Container plants

Container plants are subtropical plants that you have almost certainly seen on holidays in the sun. As the name suggests, these plants are grown in containers or large pots so that they can easily be moved around. Lemon trees, passion flowers and bougainvilleas will add that gorgeous Mediterranean feel to your garden or balcony. Container plants are not hardy. That's why it's important to move them somewhere they will be safe from frost before the first frost hits. Is the plant too heavy to lift? Protect it with bubble wrap or a special protective cover.

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Container plants

Origin of container plants

Container plants are especially woody plants from a warm climate. As early as the 16th century, they were taken from areas around the Mediterranean, as well as South Africa, China, Central and South America and Australia. At one time container plants were the showpieces on estates and gardens of wealthy people. It soon became clear that these plants could not withstand our winters so special greenhouses and conservatories were built to overwinter these precious plants. Because initially it was mainly the orange tree that was cultivated, these buildings were known as orangeries.

How to choose the right pot

Pots or planters, classic or trendy – you have a choice. Pots for shrubs, rosebushes, climbing plants, perennials ... However, you must take into account certain factors to properly adapt your pot to your plans. First, it is best to choose large enough pots for good growth, especially if you are considering growing vegetables. Be aware that plastic pots retain more water, even if they are less aesthetic than terra cotta pots. Also consider the weight: the pots must be able to be moved easily. The flower pots in our range are ideally sized for container plants. They are not only beautiful and durable, but are also made of ultra-light plastic. Very handy and convenient!

Buying and caring for pot plants

When buying a container plant, it is really essential that you have somewhere frost-free for storing it over winter. Pay attention to each individual plant’s specific requirements for position and light, soil type, humidity and plant food during the growing season in the summer months. This is of course different for every plant and depends on where it originated from and how it grew there. The origin of some plants could be for example, along the banks of a river, while other plants grew mostly in dry, rocky places.

Position and light requirements
Plants in large tubs and planters usually come from warmer climes and generally enjoy the sun, and our patios are usually in the sunniest, most sheltered spot. This makes it of course extra attractive to a large number of different plants that can be planted in tubs and planter. It means you can enjoy the splendour of exotic flowers when sitting around your garden table in the summer. Consider the African lily (Agapanthus) for instance, or the beautiful trumpet flower (Brugmansia). As the plants can easily be moved around, these plants can go in the border in the summer too – as extra eye-catchers. Do be wary of putting a shade lover in full sun though.
Soil type and fertilising
Fresh potting compost is, generally speaking, sufficient for giving your plants a good nutritional start but this advantage wanes after about 4 weeks. Our advice is that you then start adding more plant food. You could start right off with a mix of well-rotted manure in amongst the potting compost but during the growing season we would still advise a fortnightly addition of some mineral fertiliser for flowering plants. Just add it to the watering can.
In order for good drainage, it is important that there are holes in the base of your tubs and planters, covered with a layer of gravel or potsherds. Pot plants dry out fairly quickly especially in the summer, so water regularly and frequently. This means every 2 or 3 days for most types of large plants.
Should the foliage on your large pot plants show signs of stress like turning yellow or falling off, despite your best efforts, you need to check if you are giving the plant the correct amounts of food and water.

Container plants over the winter

While these large, filled planters will manage well outdoors on your patio or decking in the summer, they are very sensitive to frost so allow us to explain what to do with these plants to get them through the winter.
Allow your container plants to stay outdoors for as long as possible in the autumn. It’s best to stop feeding them from August on, to help them prepare for the winter. Only from the first frosts on is it necessary to bring your plant indoors to a cool and frost-free (light) area. The likes of Oleander or Indian Mallow (Abutilon) should be pruned first – this of course gives more room in winter storage.
The optimum circumstances for keeping your plants healthy over the winter depends of course on the type of plant. The temperature (cold / hot) and the light requirements (darkness / light) need to be taken into account. Those plants that keep their leaves need a light spot. Plants like Fuchsia and Datura that lose their leaves anyway, can even be kept in a dark cellar, just as long as the temperature is right. Then there are the types that need it cold (but not freezing) – these usually originated in southern Africa like the Agapanthus or the Agave. They need it to be around 4-5⁰ C to survive the winter. Tropical plants like the Strelitzia will do better somewhere that is at least 10-12⁰ C. Do ensure sufficient air circulation for all your plants. A conservatory would be ideal.
As it gets colder around the plants, they will lose more and more leaves. These need to be swept up and disposed of to avoid plant diseases. Tubbed plants also then of course require less watering. In January and February, water only sparingly. The trick is to avoid your large plants starting to grow in the winter. Once it starts to warm up again, say around March and April, you can gradually start with normal watering and feeding again. You will then notice your plant(s) start to shoot up. Prune dead and unattractive branches and foliage away. This is also the best time to think of potting up as this will add fresh compost and sufficient nutrients to the pot.

Hardening Off

Around mid-May, you could bring your tubs and planters out of their winter storage. A cloudy, even rainy day is best for this, to give the plant a chance to acclimatise to outdoor weather. They’re not quite used to bright sunlight yet and could well be burned if you don’t harden them off first. To do this, stand the plants in a partly shaded spot for one hour longer every day for five days. After that, the planter(s) can go just where you want them. Now is the time to water generously and regularly again, and feed them fortnightly.
For more information on how best to care for your particular pot/tub plant, always read the label, or check all the information about the plant on our website. Of course you can always take a look at our garden advice articles - or sign up for an online course in gardening.
Want to know more? Read our pages full of gardening tips.