Container Gardening Part One | The First Steps

Container Gardening has been written by Linda Peppin of The Gardening Register on behalf of Notcutts. There are two parts to this article where you can find all you need to know about container gardening.

I am a big lover of growing plants in containers and as I look out of my office window I must say that I think my garden looks so much better for having the container grown plants.

On my bottom patio I am growing a cherry tree (Prunus avium Stella) which is in its third year and looking great and Camellia x Williamsii Debbie which is around 12 years old. I also have a rose, two containers which have clematis growing up small obelisks, a low pot containing Dianthus amurensis and another with Astilbe Fanal (× arendsii).

Finally on that patio is a small water feature which I built last year and which gives me the opportunity to grow different types of plants such as Nymphaea pygmaea rubra, Lobelia Cardinalis, Cyperus eragrostis and Myosotis Scorpioides.

On my north facing patio I grow a number of trees including Acer Orange Dream which is bright green in summer and has lovely autumn colours, Witch Hazel (Hamamelis ‘Arnold Promise’) with its scented flowers in Spring, Cercidiphyllum japonicum or the Katsura Tree with is scent of candy floss in the autumn and finally Liquidambar styraciflua ‘Worplesdon’ one of the best trees for autumn colour.

All of these trees would soon outgrow my small garden so growing them in containers means I have the benefit of these amazing trees without the worry.

The Benefits of Growing in Containers

•    It makes it possible to grow much larger plants than you may be able to in your own garden as the pots keep the plants to a manageable size
•    It makes it possible to grow plants which require a different soil to that in your garden. If you can’t grown azaleas or camellias in your garden then filling pots with ericaceous compost means you can enjoy these lovely plants
•    It makes it possible to grow large plants nearer to the house to take advantage of highly scented flowers or for easy picking of vegetables or herbs
•    You can take advantage of seasonal colour and interest by moving the pots around or hiding some away when they colour or interest fades and bringing others out when they are at their best

How to Grow Trees and Large Shrubs in Containers

The main point to note about growing large trees or shrubs is containers is that they will not be able to find food or water for themselves so to keep them going for years it is worth spending some time on the preparation and planting process. Once established they will mainly look after themselves needing just an annual care regime.

As you can see by the specimens I am growing there is no restriction on what you can grow in a pot, I’m not guaranteeing that every tree and shrub will thrive in these restricted conditions but I always say if you like the plant then give it a go. I tend to buy small sized, young plants so that I don’t waste too much money if it doesn’t like it.

Choosing the right pot

•   I tend to buy “plastic” pots for the larger trees and shrubs for a few reasons; they are lighter and therefore easier to move around, they keep the soil moist for longer and they tend not to break up as quickly
•   There are lots of different types of “plastic” pots available from DIY stores and garden centres and many of them look like the real thing, particularly after they’ve weathered for a couple of years

Which planting medium?

•   A lot of articles you will read about planting in containers will say to use a loam-based compost such as John Innes No 3 but I tend to use a general purpose compost and add to it
•   Take 3 parts general purpose compost, one part grit or vermiculite to open it up and help with drainage and 1 part well rotted farmyard manure also add a handful of pelleted chicken manure and a handful of blood, fish and bone meal, this should be enough to keep the plant going through the season
•   If you are planting an acid lover such as azalea or camellia use ericaceous compost with vermiculite and a specialist ericaceous fertiliser

Planting up your pot

•   Before you begin you should place your new plant in a bucket of water for at least an hour to ensure the rootball is soaked through
•   Next is to position the pot in its final position as it will be very heavy when its full, also place the pot on pot-feet to raise it off the floor; this will help with drainage
•   To help keep drainage holes clear, aid drainage and help weigh down the pot a bit place broken up terracotta pots, bricks or large stones to the base of the pot
•   You want to aim to have the surface of the rootball at the same level it was in the original pot and a couple of inches below the rim of the pot so add enough compost to the pot to bring the rootball up to that level and firm well
•   If the rootball is compacted, gently tease out some of the roots to help it establish then place the plant onto the firmed compost
•   If you are planting a bare-rooted plant spread the roots out evenly across the firmed compost
•   Add more compost around the sides of the rootball ensuring the compost is pushed well into the rootball or roots and firmed down well
•   Once the plant’s rootball is totally covered give the whole pot a good watering; bring the water up to the rim of the pot and allow it to drain down into the compost until the water runs out of the bottom of the pot; use rainwater for your ericaceous plants
•   Next you should add a good thick layer of mulch to the surface of the compost, this can be manure, gravel or bark and will help keep weeds down and keep moisture in the compost

Ongoing care and maintenance

•   Keep the pot well watered for the rest of the season, this may mean watering twice a day during particularly hot spells; water until it runs out of the bottom of the pot
•  In the second and subsequent autumns sprinkle a handful of blood, fish and bone meal onto the surface of the compost, water in and cover with another thick layer of mulch
•  Most trees and large shrubs will not require pruning but if it is getting too big or out of shape then prune to shape in the Spring
•  Every 3 to 5 years remove the plant from the pot, gently tease out the roots and loosen the compost, trim any large roots and repot into fresh compost mix either into the same pot or a bigger pot

In the next instalment, learn more about planting for the seasons, as well as growing vegetables in containers.

Article produced by Linda Peppin of The Gardening Register

All photographs © The Gardening Register



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