Tips for growing in containers

The one thing I have learnt the hard way over the 10 years I have been gardening is to ensure I use large containers for planting annuals. Never was this truer than during last summer for me. The never-ending hot spell saw me watering my 250 or so containers on a frequent basis.  I dread to think how much more time it would have taken had I not got large pots.

Watering advice

A trick passed on to me by my Aunt, many years ago, was to always line the base of a container, especially smaller ones, with some aluminium foil, to create an inner saucer that will retain moisture even if the soil itself has dried out. Trust me it works a treat for me. In order to combat the quick drying issue, I purchased some large cubes a couple of years ago to sit on the central steps as you can see.

Soften the edges of paths and steps with planters of fabulous plants
Image: Geoff Stonebanks

These are actually fibre cotta, more light-weight, and their square base sits well on the ground so they will not to topple over. Make sure you have enough drainage holes to suit the style of your planting. I had to add some extra ones to these cubes.  Many pots have a single, large drainage hole at their base. To prevent this from becoming blocked with compost, cover with a layer of broken bits of pot – broken bits of polystyrene packaging will work just as well.


I have many frost-proof terracotta pots which are ideal for long-term planting and their weight gives them extra stability. On the downside, their porous quality means the compost will dry out quickly and need regular watering, hence the tin foil!

This fantastic agave is growing in a pot at Driftwood by sea
Image: Geoff Stonebanks

I do put all my exotic agaves in terracotta containers though as they are very drought tolerant. Many may look perfectly at home and well embedded in the ground, but is containerised and dropped into the gravel every May and stored undercover over winter.  

Mass planting effect

Some containers seem to work better with particular plants, for example, glazed pots look good planted with Japanese maples and camellias, while stone pots can create a classical look. In my garden, my aim is always to try and conceal the pots to give the illusion of mass planting, then as something dies back, I can lift the pot out and replace with something about to burst into life.

The garden at Driftwood by sea is a mass of cleverly positioned planters and containers
Image: Geoff Stonebanks

There’s a wall of plants that I create every season on the wall at the back of my house by banking up different sized containers and filling them with a wide variety of plants. Trust me there are about 20 containers of all sizes concealed by the planting here.

Compost corner

Now, do I use fresh compost every year or not? If I am being totally honest, no I don’t. I try and reuse where I can otherwise it’s a trip to the local dump to get rid of it, as I don’t have the space to compost and recycle in my small garden. I do generally replace the top soil of my potted plants with a fresh layer of compost in early spring. This will give plants an extra boost of essential nutrients needed for healthy growth, but what I do meticulously every season is feed the containers, as well as the rest of the garden, with a good plant food.  Readers of my blogs will therefore not be surprised to learn that over the last four years I have used Richard Jackson’s Flower Power, which for me, far outstrips the success I had with my previous well-known plant food, which I also considered to be excellent.

Group pots of similar plants together for greater impact
Image: Geoff Stonebanks

Compost can be improved by adding a few water-retaining crystals. These swell up when the compost is watered and act like mini-reservoirs, providing water when the plant needs it. I have to confess this is not something I have ever tried.

Container favourites

Some great container plants that I love are succulents as they are so drought tolerant and I have many at Driftwood in containers large and small. You can create your own little heaven with some careful chosen specimens. 

Make an eyecatching display with hanging planters
Image: Geoff Stonebanks

This hanging arrangement of three different sized wire spheres is a great ides to hang from a tree too, brimming with drought tolerant plants. I’ve secreted a tin foil tray in there too, after lining with moss.  Maybe these ideas will work well for you too!!


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