Potty about pots!

We have seen big increases in the sales of outdoor pots and containers – over 35% growth in the last 5 years. Perhaps it is as a result of gardens getting smaller, more people renting and wanting to move their plants with them, or just because pots are a great way to brighten up your outdoor space whatever the season. A key gardening trend is to bring the look and style of interiors out into the garden so the spaces link together. Pots are a great way to achieve this with new materials that appear to be more suited to your living room or kitchen taken outside.

Have a look at these amazing displays around the shops around The Chelsea flower show this year using picnic baskets as outdoor pots. At our recent trade show looking at products for next year, we liked these terracotta pots made to look like basketware and we are planning to incorporate into our garden furniture displays for next year.

‘Can I plant that in a pot?’

One of the most common questions we get asked is ‘Can I plant that in a pot?’ And generally, the answer is yes – you can grow pretty much anything in a pot, providing the compost is good quality and it is kept fed and watered. Just to show the extremes of what can be container grown take a look at these amazing buildings in Milan that I was lucky enough to visit recently. The Bosco Verticale (Vertical Forest), a development of two residential towers 110m and 76m high that host over 800 trees, 4,500 shrubs and over 15,000 floral plants on the balconies of the apartments. Obviously, the plants and conditions were carefully selected for the situation, but none of the trees are in containers any bigger than 1m square – the key is that they are fed and watered regularly which keeps them healthy. It just shows that any space big or small can benefit from some plants in pots.


What to plant in pots

As I say, pretty much anything goes and some of it depends on how much time and effort you want to put in.  At our Gravesend Garden Centre our Designer Pots are incredibly successful and Sharon, our designer, does an amazing job putting together colour schemes and seasonal displays to suit all tastes. She will also pot up any of your pots or baskets if you bring them in for her and will happily talk about colour schemes or plants to suit your garden.

I tend to have a combination of a few pots that I replant for each season and some that have got easy to care for plants that just stay put. One of my favourite plants that is really happy in a pot is the Agapanthus – the benefit of container growing is that they actually flower better when their roots are constricted – mine have got more buds this year than I have ever seen so I’m looking forward to them flowering later this Summer.  I have put some gravel on the top of the pot and a succulent has self-sown in one of the plants that hides the bare soil through the winter which I think looks good.

I have also got some tender plants growing in pots, for example a lemon tree and a banana plant, that I rescued from our houseplant area last year. Both of these love being outside in the Summer and then in Winter I move them into my greenhouse and wrap them with fleece.  They came through last Winter unscathed and, as you can see, the banana plant is looking lovely and healthy.

The other thing I am delighted is doing well in a pot this year is a courgette plant – it has produced more courgettes than any that I have put in the ground, perhaps because I am better at remembering to water it! I read something recently about whether there really were financial benefits to growing your own veg and one of the recommendations was to grow courgettes as they are great value for money – for the cost of a £1.99 plant and some compost you will be re-paid with many £s of courgettes through the Summer.

Word of warning

One word of warning and one plant that might not enjoy being in a pot for too long are roses. Apart from the patio rose, which is great in a pot, most roses grow deep tap roots which quickly hit the bottom of the pot and have nowhere to go. So, if you want to grow a rose in a pot – choose a lovely deep one so the roots have space to grow and maybe move it out into the garden after 3-5 years if the plant starts looking sad.


I have mentioned that good compost is key and I would recommend a peat-free compost with added John Innes or a John Innes Number 3 for anything that will be staying in the container for a long time. Whenever you plant up a new pot, use fresh compost as it is full of nutrients. After about 6- 8 weeks, especially in the growing season, you will need to start feeding your pots – maybe once a week with a liquid feed or less frequently with a slow release or granular feed.  This year I have been using the Afterplant bio-active plant feed which contains nutrients and friendly bacteria (see my Gardening with Nature blog) and seems to have brought my Fatsia, which has been in a pot for ages, back to a nice green colour!

How do I know when it needs re-potting?

The last pot question we get asked a lot is ‘How do I know when it needs re-potting?’ After a few years in a container plants can become stressed, the organic matter in the compost breaks down, there are fewer nutrients available and the soil becomes compacted with less air pockets. You may notice that the leaves start to become yellow and growth is stunted. The best way to tell is to knock the plant out of the pot and have a look at the roots – if they are winding around the pot and looking very constricted then the time has come to give the plant a new home. You may also see that it is difficult for water to soak into the compost as there is literally no space for it.

The best time to re-pot is either in the Autumn once the plant has stopped actively growing or in the early Spring before it starts growing again.  Choose a new container about a third bigger than the one it is coming out of (don’t jump up too many pot sizes as the plant may be shocked by too much fresh compost). Simply knock the plant out of its container and gently tease out and loosen the roots around the rootball. Put your crocks and a layer of fresh compost in the bottom of the new pot and lower in the roots. The key is to make sure the stems or crown of the plant are at the same level with the top of the soil in the new pot. Gently add new compost around the side of the rootball, pushing down to fill the pot. Aim to leave a couple of fingers-width depth at the pot rim to allow for watering. Water in well and don’t forget to start feeding again after a couple of months.

What if you run out of room?

Finally, what to do once the plant has outgrown the biggest pot you can manage or fit into your space – you can always move it into the garden and start again or you can re-pot in the same container each year. Take the rootball out as above but rather then gently teasing out the roots you cut away about 1/3 of the root ball from all around the edge with a small saw or old bread knife. You can then plant it back in the same pot with new soil. If you do this you definitely need to remember to water well to help the plant recover from the shock and help it get established again.

Hopefully I have given you some confidence to have a go at container growing and some tips on how to keep whatever plants you decide to grow in pots thriving and healthy. As always, our Millbrook team are on hand to help you with any questions or to select the perfect plant and pot pairing for your patio!

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