Using Containers for Planting

Many gardens have a hard landscaped area such as a patio or, nowadays, decking, that can look a bit too hard and barren or stand out like a sore thumb. By using various sorts of containers planted up the area can be softened to blend in with the rest of the garden.

The choice of containers in garden centres almost unlimited, from simple, cheap plastic troughs, reconstituted stone urns, or wooden barrels, . Basically the choice of container is entirely to your own preference but choose one that is in keeping with the surrounding area. You don't have to buy a container at all. A lot of gardeners utilise anything that they can, from old kettles to wellies. Its surprising what can look good when planted up with flowers. As long as it will hold compost and there is provision for drainage, almost anything can be used or you could even make your own. ( See plan for window box)

There are a wide range of plants to choose from when planting up your container. The container can be planted up as a permanent display using perennial plants, herbaceous shrubs, dwarf conifers etc. or maybe a display of alpine plants, winter heathers or even vegetables. The majority of gardeners though, tend to use a container as a temporary display case for seasonal displays of bulbs and/or annuals. Whatever you do decide upon, make sure that they are not going to grow too big for too tall for the container. Although it is necessary to add some plants to give height to the display, if the plants you select are too tall the container may have a tendency to topple over.


It is advisable to use a loam based compost in you containers. There are two reasons for this. The first is weight. If you use a peat based compost, they tend to be very light compared to loam based ones. The heavier the compost in the container, the less likely it is to tip over, especially if planted up with taller plants. The second reason is water retention. Containers are usually packed with plants - all needing water, so the compost will tend to dry out quickly. Loam based composts are much easier to wet again, than peat based composts, once they have dried out.

Some plants may need more specific composts ie. An Ericaceous compost for azaleas or heathers.


All plants in containers will need feeding regularly during the growing season. Any natural nutrients in the compost will soon be taken out by the plants or washed through by watering. Replace this loss by placing slow release fertiliser pellets in the composts when planting up and supplement this with a weekly liquid feed.


All containers will need watering regularly. In hot summer months they may need to be watered up to twice a day.

© copyright 1999, P. A. Owen

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