Round about July I assess all of my containers for the possibilities of what I call “Summer Swap-Outs.” The containers with items such as cascading petunias, summery lobelia and mounding verbena are handling the heat well. Others that I planted many months ago now—the containers with kale and arugula, for instance, or the spring pansies—have seen their peak. Even my indoor cacti and succulents get a once-over as they swell with summertime growth.
Why keep fading annuals, long-past-harvest veggies or rootbound houseplants in place when those containers can be put to other use? Summer swap-outs are as necessary to a patio or deck as the mid-July trimming is to the great American hedge. It keeps the garden looking fresh.
Obviously you enjoyed the plants originally in those pots. But now that they are past their prime, you are presented with a golden opportunity for a do-over. Here are a few suggestions:
Swap with What?
Sizzling summer color. The springtime pansy palette may have been filled with pastels. Swap pastels with a punch of red or orange or golden yellows. The flower benches at your local garden center are figuratively on fire with color this month. Take your pick!
Color themes. Maybe you weren’t so planful during your first round of container plantings. Call on your inner artist to really craft some well-designed color, texture and height plant combinations.
Younger vegetables. If you are like me you had extra seeds of chard or beets, maybe some lettuce or kale, that found their way into a few spare pots or spots in the garden, basically held in stasis. Now’s the time to tuck them into a combination container along with whatever annuals you find at the nursery. Their leafiness adds a surprise of texture and color. Another bonus? Their natural pests don’t really know to find them there.
How to Repot
When presented with an outdoor container that needs repotting within the same season, I find there to be two possible scenarios:
The old plants pull out easily. In this case, pull out the plants and any loose roots, stems or dead leaves. Use a hand cultivator or a gloved hand to loosen clumps and mix the soil. Insert the new flowers and veg, including the soil that those plants had been growing in. You may want to sprinkle or “top dress” an organic fertilizer such as Organic Mechanics 3-2-2 Insect Frass Fertilizer.
The old plants do not pull out easily. This indicates the plants’ roots have had some super growth and have intertwined. If this is the case, I will empty the container into a wheelbarrow or onto a large sheet and try to shake off some—any!—soil mix that is loose. Compost the plants and reuse the loose soil in the container, adding more Organic Mechanics Container Blend Potting Soil as needed. Then pot up your new additions.
Summer Swap-Outs with Cacti and Succulents
Summer swap-outs with Cacti and Succulents are container swap-out situations, not a plant swap-out. Slow growers, these plants need a container size upgrade every two to four years. Summer is my preferred time to repot cacti and succulents, mainly because the great outdoors and good weather allow me plenty of room to get down to the business of repotting.
Cacti and succulents are specialty plants, and hence need not-just-the-normal type of potting soil. They prefer an exceptionally well-draining soil, but one that also retains enough moisture for optimum growth. The Cactus & Succulent Blend from Organic Mechanics offers that well-draining-yet-moisture-holding character. In addition, it contains some of our Biochar, which helps provide a home for the soil biology within the root zone, benefiting the overall growth of the plants.
If you have never considered growing cacti and succulents, maybe you should start! To get your collection off the ground, take a gander at the offerings at The Sill and Put a Plant On It, two of our favorite online houseplant retailers. And to really geek out on all things cactus and succulent, read up on these specialty plants by checking out the Cactus and Succulent Society of America (CSSA) and the myriad local-to-you affiliates. My bet is that you can’t stop at just one plant!