All-purpose potentillas

Continuing from my post the other week on plants everyone should have in their garden, I must mention potentillas, often called shrubby cinquefoils, though no one really calls them that.

These are very hardy, mounded shrubs and the wild species may be native, though it is probably a garden escape. They are so easy to grow and to look after that you may have seen these around carparks more than in gardens. But that should not put you off planting them in your own garden, especially since they will then be looked after and won’t be covered in crisp bags and mulched with drink cans!

Potentilla ‘Abbotswood’

One of the first shrubs I planted in my new garden was a potentilla. The main reason is that I knew it would survive even though the garden soil was barely dug and the hedges had not grown to provide shelter from the wind. It was ‘Abbotswood’ the most common of the white potentillas.

Potentillas have a long season of flowers. Admittedly they are rarely ‘covered’ in flower but them they are never without some flowers from May to September. The most common colours are white and yellow but there are orange/red potentillas and a few pinks. In general, the yellow and white kinds are the most vigorous. They can reach almost 1m high and wide.

Potentilla ‘Lovely Pink’

With all these good points you can’t expect great autumn colour – the leaves drop in autumn without any fanfare. And in winter the plants are a bit twiggy and dull. Pruning is not necessary but because they get a bit scruffy after a year or two it is worth pruning. Do this in spring. You can either cut out about half the stems, near the base, to thin the bushes or you can just shear them off at about 15cm high. This hard pruning will delay flowering a little but they should be in bloom by June if pruned in March.

Plant potentillas in full sun or, if you need to, slight shade. They are not fussy about soil and will grow in clay and in acid or alkaline soil.

Potentillas tend to be neglected and passed over in favour of more exciting plants. But they work hard in the garden and I would never be without them. Look for them now and plant some for summer colour next year.

Potentilla ‘Goldfinger’

Jobs for the week

Continue to plant tulips in the garden and in pots

Plant trees and bare root hedges

Check the stakes and ties on newly-planted trees

Prune autumn-fruiting raspberries – cutting all the canes down to 8cm

Tidy strawberry plants, cutting away all runners and any dead leaves

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