Keep your summer containers healthy

Geoff Stonebanks uses dozens of planters and containers in his award-winning garden. Here he offers his hard-earned tips and advice for the summer.

The car boot full of annuals. Image: Geoff Stonebanks
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This camellia has been growing for over 20 years in its pot. Image: Geoff Stonebanks

Regular readers of my blogs will know that I have always favoured the use of containers in my seaside garden. I’ve probably got over 180 that I use on a regular basis now and many of them have large established plants in them.  One of the largest containers houses a Camellia ‘Guilio nuccio’. I’ve had this outstanding, award-winning japonica for over 20 years now, having brought it with me (in a smaller container) from my previous garden in London. With planters this size though, it’s really important to have a good trolley of some sort to help you move them around. The older you get, the more important that becomes.  

Watering advice

The most important thing to remember is that containers dry out much quicker than the garden soil. This does not mean that you should avoid drainage to enhance water retention, as this can be the single most important factor in whether the plants live or die. Waterlogged roots will rot and your plants will die.

It’s a good idea to install a self watering system that you can use to water during the summer, and a battery operated timer to set up to water when you are away will keep your plants alive when you are on holiday. They are not too expensive and very easy to set up. I’ve created three different circuits around my garden to water when needed at different times. The only problem with this is that it waters everything in a uniform way. So sometimes watering by hand can be more beneficial as you can apply the right amount to every pot. But when you’ve got 180 that’s a very time consuming method.

Musical chairs

In spring I arrange the empty containers in the garden so I can then plant them up. Image: Geoff Stonebanks

Most of my containers though are much smaller than the camellia and watering can be a problem when the weather is really hot as they do dry out. The first thing I do each spring is to organise both the empty and part filled containers around the garden. I try and relocate them every season, so that visitors can appreciate a different feel to the garden, if they’ve seen it before. This is where containers come into their own, it’s so much easier playing ‘musical pots’ and moving them around than digging them up each time.  With an exposed seaside garden, it also allows me to move shrubs that need some protection from the harsh winter winds in to shelter for the winter months.  

Planting containers

Once they have all been allocated their spot for the season I can then set about planting them up, always a big job but much fun too! I tend not to go for a theme or a set scheme. By positioning the pots first you can see how much sun hits them daily which will help with decision making on which plants to put where. I buy all my annuals from a local nursery at trade prices and buy whatever they have available at the start of May! I do however jot down what sort of plants I want in terms of sun/shade, large/smalI etc but just fill the car up and then decide how I’m going to plant them as I go. One thing to be very careful of is removing the plants from the plastic trays or single pots, taking great care not to damage the roots. Great care must be taken to plant it at the same depth it was in the pot or tray to ensure growing success.

Plant labels

Don’t forget to keep your plant tags. I wash mine and keep them in one of those concertina cardboard files. They will tell you how big your plant will get, how much light, water and food it needs and how much care it will need. The tag will also tell you if your plant is annual or perennial and if it’s a perennial, what zones it will survive in. So if like me you begin as a novice it’s always useful to be able to refer back to!

Feeding regime

Feeding is probably the most important thing with containers. Don’t forget to feed them religiously throughout the summer season and I’d highly recommend Richard Jackson’s Flower Power, having used it across the garden in 2016 and again this season, with great results.

Geoff Stonebanks

About Geoff Stonebanks

Geoff Stonebanks lives in Bishopstone, near Seaford in East Sussex and spends all his time gardening and fundraising for Macmillan Cancer Support. Using his multi award-winning garden - Driftwood - he has raised over £95,000 for various charities in 8 years, £56,000 of that for Macmillan. The garden, which first opened to the public in 2009 has featured on BBC2 Gardeners' World, Good Morning Britain and in many national and local media publications. In his spare time, Geoff is also the National Garden Scheme's Social Media & Publicity Chair as well as an Assistant County Organiser & Publicity Officer in East & Mid Sussex.
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