How are your garden pots looking after your holiday away?

By Sarah Buchanan. First published by Rattan Direct on 19 August 2016.

You had a great holiday, and came home to find your watering plans for garden pots, baskets and containers worked well? Brilliant! Another month or more of glorious summer colour to enjoy.

If the watering didn’t quite work out, or unexpected rain and strong winds created havoc, or plants have grown strongly and are bursting out of their space, you might be faced with a less than cheerful scene.

Here’s a rescue plan for your garden pots!

First – Many garden pots look better for a tidy up now. Some careful pruning of stems that have grown too long and are pulling the plant over the edge may feel hard now that plants are in full flower, but think of it like a hair cut: necessary to look great next week! Use our blog to help you feed and water regularly. But change from feeding once a week (using the instructions on the feed) to daily more dilute feeds – around a quarter of the strength on the instructions.

A spring clean can work wonders and, after a week or two, colour and texture are back on form.

Second – If your garden pots still look sad it is time for a change. Oh no – here I go again, building on our earlier blog this week about preparations for winter.

Winter colour is such a welcome boost on rainy grey days that I always wish I had done more to create a bright spot to enjoy as I come home or look out of the window.

garden pots
Winter flowering panises add colour to winter pots. Sarah Buchanan

So, empty your summer garden pots (re-plant perennials in your garden and re-pot pelargoniums for your window sills) and prepare for a fantastic winter display. There is a mass of ideas and advice on plants that create beautiful winter gardens and containers, so start now!

Planting a winter garden pot

The RHS video is a great starting point. There are two main differences between summer and winter garden pots: in winter, don’t add water-holding gel or use liners to keep soil moist; and because there is less sunshine and warmth in winter, you need to plant more, and more established, plants than you did in a summer pot.

Where to put it?

Winter containers need some protection from cold and wet winds. They do well near a wall or in a sheltered corner rather than in an exposed spot. Make sure they do not sit in puddles (put them on feet or bricks) or under overflowing drainpipes or gutters. Too much water is not a good thing!

Which plants?

A good strong look or structure is important to catch the eye. A small evergreen can look lovely; plant bulbs, winter flowering or berried plants around the edge of the pot to create a splash of brightness.

Here are some of the plants I use.

garden pots
Phormiums offer a focal point in winter pots. Sarah Buchanan.
  • Winter flowering pansies can flower until May or even June. They need some simple TLC to dead head and keep them tidy.
  • Ornamental cabbages are great fun. They need some patience because they don’t turn colour until night time temperatures are below 10 degrees C (50 degrees F).
  • Berries are the Christmas look. Try Gaultheria procumbens. It likes acid soil so plant it in an acid pocket or be prepared for it not to last long.
  • Some wallflowers (such as ‘Aida’) flower in autumn and spring and offer good value.
  • Ornamental perennial grasses and phormiums (New Zealand flax) look striking in pots when lightly frosted, and are great value because they can go on for years in cared-for pots or when moved into the garden.
  • Small evergreens are great value because, like grasses and phormiums, they keep going in the pot or can be planted into the garden. My favourites are winter box (sarcococca) which has the most wonderful scented flowers and glossy leaves and skimmias which offer lovely berries and spring flowers, and look very neat in a pot. There are plenty more shrubs to choose from including clipped box, euonymus, ivy, hebe – and see what else is on offer in your garden centre!

And don’t ignore succulents. Some look as if winter will certainly kill them but many are hardy and when dusted with frost they are a fantastic sight. If you planted a succulent pan in the summer, tidy it up for winter. And here’s our blog on how to create one now!

garden pots
Succulent pans also look great in winter. Sarah Buchanan.

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