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Desert Gardening: Tough Container Plants for Patios

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Lowe’s Desert gardening expert shares some favorite low-care patio planting ideas for containers.

Barrel cactus can do fine on its own for a couple of weeks.

By Scott Calhoun

Summer is tough on plants—especially container plants. It is hard enough to keep potted things watered and looking good while I’m in town—and then I go on vacation! Because I really like my vacations, over the years my container gardening strategy has evolved to better accommodate them. Now my main goal is to plant things that won’t die, even while I take a two-week break.

Also I don’t want to have to rely on a neighbor kid to water. In the Southwest that means using succulents and cacti. As the photo above demonstrates, golden barrel cactus (Echinocactus grusonii) shines in containers and can withstand a break from care for as much as a fortnight. It also tolerates some light-filtered shade from desert trees.

The grouped cactus and succulents are water-thrifty.

Succulents, such as the Moroccan mounds (Euphorbia resinifera) on each end, need water only once a week in the hottest months and survive on less. The middle plant, blue myrtle cactus, is equally water-thrifty and lends height to the arrangement.

One of the most important aspects of grouping containers together visually is to choose complementary pot colors. In the example pictured you can see that the pots all are in the same color range, although their shapes are different. Choosing pots that are all the same color almost always unifies a grouping of containers.

Small cacti with minimal spines are excellent as container plants.

Small cactus species with minimal spines, such as the Bishop’s cap (Astrophytum myriostigma) pictured, are excellent as container plants. As shown here they have a simple enough look to be potted in something more ornate. Bishop’s cap takes full sun and blooms lemon-yellow flowers in late spring and early summer.

The pottery glaze picks up the color of the “baseball plant.”

Other plants, such as the succulent known as “baseball plant” (Euphorbia obesa), number among my favorites and make excellent container specimens. You can increase their visual impact by clustering several together, as shown in the photo. Also note the flesh of the baseball plant has caramel colors that the pottery glaze color picks up.

So there you have it, a short list of container plant that let you leave town without paying a neighbor kid to water.

What are your favorite low-water potted plants?

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