The best plants for amazingly low maintenance garden pots

May 21st, 2017
Posted In: Container gardening

What are ‘low maintenance garden pots‘?

The key is to plant easy care plants in your pots. And – most important – to choose the right size pot.

But the first thing to make clear is there is no such thing as the ‘no-maintenance garden pot’. All plants need some care.

For example, my friend Debs has a charming arrangement of pansies on her terrace. They flower from October to May. In the winter she doesn’t feed them and rarely needs to water them. Once the growing season starts and the weather warms up, she does feed and water them about once a week. But that is very little effort for months of flowers. 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.

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

Links to Amazon are affiliate (see disclosure).

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

This is probably the most important thing to understand if you want low maintenance containers, troughs and planters.

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.

So, firstly, 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 completely soaked her pots, I’d have had to go in every day to water them. Even so, they had to be watered three times a 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.

There are also other slow release moisture control products, such as Hozelock’s Swell Gel.

If you’re concerned about the possible environmental effects of using slow release granules, check the individual products for biodegradability. They use polymers to control the release of ingredients, and plastics are polymers. However, not all polymers are plastics and the Hozelock Swell Gel does biodegrade down completely.

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

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.

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

Box is a wonderfully low maintenance container plant. However, if you live in the South East  of the UK, there is an epidemic of box tree moth caterpillar. Sadly, it is unwise to have box in your garden now.

If you have box in your garden and are worried about whether you have box tree moth caterpillar, identify it here.

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 feed it once a fortnight.

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.

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!

As box blight and the box tree moth caterpillar mean that box is unwise, see the three best alternatives to box for topiary. All will grow happily in pots.

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. I think that grasses are probably the lowest of the ‘low maintenance garden pots.’

Grasses make good easy-care winter garden pots

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

The ultimate low maintenance garden pots

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

This pot is seen in Robbie and Diane Perry’s gorgeous garden, where they use pots in lots of different ways. Discover where they place pots and more potscaping inspiration here!

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

Evergreen pots are usually very low maintenance – read about 10 easy care evergreen pots for year-round interest here. And discover 25 inspiring ideas for pots and planters here.

If decorating with indoor plants is your thing, see how three different experts each decorated a studio flat with plants here.

Plus here are some good tips on how to plant a winter window box.

And all plants need some maintenance. Your garden pots will look so much better if you follow the advice in this post ‘Your best pots ever – 6 tips for brilliant container gardening’.

And there are more low maintenance ideas for front gardens and brilliant low-maintenance plants for beautiful gardens.  And because holiday homes need beautiful but easy-care gardens, see this gorgeous example.

Shop my favourite garden tools, books and products…

You can shop my favourite garden tools, books and sustainable garden products on The Middlesized Garden Amazon storefront. Links to Amazon are affiliate (see disclosure).

And I’ve put my favourite gardening saying ‘Gardeners Learn by Trowel and Error’ on a t-shirt. That’s to remind you not to worry about your garden – just enjoy the unexpectedly beautiful surprises. And if there is the odd failure, even expert gardeners kill plants sometimes.

How to group pots and other brilliant container planting tips in video

Dan Cooper has a small courtyard garden filled with colourful pots. I wouldn’t describe it as low maintenance, but his tips are well worth hearing. See them in this video on how to group pots.

How to group pots video

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Ideas for low maintenance garden pots and planters.


8 comments on "The best plants for amazingly low maintenance garden pots"

  1. Nehal S says:

    First of all, you have used such great pictures. I have read 2-3 articles on how to water plants the right way but this one steals the show. Your write-ups are really good. This is the first time I came across this blog. Subscribing it.
    Thanks Alexandra

  2. 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.

    1. 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

    2. Nicole says:

      I love this post especially the bit aboutputting the grass in too big a pot to keep it low maintenance. Exactly what I would do!

  3. 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.

    1. 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.

  4. 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!

    1. 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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