Containers and hanging baskets have increased in popularity in recent years with smaller and more low maintenance gardens desired by the modern householder. The patio has now become a regular feature of modern gardens. As a result a revolution has been seen and gardens are now dressed with colour and fragrance through the use of these portable and instant garden decorations and features.
Containers provide an opportunity for all year round gardens and for gardening in areas not traditionally productive or areas difficult to access, window boxes being a prime example.
Remember, containers are not only for flowers – the right container can be used to grow a tasty salad crop for example.
How do I know what containers to use?
As mentioned there is now a huge choice of containers to choose from, from small ceramic pots to huge wooden barrels and from recycled drain pipes to redundant chimney pots. The first decision to make is where the pot is going to be situated and the colour, texture, size, shape, budget and the type of plants and their colours
are essential. Budget is important as many pots can be very expensive and a similar effect can be gained from a much more economic alternative. You should be advised however not always to go for the cheapest option as quality is likely to be compromised. It is advisable to examine the pots at the garden centre / store when you are purchasing them to assess their quality by their condition and lack of cracks and chips.
There are six basic types of containers. These are:
Wood - a traditional material for garden pots, this is now being replaced by more modern fabrics such as glass fibre and plastics. Oak barrels are still a popular choice, although expensive as are hardwood tubs.
Stone - and its reconstituted counterpart is very hardwearing and will age over time to blend into the garden. These tend to be most popular for permanent structure where the advantage of their natural ageing is seen.
Concrete and terrazzo - usually a choice for contemporary architectural designs these are heavy but very durable and robust.
Plastic – is a very popular, modern choice. Tending to be cheaper than other pots and containers the flexibility of plastic to be moulded into varying shapes, sizes and colours is a distinct advantage. Glass fibre and resin are also popular being maintenance free and robust.
Metal - lead, copper and stainless steel are all used as containers although they can be expensive. A major disadvantage of metal pots is the lack of temperature control, something that plants find difficult to tolerate. It is recommended that metal pots are lined with bubble wrap to help provide some insulation from both the cold and heat.
Terracotta - perhaps the most popular and recognised pot material the terracotta pot can be left natural or glazed. Terracotta can be fragile and a pot fired at a high temperature will be the most stable. By tapping the pot and hearing the 'ring' it makes can determine the higher quality choices. Terracotta pots are no longer plain. Styles including moulded designs, embossed or hand thrown and those of a traditional or modern appearance are now readily available.
Many items are now available to customize pots including gems, paints, raffia, shells and fir cones.
How do I know what plants to use?
As important as container choice selecting the plants to use in your container is absolutely paramount. As a general rule three colours should be selected, any more and the container will lose effect and appear jumbled. It is also paramount that plants are selected that grow in the same conditions eg heat or shade and that they grow and thrive in the same seasons to give maximum effect. Plants at most outlets are now labelled and colour coded to give you this information at a glance.
A range in the height of plants and the way they grow is also crucial to producing an effective display. Basically plant in three layers. Firstly those plants that will disguise the edge of the pot. Trailing plants such as lobelias, petunias and verbena are ideal
here as they will trail and also grow swiftly.
The next level should be bulky plants to fill out the main growing area of the pot.
Examples to choose from include begonias and marigolds. The third and highest level should ne plants to give height and supports can be used to aid this such as canes and obelisks. Examples include clematis and fuchsias. Supports should be placed in
the container at planting so as not to damage the plants once established.
Edible containers are a great idea for those with limited growing areas. Herbs, fruit and vegetables can all be successfully grown in pots. It is recommended to use dwarf or baby varieties of vegetables and those that are early maturing. Planting as seeds in seed trays in February and March and transferring them to pots in May - June will promote the most successful crops. Fertilizer and feed is crucial for successful growth as is regular watering.
What should I use at different times of the year?
Spring containers – ideal for bedding, bulbs and flowering shrubs. Plant spring containers in September to November and protect from severe weather during the winter months.
Summer containers – ideal for all plants from roses, shrubs, trees, annuals, perennials and bedding. Plant pots in April to May and protect from late frosts if vulnerable.
Autumn containers – dahlias, chrysanthemums and asters can be effective here as are evergreen shrubs and other foliage plants. Plant in late August to September and feed regularly.
Winter containers – ideal for pansies but plants such as evergreen sedges and grasses junipers and dwarf conifers can provide attractive displays. Honeysuckle and witch hazel can be effective as are those plants producing winter berries. Plant in September to February avoiding frosts.
How should I care for my pot or container?
There are some simple tasks of maintenance that can ensure a colourful and healthy display of plants right through the summer months.
Watering is essential; the compost in a container should never be allowed to dry out. This is crucial when using terracotta pots, it is recommended that these are soaked prior to filling so that the pot can absorb water rather than drawing it from the compost once planting is completed. Watering should be done either in the early morning or late afternoon/evening to prevent the sun from evaporating the newly applied water. Mulching around the plants will also help to conserve water and provide some frost protection in the winter.
The pot should be rotated to promote even growth. Any plants that fail to grow successfully should be replaced and dead heads should also be removed to promote further flower development. In frosty times containers should be covered with horticultural
fleece or similar to prolong their life.
What do I need for a successful hanging basket?
Hanging baskets can provide spectacular displays right through the summer months. Disguising a poor area or simply as a decoration outside a window or door, hanging baskets really highlight what can be done by all gardeners no matter how experienced. The site of the basket should be given consideration. A position which can secure a basket bracket as well as a position suitable for access for regular watering is crucial.
Annual plants are the most effective in baskets and particularly those that trail and have a long flowering season. Multi colour displays or those featuring up to three colours are equally impressive.