Colourful containers

We have had a decent week of weather and thoughts turn to summer so it is time to plant patio containers for summer.

If you have had pots full of spring flowers now is the time to change them. Pull up and compost the plants and carefully dig up and dry off daffodils and tulips to sort when they are dried off.

If you used fresh compost in autumn there is no need to replace it all. Remove the upper third or half and use that as soil conditioner and then mix some controlled-release (slow-release) fertiliser with the lower levels to replace exhausted nutrients. Then top up the pot with fresh compost. You can do this two or three times but then you need to replace all the compost because multipurpose composts deteriorate in structure after a year or so – then empty the pot onto the garden to improve your soil.

If filling the pot from scratch, use a good quality multi-purpose compost. These usually have limited nutrients so mix in some controlled-release fertiliser before you plant. These will supply nutrients for three months or so and although I would advise liquid feeding as well, especially from August onwards, they will help your plants get a good start. If you do not want to add them you will need to liquid feed, once a week, about a month after planting.

You can buy combined feed and water-retaining gel to add to containers but I am not a great fan of these. They do help the compost retain some extra moisture but they cause the compost to contract a lot when dry and that can make watering more difficult. The choice is yours but there is no alternative to regular and frequent watering in summer really.

You can be creative and there is no reason why you can’t combine shrubs and temporary flowering plants in one pot. But then I would mix multipurpose compost and some John Innes No 3 together to give the shrub (Choisya ‘Sundance’ above) the best chance of a long and healthy life. Shrubs always do best in John Innes compost and not multipurpose composts.

In a shady spot, evergreen shrubs can brighten up a dull patio, here with a wall basket of shade-tolerant lobelia

When planting summer pots you don’t need to worry about frost damage and you can use all sorts of containers and shapes. Just make sure there are drainage holes to allow excess water to flow away. You then need to choose your plants and there is a massive choice at Nags Hall. Whether you plant a restricted range of colours for a subtle effect or go for broke and just plant a mixture is up to you. You can theme your planters to suit your current favourite colour and your patio furniture.

I like fragrance on the patio as well as colour so I rely on scented-leaf pelargoniums for their aromatic foliage as well as their flowers. The blooms are not huge but they are pretty and the bees adore them. They are drought – tolerant too so good for busy gardeners.

And for a more exotic look, that really will forgive you if you miss a watering, choose from the huge range of succulents.

It is usually best to place your pots together rather than space them around the garden. They are then easier to water and they will have more impact. But sometimes a simple planting with an architectural plant in a simple, special pot, isolated, can have huge impact. Grasses, cordylines and phormiums are ideal for this.

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