The best plants for amazingly low maintenance garden pots
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 waters them, and feeds them once the growing season starts. I call that low-maintenance.
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. .
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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Nepeta and heuchera – two easy-care garden plants for pots…
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.
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.
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.
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 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.’
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.
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.
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’.
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