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How To Grow
Outdoor Plants in Pots

we're tropical
What you need to know to be successful


The main concept to understand is that plants in pots are like prisoners. They are forced to rely upon their owners for almost all their care. You have 3 main jobs with potted plants:

  1. You must provide all the food
  2. You must provide most of the (annual) water
  3. Protect from adverse weather waves


The soil in each pot associated with each plant is a big variable. Heavy thick soil will hold water better than a fine nursery mix, but can easily choke plant roots in heavy rain periods

Zero professional growers in South Florida use "thick" soil

A loose peat based nursery 'pro mix' is excellent for almost all plants, but the plant owner must be more attentive to dry conditions. Small pots, for example, can require water every day when it's hot and dry outdoors

Wind and sun vary the need for water greatly as well. Potted plants on a canal dock or along the Intracoastal Waterway here in Fort Lauderdale need to be "tough plants" to survive periods of ongoing heavy winds

The point is, the amount of water you provide varies with outdoor conditions day by day

Therefore, you must think about outdoor conditions every day and vary the water you provide for your potted plants depending on the daily amount of rain, wind, and heat

If that advice sounds like too much of a fuss for you, you have three alternatives:

  1. Use only very tough plants like cactus for all your pots
  2. Settle for ordinary plants in pots that always look like they're suffering (because they are)
  3. Throw plants away, get new ones, often

We have found that including your plants in your daily routine makes care very simple. Just add a pass by your plants every morning or every evening as part of your daily routine. There are many benefits:

  • It is a wholesome activity to go see your plants
  • By seeing your plants daily, you will know exactly how they should look when they are happy, and take quick action if attention is needed
  • It only takes a few minutes
  • You'll very much more enjoy owning quality healthy plants rather than constantly being in a stew about the poor condition of your plants when you don't provide them proper routine care
  • When you have guests over to your home, they will notice and admire your plants - you will get well deserved compliments




Where do people get the notion that potted plants can live and grow well with no food / fertilizer?

You will marvel at and be delighted with the results you get using fertilizer on your potted outdoor plants

The only liquid fertilizer we ever use is on African violets. They seem to demand that special food, but you're not likely to have violets outdoors anyhow

Liquid fertilizers build up salts rapidly and over time damage or possibly kill your plants

Soil that comes with fertilizer in it is not good either

Every potted plant we own gets only time released pellet fertilizer

We use time released pellet food. In the package are tiny round pellets that feed 3-6 months per application. In hot climates, divide the feeding time on the package in half, e.g. if it says 3 months, feed every 1.5 months. This fertilizer is water and heat activated so every time we water, each plants gets food too. Use a pellet food that has plenty of minor elements (e.g. iron, zinc, magnesium, boron, etc) in the mix.

Time release pellet fertilizer does not burn. You can not over feed. It's expensive, so buy the largest package you can find because larger packs cost less per pound

Be generous. Use 1, 2, or 3 tablespoons full (or more) on each plant, depending on each pot's size. It would be OK to completely cover the soil surface with a layer of this fertilizer


Every plant you buy has come from a professional nursery where the plant has been grown under perfect or near perfect conditions and care. There is a 99% chance that its new location in your outdoor pot is less than the optimal conditions at the nursery. Therefore, almost every plant will detect the decline in conditions and at first show signs of unhappiness

This is normal, so do not panic. It would be best if you knew if your new plant was a low, medium or high light plant so you could start it off in a well suited location outdoors

Do not feed right away. Get your water routine settled first. Once your new plant is perky and happy, make him even more happy with pellet fertilizer

Feeding is for the warmer/hotter months.  Most plants slow down growth or even stop growth during cooler and cold (Florida style cold) months.  Do not attempt to force feed during those months, e.g. we do not feed any plant about mid-December to early March


If you become a successful potted plant grower, from time to time your plants will outgrow their pots

If you want to continue to own the plant and watch it get even bigger and better, you'll have to re-pot

Go out and buy quality pots (e.g. Italian terra cotta with drainage hole(s) in the bottom) and quality nursery soil. DO NOT EVER buy what is labeled as "potting soil" because the contents are junk

You must buy something labeled "nursery mix" or "pro mix" and the bag must weigh very little for its size. Never buy the cheap stuff because it's no good. Expect to pay about $8-$12 for two cubic feet of quality soil

The soil you want to buy should contain
some or all of these parts:

  • Canadian peat moss
  • Pine bark chips
  • Wood chips
  • Charcoal chips
  • Composted manure
  • Dehydrated composted manure
  • Mushroom compost
  • Perlite
  • Vermiculite

The soil you buy should >>> NOT CONTAIN

  • Top soil
  • Fertilizer
  • Anything that came from a sewer plant
  • Insecticide
  • Fungicide

Be sure to have a layer of rocks or other hard material at the bottom of each pot to insure easy drainage. A clogged pot holding water will kill a plant very quickly


Plant protection is the biggest variable; often means life or death in hours

During late winter and early spring our email is jammed with letters from folks who basically say "plant looks dead...what do I do now?"  Well, now is probably too late should have prepared and protected BEFORE cold came in

The best way to protect is to take indoors into warmth; not the basement, not the garage, not the shed ...take into your home where you live

Plants in large pots are harder to handle

There are carts with wheels specifically made for pots.  You are able to roll your plant to safety

If you leave your plant outdoors, a plastic cover will do almost nothing.  It will still get cold inside the cover so = worthless

Some folks use blankets or other such covers.  If a person is under a blanket, body heat is trapped under the blanket so you stay warmer.  Plants have no "body heat" so blanket covers do little to assist

What you need to do is APPLY HEAT

Folks successfully use Christmas lights and leave the lights on starting HOURS BEFORE the cold comes in.  However, today, many Christmas lights are the LED type that GIVE NO HEAT so be sure to use the "old fashioned" normal light bulb type Christmas lights and use lots of them ...then apply your cover to help trap the heat the lights make

Lamps you buy called "Heat Lamps" (like for your bathroom) are designed to put out heat and not emphasize light.  Two or 3 lamps below a sensitive plant creates a good amount of heat.  Point them upward stationed near the base of your plant

In the "old days" in citrus groves in Florida, farmers used fire.  They often used burning "smudge pots" filled with oil and set as many around their trees as possible (thousands in a typical orange grove).  The fire created heat which rose up and helped "push" the cold from settling on the trees.  Fires were started 4+ hours before cold was due to arrive

Another citrus grove technique is water.  Overhead irrigation risers would be turned on HOURS before cold was due to hit.  If the cold was below freezing, ice would form on the trees, fruit and leaves, but by leaving the water running continuously, 3-5 degrees was improved.  The water was left on in the morning until all the ice had melted.  Some farmers had ways to HEAT the water then spray out with overhead irrigation

The point is, HEAT is needed and HEAT must be contained/captured if you will not protect by taking indoors


  1. Water based on daily changing outdoor conditions
  2. Feed your plants quality timed release fertilizer or organic fertilizers of your choice
  3. Go see your plants every day as part of your daily routine
  4. Buy good pots and good soil
  5. Protect BEFORE damage occurs
  6. Tell your admiring guests "oh, it was nothing"