I guess it was fate. I’d already decided to write about pots and the plants we grow in them when my phone rang.“Dad, wanna go to Joe T. Garcia’s and take in a Cats championship game afterwards?” Why not? I thought. The weather was better than an August evening could ever be (remember last weekend?), and an evening with my son while his family was out of town would be a grand adventure.As we sat there munching and watching the early crowd starting to arrive at Joe T.’s, I excused myself and headed out with my camera. If you’ve not been, you’re missing perhaps the most beautifully landscaped restaurant garden in Texas, the South — who knows where else. So I decided: The topic I wanted, plus great weather bringing people back outdoors, plus wonderful surroundings, all equal a story that needs to be told. So here is my message as I set out to write it.It starts with a pot (or 15 or 20). Any type of container will do, whether it’s terra cotta, concrete, plastic, wood, fiberglass or metal (or anything else I might have forgotten). The only must-have is a drain hole. You simply can’t garden without one. Oh, sure, you can avoid overwatering if you’re careful. But you won’t be able to avoid the accumulations of mineral salts that will inevitably build up if you can’t flood water through the soil and leach out the excesses. So start with the drain hole and choose your favorite pot around it. If you’re planning a grouping of container plants, set the empty pots alongside each other to be sure they’re well matched.Use the best possible potting soil. Most of the commercially bagged soils I see are too heavy. They don’t drain well, and plants end up struggling to survive. Take a lesson from professional greenhouse growers and nurserymen. Use a lightweight potting soil that’s as much as 50 or 60 percent sphagnum peat, 20 percent finely ground pine bark mulch, 10 or 20 percent horticultural perlite and maybe 10 percent expanded shale.And the final hard good that you’ll buy will be plant food. Again leaning on the experience of the pros, go with a water-soluble high-nitrogen fertilizer. You’ll want to apply it every second or third time you water.Container gardens are a great way to spruce up landscapes late in the summer. Nurseries have large plants that will make an immediate impact on their surroundings. Assemble your raw materials on the patio some evening, and 10 minutes later you can have all your lovely potted plants ready to be placed in your gardens. It’s a lot easier than tearing out beds and redoing their soil.Best plants for fall containersReally, there’s no limit to your creativity. Use the plants that appeal most to your eye. But these are a dozen of my favorites that I see in nurseries right now. For fall flowers• Begonias, including wax and Dragon Wing, among others. These are widely available, and they’re lush. Give them shade for another two or three weeks, then morning sun.• Angelonias. Also called summer snapdragons because of their spikelike flower stalks, these have really come of age in the past decade. Blue forms give a nice counterpoint to fall hues.• Periwinkles, notably the Cora series. These plants are great in containers, and this series has colors heretofore unseen in periwinkledom. Full sun only.• Pentas. What loves these little plants are. They grow to 12 to 16 inches tall and cover themselves with heads of red, pink, white and lavender blooms. Full or almost-full sun.• Fanflowers (Scaevola). Want a trailing plant? Need a rich purple-blue bloom? None is better than these. Full sun to slight shade.• Firebush. Hummingbirds will be waiting for you when you get home with these South Texas natives. Fall is their time. Leaves turn intense copper, and the tubular orange flowers are produced in profusion. Full sun. For foliage• Aloes. You’ll find large specimens of many species in nurseries. Not only is their foliage showy, but the plants also produce lovely orange or yellow bloom spikes. Growing them in pots will allow you to bring them indoors for the winter. Sun or slight shade.• Bromeliads. There are many types, but the sprawling ones are better in outdoor containers. Their leaves are brightly marked, but you’ll want to keep them out of the afternoon sun. They’re tropical, so bring them in for the winter.• Peperomias. I admit that I love this great group of succulent plants. I’m especially fond of the several green and variegated types of Peperomia obtusifolia. Mine go into my greenhouse each winter. Shade or some morning sun.• Copper plants. These annuals are sold in 1- and 3-gallon pots in nurseries right now, and they’re one of our best sources of fall foliage color alongside mums and fall marigolds. They’ll become more intense as the weather gets cooler.• Rhoeo discolor selections. The species is called Moses-in-the-bulrushes. However, growers have developed some wonderfully variegated and dwarf forms, and you’ll see them in pots and hanging baskets in nurseries. They give instant color for shady spots until the first freeze.• Ferns. There is no end to this great group of foliage plants. Most are tropical, and their textures vary immensely, from broadleafed staghorn ferns to the fernlike leaves of asparagus ferns. Shade or limited morning sun.
Neil Sperry publishes “Gardens” magazine and hosts “Texas Gardening” from 8 to 10 a.m. Sunday on WBAP AM/FM. Reach him during those hours at 800-288-9227.