How To Plant Autumn Pots And Containers
Colour up your garden with some autumn bedding to last through the winter
The fickle phenomenon of fashion for some reason has dictated that summer bedding should be exclusive wear for container displays... But it's foolhardy to neglect rising stars of the future and varieties that are very much of the here and now.
Making every little count is common-sense thinking, especially when it comes to getting value for money from your spent summer hanging baskets and past-it patio displays. Few plants provide such a colour range, and fewer still are able to shrug-off frost, snow and ice better than winter pansies. The idea of flowers opening throughout winter is particularly appealing - in literally every colour of the rainbow, including timeless white and black - so turf out your tired tubs and plant afresh, with warming winter wear!
When days are short and the sky is grey, the sparkling faces of winter pansies and violas can lift spirits like a shot of retail therapy, but it's high time they should be wearing their ‘undergarments' - a base-layer of evergreen foliage, berries, flowers and stems, to show-off their cheery faces to the full.
A veritable wardrobe of ‘miniature' evergreens, potted ferns, ornamental grasses, herbs and heathers offer interestingly shaped, attractively coloured alternatives to monotonous mono-plant displays. Useful too, for year-round container planting, Abelia, Choisya, Cotoneaster, curry plant, Euonymus, Gaultheria, holly, lavender, Leucothoe, Pieris, periwinkle, Skimmia, silver leaf Cineraria and Thyme, to name but a few - may all be ‘recycled' and used again, making a shrewd garden investment and an excellent foil for brighter, more flamboyant shades.
Unfairly neglected and even shunned by some gardeners, conifers too are set to return to fashion, especially as they make such superb candidates for container growing. Mostly evergreen, with fantastic texture, form and often attractive winter hues, conifers offer an easy-to-grow alternative for long-lasting pot displays. Try stylish modern Pinus mugo ‘Ophir' with yellowish needles set against blue pansies and yellow stemmed Cornus ‘Flaviramea' - or steely-blue Juniperus squamata ‘Blue Star' teamed with pink bud-flowering heathers, black grass Ophiopogon and purple Heuchera.
For style-conscious folk, traditional bedding may be out the window, replaced instead by 'creative planting' worthy of the label ‘good taste'. Imaginative combinations, accessorized with bulbs, appeal to open-minded enthusiasts, likely to admire the skill and expertise that has gone into the planting of each individual display.
The advantage of winter hanging baskets are that plants may be used high up to ‘dress' your home, porch or blank wall, in positions that would otherwise remain unclothed. Consider the viewpoint of the arrangement and plant accordingly - choosing plants that grow where you'll see them most.
If you've never planted a hanging basket before, begin with a wire one and line using sphagnum moss. Cover the inside of the basket completely, but economically, so as not to take up valuable plant root space. Next place a plastic liner over the moss to prevent the plants drying out too quickly and snip five small drainage holes into the base.
Prop on a pot for stability and begin threading plastic-wrapped trailing plants through the sides of the basket. (A small "handkerchief" of plastic rolled round the roots and stems will protect most plants from harm as they are tugged into position). Pull the base of the plant through until the roots are safely inside the basket and firm, gently removing the plastic wrapping. Repeat until the sides are covered, then fill with compost to within 7.5cm (3") of the rim.
Complete another row of trailing plants around the lip, before in-filling the top with a mixture of bushy, foliage, flowering and upright specimen plants to finish your display. Ensure the final level of compost ends just below the rim, for ease of watering - before watering well and hanging the basket in its permanent position. Happy planting!
Growing trees in containers is no bright, new idea. With many clever uses, such as framing doorways and providing a winter focal point, they are ideally suited to patios, courtyards or as small garden features.
- Ideal subjects include those suitable for ‘topiary' - box (Buxus), holly (Ilex), bay (Laurus nobilis) and yew (Taxus) - or ‘fruiting trees' grown on strongly dwarfing rootstocks.
- Tender species, such as citrus and olives, may be moved to frost-free conditions over winter - or splash out on autumn-spectacular berrying shrubs and trees, for instant seasonal appeal.
- In most cases, ‘container planting' will restrict a trees ultimate size - with a little judicious pruning needed to keep the shoots similarly restricted to the roots, without spoiling its natural shape.
- Choose weighty terracotta or frost-proof stoneware for stability, planting up in situ, where the tree is to remain all year round. Place 5cm (2") crocks (broken pots, slate or tiles) over the container's bottom to prevent waterlogging and plant, using a loam-based compost such as John Innes no.3, for ease of watering and lasting growth.
- Choose Ericaceous John Innes compost for those needing a lime-free soil or multi-purpose compost when a lighter weight limit counts.