are placing the containers. Keep plants together with the same light requirements.

>> Group plants that are similar in water requirements, as well. Plants that require a modest amount of water, like rosemary or cactus, will quickly rot if paired with plants that need to be watered frequently.

>> For plants that are blooming, ask about the blooming cycle of the plants you purchase, so that you will know when to expect blooms.

Courtesy photo

>> Different textures of leaves or foliage colors will provide interest. Pair dark colored leaves with lighter greens or grey leaves.

>> Bedding plants, like petunias and pansies, will last most of the fall and winter in containers. For more lasting color, perennials like lantana, will provide color all year long.

Container gardens are a great way to say “Welcome” and to offer gardening opportunities in small spaces. To learn more about container gardening and their design you may wish to attend a free Container Gardening class provided by the Master Gardeners 9 to 11 a.m. Saturday, Sept. 21 at their South Texas Educational Garden in North San Juan. For more information, contact the Texas A & M AgriLife Extension office at (956) 383-1026 or stop by the Growing Growers Farmers Market today from 9 a.m. to noon to speak to a master gardener. This market is located in Firemen’s Park on the corner of First Street and Business 83 in McAllen and is open every Saturday morning.

Barbara Storz is a local horticulturist. You can email her at [email protected]