The best plants for amazingly low maintenance garden pots

Posted By: Alexandra Campbell On: May 21st, 2017 In: Container gardening

What are ‘low maintenance garden pots’? After all, how low can you go?

Can you go away on holiday for a fortnight without asking anyone to water your pots?

Er, no. Not unless you invest in a watering system. The first thing to make clear is there is no such thing as the ‘no-maintenance garden pot’. All plants need some care.

But my friend Debs has a charming arrangement of pansies on her terrace. They flowered from October to May. She only waters them, and feeds them once the growing season starts. I call that low-maintenance.

Low maintenance garden pot plants

They’ve been flowering for six months on minimum care. I particularly like the way Debs has chosen just one colour of pansy for all her pots – it lends a bit of style to a humble pot plant.

This post is sponsored by Phostrogen plant foods and Baby Bio Pour & Feed ready-to-use plant food.

However, all opinions are my own, and based on my own experience. My definition of ‘low maintenance garden pots’ are pots that only need watering and feeding.

And all plants in pots, however low maintenance, do at least need watering and feeding!

Find out more about feeding and watering plants in pots here. .

Large pots are more ‘low-maintenance’ than small ones…

I once offered to look after a friend’s plants while she was away. She had about thirty very small pots scattered around in ones and twos in her courtyard garden and up the steps from her basement flat.

I put all the pots together in the bath, and gave them a good soaking. Then I put them all in one corner together. This helps prevent them from drying out so quickly.

If I hadn’t done that, I’d have had to go in every day to water them. Even so, they had to be watered three times that week, whereas my big pots do fine on one good watering a week.

Large pots need less watering than small ones

Large pots, such as these ultra-light fibreglass pots from Capital Garden Products, retain water for longer. So they need less maintenance than having lots of little pots.

You can minimise how often you need to feed and water pots by mixing the compost with a water-control products, such as Phostrogen Slow Release Plant Food & Moisture Control. You could water less and wouldn’t have to feed at all for the rest of the season.

It’s a mixture of moisture-retaining granules and slow release plant food granules. You mix it in with your compost when potting your plant up, so you don’t have to feed the plant for six months. Phostrogen say it reduces watering by 75%, which means you could probably water your pots once or twice a week instead of three or four times.

I’m also using it with my tomato plants in pots this year, as tomatoes like their compost to stay fairly evenly moist. They don’t like drying out, then suddenly getting drenched.

Phostrogen and Baby Bio plant foods for container plants

Phostrogen Patio Plant Foood, Phostrogen Slow Release Plant Food and Baby Bio Pour & Feed Ready to Use Plant Food ready for use in the Middlesized Garden.

However, small pots will dry out faster than a large pot, even if you do use moisture control granules.

Although succulents may be the exception…

Everyone always says that succulents are perfect for ‘low maintenance garden pots.’ I am not quite convinced, as mine get ratty-looking very quickly.

Tips for low maintenance garden pots

These succulents look so charming in this Whitstable garden. But I suspect the garden owners are better gardeners than I am, as I have never succeeded in getting pots of succulents to look that good.

Succulents certainly need less water than most pot plants, and less food, too. Most pot plants need to be fed every two weeks, but you can feed succulents once a month.

But they can be picky in other ways. They don’t like getting wet feet, for example, and need plenty of drainage in their pot. I think mine have rotted because their pots get saturated when it rains.

They have been brilliant on a plant stand, however. My mother had a 1960s plant stand (pictured below). She used to grow blue trailing lobelias (which, coincidentally, she fed with Phostrogen).

I inherited the plant stand, but have found it very difficult to make a success of it. My mother was happy to water plants in pots every day. I am not.  The pots dry out so quickly in the air.

Ideas for small garden pots

Most plants on a stand like this dry out very quickly, so it’s ideal for succulents.

Box is my No 1 low maintenance garden pot plant

I know everyone is worried about box blight and box tree caterpillar, but my box plants go on and on in their pots.

I may have to change my mind, however. The box tree caterpillar is heading my way, as it is now common in London and the South of England, according to an RHS survey.

I’ve been offered BUXatrap ® Box Tree Moth Trap to try out. It’s a pheromone trap, which captures the moths, and so breaks the life cycle, preventing the moth from laying more eggs. Fingers crossed!

Ideas for large garden planters

This topiary spiral from Bellamont Topiary has been here since September 2015. I haven’t had to trim it, but I water it once a week and have feed it once a fortnight with Phostrogen Patio Pant food.

In theory, you should take your box out of its pot every two years, give it a root trim, then replace it in fresh soil. It’s certainly worth doing for an expensive plant like the topiary spiral, but I haven’t for my less elegant box cones in pots.

 

I have had these box cones (below) in the same pots for seven years (Sorry, that’s a terrible admission. Do not follow my example!). They are watered once a week (more often in very hot weather), and fed once a fortnight.

Make a note of when you feed your plants

Do note when you feed pot plants in your diary – by the end of the summer, one session blurs into another. I can never remember whether I fed the plants last week or the week before.

Evergreen plant ideas for garden pots

This cone is trimmed once a year and watered once a week.

If you’re looking for an alternative to box, I’d recommend yew or another slow-growing evergreen.

Buy it at the size you want it, then trim it when it gets too big. If you buy a small one, hoping for it to grow, it will take a long time to get to where you want it. Or, if it’s fast-growing, it will need constant trimming once it gets to the size you want.

I’d advise against using privet (ligustrum) for low-maintenance pots – I have two lovely privet standards trimmed into lollipops, but they need trimming at least four times a year. Not low-maintenance!

Topiary in pots – high drama, low-maintenance

Topiary in pots gives the garden structure.

Low maintenance garden pot plants include topiary and heuchera

Give your garden instant structure with a dramatic piece of topiary in a pot. It’s expensive – but cheaper than buying garden-sized topiary, and I’ve found topiary in pots are very easy-care.

Cloud-pruned topiary in pots

Cloud-pruned topiary in pots. Very smart. Topiary seems to grow more slowly in pots, so it needs less clipping. Or is that my imagination?

Nepeta and heuchera – two easy-care garden plants for pots…

Nepeta and heuchera are easy-care, colourful garden pot plants

Before the topiary spiral arrived, Nepeta ‘Six Hills Giant’ made dramatic show in just one season. Then they stayed in these pots for nearly three years before they gave up the ghost. I fed and watered them, but didn’t change the soil. I used to chop them back in September, and they grew back again with charming grey-blue foliage.The heucheras in the pots in the foreground were extremely low-maintenance too. They lasted two years in the same compost before they were eaten by vine weevils.

Hydrangeas in pots for easy, late-season gorgeousness

Several of my friends swear by hydrangeas as the ultimate easy-care plant for garden pots. They don’t like being short of water, but otherwise seem remarkably unfussy and have a great winter presence.

Hydrangeas make excellent low-maintenance garden pots

Hydrangeas in pots: easy to look after. And you can also have blue ones, even if your soil isn’t right as you can put ericaceous compost in the pot.

Friends swear by Hydrangea paniculata as ideal hydrangeas for pots.

Plectranthus is good for low maintenance garden pots

This photograph, taken at Doddington Place Gardens, is one of my favourites from last year. The silvery-grey plectranthus looked so simple and elegant all summer long in the copper pots. And the plectranthus is very forgiving, even surviving a shortage of water.

Plectranthus is beautiful easy-care plant for pots

The plectranthus in these lovely copper pots at Doddington Place Gardens even survive being a bit short of water.

Grasses are brilliant for low maintenance garden pots

I’d suggest buying the right size grass for the pot, however. I bought some panicum virgatum ‘Shenandoah’ eighteen months ago. They’ve looked a bit forlorn in the middle of a large pot, although I surrounded it with petunias.

Panicum virgatum 'Shenandoah' for a low-maintenance garden pot

Panicum virgatum ‘Shenandoah’, surrounded by petunias, in its first year in the pot. I had to deadhead the petunias, but the panicum was fine with weekly watering and a fortnightly feed.

I should probably have started them off in a smaller pot, then transferred them up in size. But that sort of fiddling-around breaks the ‘low-maintenance’ barrier.

In theory, I should lift and divide my grasses every two years, replacing them in new container soil. I may allow them to get thoroughly congested, as I’ve seen a congested panicum ‘Shenandoah’ look fabulous when it was bursting out of its pot.

Grasses in planter at Doddington Place Gardens

Grass at the centre of a large planter at Doddington Place Gardens – very easy care.

Grasses in pots look good in the winter, too. I left mine until around February, and it only took ten minutes to give the four pots a haircut.

Grasses make good easy-care winter garden pots

Panicum virgatum ‘Shenandoah’ adding a fountain of grasses to our winter garden.

About Phostrogen plant foods and Baby Bio Pour & Feed

Phostrogen All Purpose Plant Food

Phostrogen All Purpose Plant Food

Phostrogen All Purpose Plant Food is a balanced plant food for all garden plants, including shrubs, bedding plants, pots, vegetables and hanging baskets. It can be used either dissolved in water or sprinkled directly on the soil.

Phostrogen Slow Release Plant Food & Moisture Control will feed your pot for 6 months and reduces watering by 75%. Mix it in with your compost when you’re planting the pot up.

Phostrogen Patio Plant Food is for a balanced plant food for pots, containers and hanging baskets, including vegetables, hanging baskets and indoor plants. Use as a dilute solution or sprinkle directly onto the soil.

Baby Bio Pour & Feed is a ready-to-use balanced plant for all container plants. Just measure into the cap and pour around the soil. You can use it for indoor or outdoor plants.

The ultimate low maintenance garden pot

Leave the pot empty! Empty pots can look wonderful. Although I have discovered that empty pots are soon colonised by ivy or other plants, which often looks even nicer.

The ultimate low-maintenance garden pot

There are more container plant ideas on the Middlesized Garden’s Container Gardening Pinterest Board.

And discover 25 inspiring ideas for pots and planters here.

More video pot planting ideas here:

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Ideas for low maintenance garden pots and planters.

 

6 Comments

  • Robbie says:

    Love, love looooooove this post! I think you’re absolutely spot on! One thing people tend to forget with garden pots too is just how much they contribute toward the look and feel of a garden so it’s not just important to think about the flowers but also the colour schemes of your pots.

    • Yes, sometimes I think a few strongly coloured pots would look good, but I never quite dare buy them in case I ‘go off’ them. But I think we’ll be seeing more colour in gardens in the next few years

  • I always pick up new tips from your blog. I have never fed (or watered) my succulents nor have I fed my lots of veg and herbs . Will give it a try.

    • On the other hand, if it works for you…but, on the whole, I’ve come to the conclusion that feeding and watering is what makes the difference between a gorgeous pot and a hey-hum planting that just looks a bit miserable. The succulents definitely need you not to feed or water too much.

  • Libby says:

    What a perfect post to Pin…which I just did! I love container gardening. We inherited a beautiful Japanese maple in our terrace area but it is impossible to dig under or around it. So pots to the rescue! I have five large pots and everyone seems very happy… But on my front steps we get hot hot sun all day so I’ve given up on lovely petunias and gone with succulents. I agree they can get straggly at the end of the winter, but mine come back beautifully in a month or so of heat and sun!

    • It’s so true what everyone says about ‘right plant, right place’, isn’t it? Good for you working with the Japanese maple rather than cutting it down – so many people see trees as a ‘problem’ but a mature tree is so irreplaceable.

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