The Washington Post

Planter Picks, Indoors and Out

- By Scott Aker


want to build a planter on my front porch where I could grow large and interestin­g plants that would be winter hardy. The porch faces west. Could you suggest some plants that would work in such a setting? Also, I am looking for ideas for houseplant­s for interior rooms with a good amount of light. Could I grow bamboo inside? AThe

outdoor planter will not get rainfall, I suspect, which means you would have to water whatever you plant. On the plus side, the west-facing location will be good because it will shield the plants from morning sun in the winter, tempering the harmful effects of wild fluctuatio­ns in temperatur­e. If you are building the container yourself, it would be wise to construct it with some foam insulation inside its outer walls to further moderate the soil temperatur­e in the container.

One of the best plants for containers in our area is the dwarf Hinoki false cypress. Avoid the cultivars with yellow or cream-colored foliage and stick to green as a base color. Yellow and cream are likely to turn to brown when the plant is stressed, and stress is a sure thing in a pot. Because the area is sheltered from rain, you could take advantage of the dry conditions and plant something that is hardy but cannot tolerate wet conditions in winter. Consider hardy ice plant and shore juniper. If you don’t like conifers, try growing a bayberry along with one of the dwarf varieties of nandina such as Harbour Dwarf. Even if you choose something that is drought-tolerant, be sure that you water the container during the winter.

As for indoor plants, you have lots of choices if you have a sunny window. Bamboo varieties don’t do well inside because they need high humidity and cool conditions throughout winter. Even in a cool greenhouse with ample light, bamboo plants tend to be untidy in containers.

A similar plant that I have grown to appreciate is the never-never plant, Ctenanthe lubbersian­a, which has withstood the difficult environmen­t of my office very well. Its fans of leaves, growing from cane-like stalks, are similar to bamboo. Another lovely option is the bamboo palm, Rhapis excelsa. Both of these need bright, indirect light and ample moisture and humidity to do well. For indoor drama, the epiphytic cacti are hard to beat. One of my favorites is the rickrack cactus, Epiphyllum anguliger. Even out of bloom, its zigzag stems make it worthwhile. I recently had cable installed, through part of the garden in front of a crape myrtle tree. Two months later, 50 little crape myrtle trees sprouted from the lawn. I’ve tried pulling them out but with no success. What chemical could I use?

Crape myrtles can sprout from pieces of root left in the ground, as you have discovered. They won’t overtake your lawn if you mow it frequently. With repeated mowing, you will deprive the little crape myrtles of their ability to manufactur­e carbohydra­tes. They will simply run out of steam and die.

You can use any selective herbicide labeled for use on lawn weeds to kill the sprouts, but be careful to spray only on the side of the trench that is farthest from the parent tree. If you treat any of the sprouts that are still connected to the tree, you run the risk of killing the parent tree. Scott Aker is a horticultu­rist at the U.S. National Arboretum.


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