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These container plants scoff at summer heat.

These container plants scoff at summer heat On sizzling days, the cool greens of simple foliage plants can be the most restful choice for containers at entries and on patios and decks. Here are six unthirsty candidates.

Not only is their subtle coloring a refreshing change, but on scorching days when most potted plants droop and sag, these stay cheerfully erect. You can leave them untended for a long weekend or in some cases even several weeks. Chances are you'll find them as perky as ever when you return.

All can take full sun except in the most searing inland climates. However, leaves may yellow or sunburn unless you water regularly. For brighter color and even greater drought tolerance, provide partial shade, especially inland.

All plants shown are commonly available, but you'll see succulents in the widest assortment of sizes and shapes at a nursery that specializes in them. Specimens this size may be expensive and difficult to find, but part of the satisfaction of having oversize plants is knowing that you raised them from adolescence. While shopping, watch for equally rugged but less common cousins of these plants; suggestions follow.

Easy-care plants for pots

Asparagus ferns. For trailing fern-like growth, use Sprenger asparagus, shown below, or even more delicate-looking Asparagus crispus. For fluffy upright plumes, use A. retrofactus. Finely cut, fern-like foliage on most kinds stays spring-green all year. With the two trailing kinds mentioned, established plants form tiny white flowers in spring, followed by peppercorn-size berries in fall.

On a mature plant, robust roots can crack their container. Choose a pot or tub with a wide top; divide the plant or move it to a larger container when roots push to the surface or grow through the drain hole.

Caudiciforms. The bulbous, thickened trunk at left above is called a caudex. The bottle palm (Beaucarnea recurvata) is the most common caudex bearer, or caudiciform. You can buy a small bottle palm with a beet-size caudex for less than $5; basketball-size ones like this may cost $75 to $100--if you can find one. With watering once or twice a week and occasional fertilizing, a 4-inch caudex may swell to this size in about 15 years.

The larger the caudex, the more drought tolerant the plant. Growing in partial afternoon shade from an olive tree overhead, this one gets watered about once a month. In harsh glare or subjected to extreme periods of drought, leaves may yellow or scorch, but the plant soon recovers with normal care.

Succulent specialist usually offer dozens of other caudiciforms. Crown of thorns (Euphorbia milii). In frost-free climates, these plants can stay outdoors all year; elsewhere, move them indoors to a bright window in winter. Red-flowered forms are most common; specialists also offer kinds with cream, pink, or yellow-green flower bracts.

Hen and chicks (Echeveria). Choose from almost countless variations--rosettes that nestle against the ground or ones that balance on tall stalks, kinds with smooth or fuzzy skin, ones with leaves that are green, blue-gray, or almost black, evenly colored or pink- or rose-tipped. Common kinds tend to multiply quickly; scarce one are much slower-growing.

Jade plants. For the airy, graceful habit shown at far left, choose variegated miniature jade (Portulacaria afra). Its light green succulent leaves, about a fourth as large as standard jade's, are edged with ivory. Branches tend to trail naturally. Standard jade (Crassula argentea) is upright and thick-trunked. Succulent specialists carry forms with cream, yellow, rose, red, or purplish edges, and various leaf sizes.

New Zealand flax (Phormium tenax). Choose from green, purple, bronze, or white-edged leaves. A gallon-size plant for less than $5 can fill a 2-foot-wide pot in two years; or you can buy the 5-gallon size for about $15. For erect, sturdy growth, give plants at least a half-day's sun; they survive in shady spots but look floppier. Cut off old, tattered leaves about twice a year. Like the bottle palm, this plant can last many months without water in a shady site. But in pots, it looks best when watered every few weeks and given some midday shade in summer.
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Date:Aug 1, 1985
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