Summer Container Planting
It’s been another cold, late spring in the UK. Ordinarily April is the month for tulips, as they take over the baton from daffodils and provide a hit of vibrant colour that really announces spring has arrived. Only this year it took longer for that to happen than usual. The first tulips started to flower in the last days of April, filling the garden with colour a month late. As I write, in late May, there are one or two tulips still clinging on which I can’t ever remember happening before.
Fortunately things have started to warm up and the sun has made an appearance, so my mind turned to what would replace the tulips to provide colour for the summer months. I’ve aimed mainly for long-flowering perennials rather than annuals because they can either be left in the pots to flower in subsequent years or dug up in autumn and planted in the garden, which feels like a more sustainable way of growing than using lots of annuals that need resowing every year. Of course, a few annuals and bedding plants have snuck in because they proved to be too tempting at the garden centre. I’ve chosen not to plant up my small terracotta pots as they dry out too quickly and need too much watering.
Replanting the Pots
Emptying the pots of the tulips and refreshing the compost in them is a bit of an epic job. I reuse some of the old potting mix in the pots and the rest is spread around the garden borders. Although most, if not all, of the nutrients will have been used up it is still a great soil conditioner and it will act as a mulch, preventing the soil from drying out. To the old compost I add a mix of peat-free multi-purpose compost and John Innes No 3 as this helps retain more moisture and nutrients than if I used multi-purpose compost on its own.
I was exhausted after all of this, but now it’s done the pots will provide colour right through to the first frosts and they’ll offer plenty of pollen and nectar for all manner of insects.
A Future without Pots
I am wondering whether to continue with pots at all next year, though. Watering can be a real chore during dry spells and we’re on a water meter so need to be mindful of how much water we’re using. Then there’s going away on holiday. I tend to move the pots to somewhere a bit shadier and give them a thorough soaking, but there are always a few plants that struggle if I’m not around for a week or so. It would be easier if I didn’t grow things in containers, but I do like having plants close to the house, so I’m toying with the idea of lifting some of the block pavers to create planting pockets next to the shed and the house. The soil underneath the pavers is clay, and the plants by the house will be in a rain shadow. This is where something – in a garden this can be a building, fence or wall – obstructs the amount of rain falling on the soil, so even after a downpour plants growing in a rain shadow might have received only a small amount of moisture. In winter, however, we get a lot of rain and because the clay doesn’t drain very well plant roots might rot. All of these factors mean choosing suitable plants will be tricky. I’ve made a start by planting a compact rambling rose which will hopefully scramble over the side of the shed. There’s lots to think about, so watch this space …
Om Louise Curley
Louise is a horticulturalist, garden writer and author of the award-winning book The Cut Flower Patch. She’s passionate about the power of plants to make us feel happy and is an advocate for organic gardening and encouraging wildlife into gardens.Get to know Louise Curley
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