Growing container plants is ideal for surrounding yourself with plants when you have a patio, balcony or small space. They add instant height to a space creating focal points and/or privacy. And they have the added advantage of being moveable around the space.

Container gardening – the basics

The amazing thing is that most types of plants can be grown in containers, even small trees! Just make sure the planters have adequate drainage holes in the bottom. And, where possible, raise containers off the ground using bricks or pot feet, which are available at most garden centres.

Choose the right type of compost for the plants; multi-purpose is best for annual flowers and veg crops. Soil-based for shrubs and trees. Some plants, such as rhododendrons and pieris, prefer to be grown in acid soil. So, always check before planting as these will require a special type of compost, known as ericaceous.

Feeding containers

Another important thing to remember is that plants growing in containers will need to be fed from time to time.

This is because the nutrients in compost only last approximately six weeks.

Adding a slow-release fertiliser to the compost after a couple of months should help extend the time.

This can be between two to six months depending upon the brand chosen.

Pests, such as vine weevil larvae, can appear in the compost of container-grown plants.

This can cause the death of a plant by chewing through its roots! It’s a good idea to change the compost each year.

Microscopic worms, known as nematodes, can be bought to help control this pest.

Supplied in powder form, just mix with water and water onto the compost, either during the spring or autumn.

Vine weevil larvae

Choosing your plants

Plants for year-round interest in containers

For year-round interest choose evergreen plants with a strong structural shape. Such as topiary yews, holly or the Japanese Holly, Ilex crenata.  

Pittosporum is a good choice for shady areas.  P. ‘Golf Ball’, as the name suggests, forms a tight mound as it grows.

Leave space for annuals and/or bulbs such as spring flowering wallflowers and tulips and/or summer flowering violas and dahlias.

yew hedge
Ilex crenata
Pittosporum tenuifolium 'golf ball'

Cascading plants for containers

Softening the edges of planters can be easily achieved by including plants with a natural cascading habit. Ivy is a great example of year-round interest. Summer flowering annuals such as bacopa, petunia and begonia will add a lovely burst of colour.

Petunias in containers
Begonias in a container

Pollinator-friendly plants for containers

It’s becoming more and more important to help pollinating insects and there are many pollinator-attracting flowering plants available.

Agastache will give you a double whammy of scented leaves and pretty, nectary-rich flowers from June to September. A. ‘Kudos Mandarin’ has a lovely, rounded shape and orange flowers.

Lavender is brilliant for attracting bees. And it might surprise you to know that there are pink, white and blue flowered varieties as well as the traditional dark lavender colours.

lavandula angustifolia for mediterranean garden

Dahlias too can attract a bevvy of beautiful insects. But make sure you avoid the multi-petalled varieties as they often don’t contain any pollen or nectar. Instead, look out for cultivars such as the Bishop’s Children which are attractive to both pollinators and gardeners alike.

Try and include plants that will flower at different times of the year to provide extended food sources.

Dahlia pollinator

Long-flowering plants for containers

There are many plants to choose from if you want extended floral interest. Annuals such as cosmos, calendula and nasturtium will flower right from early summer to autumn. If you’d like more permanent planting then you could consider hardy geraniums, Orlaya and salvias. Bulbs are easy to plant in your container and will extend the flowering season even more.

Calendula in a container

By choosing the right plants for your containers, your container garden will look wonderful no matter your available space.

Plants for Summer Containers:

Or check out my Pinterest board for more ideas: