Container growing is a great way to add colour to your garden and can be particularly useful when you have limited outside space. Most shrubs, climbers, herbaceous perennials, grasses and even some trees and roses can be grown successfully in containers if provided with the correct compost and maintained regularly.
If you are looking to give your perennials a permanent home in a container, then it is best to plant them in early spring as this will help them to establish more quickly. Seasonal plants or tender annuals should be planted after the risk of frost has passed, while plants intended for winter interest should be planted in late summer or early autumn.
Choose your containers carefully, bearing in mind that those intended for permanent display may be exposed to severe temperatures during the winter months. Frost-proof terracotta, or imitation terracotta made from plastic or fibreglass are ideal choices. Raising your pots off the ground will also help protect them from plummeting temperatures as well as helping with drainage during the growing season.
To avoid compaction of the soil and potential root rot it is essential that you use a specially mixed potting compost which provides an open, free-draining structure. Avoid heavily peat-based mixes and add bark or grit to your compost, or choose our specially formulated Larch Cottage ericaceous and alkaline composts which are ideal growing media for container gardening. Be sure to provide the correct PH levels for the types of plants that you intend to grow, ensuring that you use ericaceous compost for acid loving specimens like azaleas, rhododendrons and Japanese maples. Improve drainage by adding crocks or stones to the base of your pot and making sure that there are sufficient drainage holes.
To keep your plants happy and healthy begin feeding 4-6 weeks after planting between April and September. It is also important to check moisture levels regularly during the growing season as containers will dry out quickly in warm weather. Permanent displays should be re-potted every 2-4 years and top dressed annually by removing and replacing the top layer of compost.
Many fabulous perennials will grow readily in containers including heuchera, diascia, hosta, salvia and fuschia; compact geraniums like Geranium ‘blue sunrise’ also make an ideal choice. Grasses, compact evergreen euphorbias and hardy evergreen ferns like hart’s tongue and soft-shield fern add interest to container planting schemes and can provide year-round colour, while almost any type of rose can be grown in a pot, given the correct pot size, depth and care. For miniature and patio roses use a deep, 23-35cm pot, and a deep, 30-45 cm pot for climbers.
Trees can also be a good choice for container gardening. Try to avoid fast-growing species, or choose vigorous trees that respond well to hard-pruning such as eucalyptus, salix. Other good choices include apples on semi-dwarfing rootstock, Japanese maple, Cercis canadensis ‘forest pansy’, box, bay, dwarf conifers, olives and citrus trees.
With so many options, container growing offers fantastic flexibility and, with creativity and imagination, the means to produce beauty and abundance whatever the size of your outside space.
Blog post written by Jo Chamberlain