No matter how big your outside space, growing plants in containers is a great way to add some interest and colour. It also helps keep a small space looking clean and simple, as all the plants are raised off the ground level.
You can grow almost anything in a pot, from herbs and bedding plants to vegetables and fruit. Trailing plants such as Lobelia often have more impact when planted in a tall pot rather than in beds and create a wonderful splash of colour during the summer months.
Choosing containers for your plants
Create a structured, architectural look by using large containers such as old stone or iron troughs, or pots of an interesting or unusual shape.
Larger pots will give you more planting options, and anything you choose should ideally be frostproof and have drainage holes. Match the style of container to the plant, as well.
Bright perennials look good against terracotta or stone, glazed pots suit camellias and Japanese maples while taller, more structural plants such as box and privet look good in half barrels or wooden or metal pots.
Scour architectural salvage yards or even car boot sales for unusual planters.
Look for unusual containers to make an impact. Image: Pixabay
If you’re planting an eye-catching display for the summer, fill pots with multi-purpose compost. For very deep pots, put a few large stones in the bottom to encourage drainage.
If you’re planting something long term such as shrubs or herbs, use a soil-based compost which won’t dry out as quickly. If your pots are going to be standing in full sun, such as on a balcony or patio, mix some water-retaining crystals into the compost. When watered, these will swell up keeping the plant damp for longer.
You could also cover the top of the pot with clay ‘pearls’ or gravel, which will help keep the soil moist and to prevent weeds. If your pot will be standing on a hard surface, raise it up on clay feet or bricks to help drainage.
Different sizes and shades of pot make a visual impact. Image: Pixabay
Watering and feeding
Pots are relatively easy to look after, but are vulnerable to drying out. Check them every day during the summer, twice a day in hot weather. Water in the morning and evening, taking care to water the compost rather than the plants themselves.
Fill the container to the brim and let it drain through, then fill a second time so that the compost is evenly moistened. Keep an eye on drainage holes to make sure they don’t become blocked, as most plants dislike sitting in a pool of water.
Throughout the growing season (April to early September), feed plants once a week with a general purpose liquid feed.
Re-potting your plants
One disadvantage of growing plants in containers is that eventually the roots fill all the available space and become pot bound. At this stage, the plant will stop flourishing and will need to be re-potted.
Choose a container that’s at least a third bigger than the old one, and ease the plant out of the old pot, trying not to damage the root structure. Keep the old compost, and add a third more new compost.
Pots add interest to the smallest space or corner. Image: Pixabay
At the end of the summer, vulnerable perennials such as bay trees, citrus trees or geraniums need to be moved under cover or protected with bubble wrap. Keep the outside pots slightly raised off the ground to keep them out of water, and check them regularly.
Plants particularly suitable for growing in containers include herbs, hostas (which are far easier to protect from slug damage if potted, try putting a copper band round the pot), strawberries, lavender, fushias, fruit bushes such as blackcurrants and even vegetables such as broad beans, peas and salad leaves. Mixing pots containing vegetables with those containing flowers will produce an eye-catching display all summer long.
By Sara Walker