Gardening for beginners – Planting containers

Plants in pots will elevate any garden, whether you have a patch in the countryside, small urban plot or even a narrow balcony.

Plants in pots will elevate any garden, whether you have a patch in the countryside, small urban plot or even a narrow balcony. By combining the right plants with the right containers, you can create a wealth of sensational displays, whether you’re looking for a focal point or something to brighten up a boring patio.

Choosing pots

The right pot can make a big different to your displays. Terracotta works well in a traditional space, while sleek metal pots are ideal for a contemporary garden. Limestone, terrazzo and other types of natural and synthetic stone suit many types of garden, while plastic or glazed pots are ideal on a modern deck or patio.

Visit the garden centre to choose some pots for your garden
Image: Martin Mulchinock

Good garden centres stock loads of containers made from all the materials mentioned above, in a bewildering range of styles, sizes and colours. Base your decision on personnel taste, budget and what suits your garden, along with what will best complement your selection of plants. 

What compost?

Multi Purpose compost is fine for bedding plants and other temporary container subjects. Trees and shrubs, which will remain in pots for a long time, prefer gritty, loam-based John Innes 3. Ericaceous compost is perfect for camellias, rhododendrons and other plants that thrive in acidic soil.

For my money, it’s worth fortifying compost with water retaining crystals and controlled release fertiliser granules. A simple way of adding these is to mix in a few scoops of Richard Jackson Container Magic. This also includes mycorrhizal fungi, which creates a better root system, improving uptake of water and nutrients.

Plants for pots

There’s no shortage of plants that can be grown in containers. Compact trees, shrubs and roses, along with perennials, well-behaved climbers and grasses are ideal permanent specimens, while summer flowering bedding plants, bulbs and annual vegetables make perfect short term subjects.

Grasses and purple heart sweet potato vine in containers
Image: Adobe Stock

At this time of year, fill pots with an array of autumn bedding plants to provide interest in cooler weather. Pansies, polyanthus, cyclamen and violas are among the stalwarts. One of my must-grow plants is Primrose ‘Everlast’, a recent introduction that will bloom for six months, from October to April.

Planting up

If your container has a single drainage hole in the base, cover with pieces of broken terracotta pot to prevent it clogging up with compost. Unfortunately, some plastic containers don’t come with pre-formed drainage holes, so you will need to drill your own – pots over 15cm (6in) diameter will need four holes, with one in the centre. Tip some compost into the container, remove the plant from its pot and place in the centre – the surface of the rootball should be 5cm (2in) from the top of the pot. Add or remove compost until it’s at the right height. If creating a mixed display, start with the largest rootball and then add more compost to raise the level for those in smaller pots. Pack in tightly, filling gaps with compost.

Container care

Compost can dry out quickly during sunny or windy weather, so check regularly and water as necessary to keep the roots damp. Feed bedding plants, fruit and vegetables every week during the growing season with a liquid fertiliser that’s high in potash, such as Flower Power.

Raise pots up onto pot feed to improve drainage. Image: Martin Mulchinock

It’s a good idea to place containers on pot feet to allow excess moisture to drain away and to prevent puddles that could lead to roots rotting. Raising plants off the ground also allows air to circulate under the pot, stimulating the growth of new roots and ensuring plants have a well-branched root system.  


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