Potted plants offer the advantage of portability if they are not too large. Research your plants needs and match them to their proper environment. Anticipate repotting every two years or so with faster growing types. The outdoor location offers a number of advantages including higher humidity, easier pest control, fertilizing and watering, and healthier plants. 

Q. What plants will survive in pots on a sunny, screened patio with minimal care

A. I would use tough, sun-tolerant plants that need little water. Purchase big unglazed clay pots with drain holes. The bigger the pot, the longer the plant will not need water or attention. Use a light soil mix to maximize drainage. Good choices include desert rose, dwarf crown-of-thorns, dwarf schefflera, soft-tip yucca, snake plant, jade plant and spider lily. The ti plant, which comes in green, white, red and purple leaf tones, is quite tough and can take some shade and moisture as well as sun and some drought. Ti plants color up better in a sunny location. Fertilize the plant with Peters 20-20-20 according to directions. 

Q. I have an entrance that faces north and receives no sun. What would look good in that area? 

A. Indian hawthorn is a good permanent choice for a large clay pot. It will get 3 feet tall in time and is also salt tolerant. It has small white flowers in the winter and spring. 

Q. Why is my Ficus benjamina losing its leaves? I keep it in a pot on a screened porch overlooking the ocean. 

A. I suspect that your ficus could be reacting to the strong winds and minute particles of salt spray coming onto your screened porch. Ficus is not salt tolerant and will defoliate with prolonged heavy wind off the ocean. 

Q. My patio faces north. What are some suggestions for plantings? 

A. A north-facing patio restricts one mainly to foliage plants, although spathyphyllum with white spathes and anthurium with red to pink spathes will provide color most of the year. Impatiens, sultana and torenia are annuals that may work. All of these flowering plants require shelter from cold and wind. Annuals are best between October and April. Summer heat and humidity usually do them in by May. A beautiful elegant patio plant is Zamia furfuracae, the cardboard plant. Various ferns should do well with a lot of water. Chinese evergreen, peperomia, pleomele, dracena, dieffenbachia, staghorn fern and many others also will be useful in this location. 

Q. What is bothering my desert rose?

Your desert rose wants full sun and very little water. It does nicely in a clay pot with good-draining soil such as cactus mix or Pro-mix. It normally loses leaves during the course of the year. Water in the morning only and keep the leaves dry to avoid fungal problems. If flowers do not open properly and the leaves are spotted, use a systemic insecticide such as Orthene. Follow label directions and repeat treatment in ten days. Apply before 10 a.m. Fertilize monthly with Peters 20-20-20. 

Q. My patio faces west and gets full afternoon sun. What should I plant in the pots against the wall? 

A. Try baby sun rose, desert rose or dwarf crown of thorns. These plants propagate easily from cuttings and are used to hot, dry conditions. 

Q. What should I do with my pots of poinsettia?

A. Poinsettias will do well in the ground in a sunny, fairly dry location in south Florida. Pick a spot where artificial light does not hit the plant (i.e. porch lights, streetlights, etc.) or the blooming cycle will be frustrated. They are short day plants and need the lessening of daylight and cooler temperatures to trigger them into bloom for the holiday season. Fertilize monthly from March to October with a liquid plant food. Water in the morning only to avoid scab, which can severely damage the plants. Keep alert for hornworms, which can strip the foliage during the spring or summer months. Spray with Dipel for control. You may prune the poinsettia for denser growth, but do so no later than mid-June or the blooms will be destroyed. 

Q. My crotons are in pots on a sunny patio. They are almost bare and have brown tips on the leaves. What can I do for better foliage? 

A. Crotons experience natural leaf drop, but excessive drop means spider mite activity. Locate the crotons on the patio, out in the open away from overhanging eaves. Natural rainfall usually will wash the mites off. It wouldn't hurt to give them a blast of water from the hose. Insecticidal soap will also work. 

Q. My topiary has sticky leaves and I don't know what to do. 

A. Your topiary is being attacked by a sucking insect. Move it outside to a shady place and treat with Orthene following label directions. Repeat in seven to ten days. 

Q. I would like to grow a coconut on my screened porch. How do I do this? 

A. Coconuts would be unsuitable for a porch because they grow quickly. You cannot collect coconuts and just plant them because they will get lethal yellowing. Instead buy a Malayan dwarf golden coconut grown from certified seed and plant it in the ground. Even the dwarfs can reach 40 feet in height. They like full sun and can spread about 25 feet, so allow plenty of room. Use a smaller palm for your screened porch such as pygmy date palm, which will stay small for many years. The pygmy date prefers a sunny location. If you have a shady porch, try the bamboo palm or lady palm. 

Q. The areca palms in our pool patio area have turned a rusty brown color. Some are turning yellow while others across the pool remain green. What is happening? 

A. Well water can stain arecas a rusty color if sprinklers hit the patio area. Another name for areca palm is yellow butterfly palm. The plants have a yellow-green cast to the foliage in sunny areas. They are greener in the shade. Keep chlorine from the pool away from areca and other plants as it can kill them. You might consider moving them outside. Arecas palms get very large, 25-30 feet tall, and are good for screening out neighbors or bad views. They will get too big for your screened patio. Pygmy date palm, lady palm, and bamboo palm are smaller, slower growers that would do well in a screened area. 

Q. We have a new home and would like to add a low growing plant between stepping-stones. Will periwinkle, creeping thyme or sedum do well? The location is fairly shady. What will do well in pots on a sunny patio? 

A. Some low sedums will do well here but usually need sun. It is too hot for periwinkle and creeping thyme will not last. Mondo grass might be a possibility. Hot patios are perfect for dwarf crown-of-thorns, desert rose and kalanchoes. Use a clay pot for good drainage. All should last a good number of years with little care or watering. Fertilize monthly with Peter's 20-20-20. Be careful with vines, as many grow huge here. 

Q. My topiary plants came from California and I think they are eugenia. They produced a small cherry-like fruit. What can I do to rescue them as they are going bare? 

A. Your plants are Eugenia myrtifolia which are popular as topiary plants in California. They make nice small to medium sized trees if allowed to grow out. They are difficult to maintain indefinitely in a topiary form and often go bare on the bottom first. I would use them in the landscape as a tree. They will be almost impossible to restore to the perfect columns they were. 

Q. What are these brown growths on the back of my staghorn ferns? What fertilizer should I use? 

A. The brown growths are spore-producing areas and are natural. The staghorn fern can get huge and weigh several hundred pounds. It is best attached to a strong tree like live oak in a shady location. Banana peels or fruit can be put into the center of the plant to add potassium. If attached to a tree the fern does not need food at all. A half strength application of Peters 20-20-20 applied monthly from March to October can be used if the plant is on a porch or similar location.