How to Revive Potted Plants

It’s the second half of summer and things in your container garden might be looking, well, not so great. Find out how to give your potted plants a mid-season refresh with these tips.


Meet the Expert

If you glance out the window and your container garden looks a little lackluster, you’re not alone. Birds & Blooms garden expert, Melinda Myers, says this is quite common. “By mid-season, some plants fade and get crowded out by more vigorous plants. The bigger ones take off and take over,” Melinda says.


Crowded Plants

Part of this is due to the instinct to pack as many plants as possible into one container when planting in spring. Of course, doing so provides instant gratification, but you’re not taking into account that these plants will get bigger, grow large roots in their pots and end up using a lot of space.

Diamond Frost euphorbia

Too Hot and Too Busy

Another reason is lack of attention. By August, busy summer schedules may cause a lot of people to forget about their pots. This, combined with a mix of hot temperatures, can take a toll on potted plants. “A lot of plants thrive in warm, but not hot temperatures. When it gets hot, we need to water more often, but by midsummer, we’re not as attentive,” Melinda says.

Don’t worry. We have some easy ways to put a little life back into your small space garden.


Tip: Don’t Slack on Watering

Those wilting, ragged plants will likely benefit from a little extra hydration, especially if you’re experiencing an extremely hot and dry summer. Here are a couple tricks to figure out if your pots are in need of a good watering.

First, simply lift the pot—if it’s really lightweight, give it a hearty drink. And second, stick your finger in the soil. It sounds so simple, but if the top few inches are dry, you’ll be able to tell right away that it needs a good soak.

Be generous with the water. It’s actually hard to overwater pots if you have proper drainage holes. Melinda says for best results, check the pots daily, water early in the day and check them again later. You might find they need a second helping of water.

The change in weather and increased temperatures can be brutal for potted plants, so staying on top of watering is a simple way to encourage plants to keep performing through the end of summer.

Summer snapdragon

Tip: Groom and Feed

Ideally, plant grooming should be done throughout the growing season, but if you haven’t kept up with deadheading and trimming, it’s definitely not too late to start.

Your plants will still benefit from deadheading this late in the season, so it’s worth it to take the time to pluck off spent blooms now. Just the basics—trimming long, leggy plants, deadheading and pinching back the plants—can do wonders, even this late in the game.

The same goes for fertilizing annuals. Just because you haven’t kept up with the chore, doesn’t mean it’s too late. Some containers need it most in late summer if they’re expected to keep up the floral show.

Give them a mid-season boost with slow-release fertilizer.


Tip: Buy New Additions

You might find that all of the watering, deadheading and fertilizing in the world simply won’t perk up your plants. There’s no shame in throwing in the towel, grabbing a trowel and carefully digging out under-performing plants and replacing them with new ones.

“If you’ve tried pruning and it doesn’t look like the plant is revivable, replacing it is a good idea,” Melinda says. But do this minimally and remove the old plant and its roots to allow space for new additions. Just be careful not to damage the roots of remaining plants.

While the garden center selection won’t be as exciting as when you first visited in spring, you’ll be able to find some healthy annuals to fill the empty spaces in your pots. Plus, expect to get some great deals. Melinda says garden centers aren’t like they used to be.

Now, a trip to the nursery in August will yield many more options, like ready-made containers and fresh batches of plants. “The plants they’re selling at this time of year are the ones that are going to thrive for the rest of the season,” she says. “Look for things like light, airy grasses. They can help fill in gaps and you won’t even be able to tell they were planted three months apart.”

Even if you do all of these things, remember that it’ll take a week or two for your pots to perk back up. But you’ll be rewarded for your efforts with a beautiful late-summer container garden.


Tip: Summer Container

Freshening up your garden might mean adding a couple of fresh pots. Placing a new container next to old ones can mask the unsightly parts of spring containers. Plus, starting a few additional pots will give your green thumb an extra workout.


Tip: Add Color

Now is a good time to experiment with fun colors, like gold and purple, which are considered fall hues.

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Kirsten Schrader
Kirsten is the content director of Birds & Blooms. She's been with the brand in various roles since 2007. She has many favorite birds (it changes with the seasons), but top picks include the red-headed woodpecker, Baltimore oriole and rose-breasted grosbeak. Her bucket list bird is the painted bunting.