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Exciting Container Plants for Summer

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I’m particularly fond of big, gaudy plants, but I like teeny tiny ones too. Large-leaved tropical plants really take the heat and can do wonders for planters around pool decks or large patios. They can also act as an umbrella or a backdrop to a seating area. Pairing them with blooming companions adds color and much-needed pollen and nectar that attract wildlife. Here are a few of my favorites, but I’ll leave it to you to reinvent them in your own creative container combos.

‘Fishnet Stockings’ coleus

Photo: Jennifer Benner

Name: Solenostemon scutellarioides ‘Fishnet Stockings’

Zone: 11

Conditions: Full sun to partial shade

Coleus is the ultimate foliage plant, but ‘Fishnet Stockings’ takes it to the next level. Dark purple veins create a striking contrast to its vibrant green leaves. Like most coleus, this plant is uni­versally popular and readily available. Try it once, and I dare you to do without it ever again.

Red Abyssinian banana

Red abyssinian banana

Name: Ensete ventricosum ‘Maurelii’

Zones: 9–11

Conditions: Full sun to partial shade

I feel passionate about large, bodacious leaves, especially when that fabulous foliage glows in amazing colors. There’s nothing better than striking, ruby red foliage. This is one of the best plants to choose as a focal point in summer months because of its warm, tropical glow.

Crotons

Croton

Name: Codiaeum cvs.

Zone: 11

Conditions: Full sun to partial shade

Whether used in sun or shade, crotons maintain constant color all summer. Their citrus-colored variegation is unmatched, and they can fly solo in a container or bring life to nearly any combo.

Fiber-optic grass

Fiber-optic grass

Name: Isolepis cernua

Zones: 8–10

Conditions: Full sun to partial shade

This symmetrical, semiaquatic grass is fun to play with and easy to grow. It typically grows in a neat mound, but when added to a combo it will cascade over and down the container edge.

Joseph’s coats

Josephs coats plant
Photo: Melissa Lucas

Name: Alternanthera ficoidea cvs.

Zones: 9–11

Conditions: Full sun to partial shade

Foliage is important in creating interesting combinations. The thick habit and carpet-like growth of Joseph’s coats ensure that a blanket of color will outline blooming plants.

Elephant’s ears

Elephants ears plant

Name: Alocasia spp. and cvs., and Colocasia esculenta cvs.

Zones: 8 to 11

Conditions: Full sun to partial shade

Elephant’s ears come in all shapes and sizes (pictured: giant upright elephant’s ear [A. odora, Zones 10–11]). I use them in smaller containers while they are young, then step it up to larger arrangements when they get bigger.

‘Fireworks’ rex begonia

Fireworks rex begonia

Name: Begonia ‘Fireworks’

Zone: 11

Conditions: Partial to full shade

I started out growing begonias at an early age because my grandmother collected them and shared the beauty of their foliage with me. The bright ‘Fireworks’ rex begonia is one of my favorites for color. It’s perfect for mixing or growing alone in a warm, dry, shady spot.

Cupheas

Cupheas

Name: Cuphea spp. and cvs.

Zones: 10–11

Conditions: Full sun to partial shade

Cupheas, like this Tiny Mice® (C. llavea Tiny Mice®), are some of my favorite nectar plants, attracting wildlife with their elongated, emberlike blooms. These floriferous, tough, easy-to-grow beauties keep visitors constantly fluttering and buzzing by in admiration.

Toe tickler grass

Toe tickler grass
Photo: Brandi Spade

Name: Eleocharis acicularis

Zones: 4–10

Conditions: Full sun to partial shade

If I had to pick a favorite plant, this would be a definite contender. Its small, lush, mossy nature makes it the ultimate in pettable plants. It will steadily cover the soil in small containers, and it’s only 2 inches high, so it will play well with other plants.

‘Princess’ napier grass

Princess napier grass

Name: Pennisetum purpureum ‘Princess’

Zones: 8–11

Conditions: Full sun to partial shade

Much stronger growing than its relatives, ‘Princess’ napier grass is one of the sturdiest, most striking plants in my garden. It needs its room, though, so only use it in large containers.

Golden shrimp plant

Golden shrimp plant

Name: Pachystachys lutea

Zones: 10–11

Conditions: Full sun to partial shade

I only put the strongest, most heat-tolerant bloomers in my containers. For a little height in an arrangement, shrimp plant does nicely. As a bonus, it is available in several flower colors and blooms continuously throughout the season.

‘Red Glo’ echeveria

Red Glo echeveria

Name: Echeveria ‘Red Glo’

Zones: 9–11

Conditions: Full sun to partial shade

‘Red Glo’ echeveria has captured a special spot in my heart because of its unique pinkish red trim and curvy form. It works great in groups and creates extra­ordinary living tapestries. Echeverias are low maintenance and require little water.

Peacock spikemoss

Peacock spikemoss

Name: Selaginella uncinata

Zones: 6–9

Conditions: Partial to full shade

I don’t know of any better group of plants for my shady mixes than mosses. They’re the ultimate in lush foliage, fine texture, and classic good looks. The blue tone of peacock spikemoss simply glows when combined with green foliage.

Variegated yuccas

Variegated yuccas

Name: Yucca filamentosa cvs.

Zones: 4–11

Conditions: Full sun

Yuccas are becoming highly sought after for their gorgeous variegation and interesting shape. They’re striking, but they’re also sturdy and drought resistant. Variegated yuccas are a two-for-one deal.

 

Photos, except where noted: Michelle Gervais

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