Growing plants in pots and containers

Hannah Jolliffe / 21 April 2016

Whether you’re trying to green-up a patio or looking for ways to expand the range of plants in your garden, read our tips for container growing.



There are plenty of exciting ways to grow in pots and containers – and even if you have a big garden, it’s likely that you’ll find some reasons to grow in this way. Find out which plants will thrive when grown in containers and how to get the most out of pot-bound plants.

Related: how to plant up a hanging basket

Order autumn bedding plants from Saga Garden Centre. Choose between winter pansies, wallflowers or a mixture. £8.99 for 55 plants or £12.99 for 165, with free P&P on all orders. Buy now.

Growing effectively in containers

It’s possible to grow just as effectively in pots and containers, but be prepared to work for the results. Remember that the plants depend on you for water and you will need to add fertiliser to the compost and spend time potting on the plants which outgrow their pots.

According to Harriet Rycroft, tutor of Container Gardening course at the online gardening school MyGardenSchool, the principles are the same as in ‘normal’ gardening. “You still need to think hard about Right Plant, Right Place – but also add Right Container to that list,” she says. “If you put a huge, leafy shade-loving plant in a little pot in a windy, sunny location it won’t be happy, however much you feed and water it.”

Find out how to get the best from your plug plants

What should you plant in pots?

In containers you are in control of the soil type, location and water content, so you can grow plants that don’t like your garden’s soil type, giving them the exact conditions they need to thrive. “My garden is very dry and sandy, so I grow moisture-loving plants such as ferns and hydrangeas in pots on the shady side of the house and make sure they don’t go short of water,” says Harriet.

Here are some more ideas to consider:

  • “If you have a tiny space by a sunny doorstep you can squeeze in some little pots of Sempervivums or Pelargoniums,” says Harriet.
  • If there’s a shady passageway try some tall, narrow pots with ferns or hostas in them.
  • Don’t forget wall space – put up wall planters with trailing plants in them.
  • If you want to grow edibles start with cut and come again salad leaf mixes, sown directly into pots or window boxes.
  • Look in seed catalogues for vegetable varieties bred to tolerate container conditions – such as the dwarf runner bean ‘Hestia’.
  • Certain fruit can be fussy about growing conditions, allowing you to get it just right in a container. Blueberries need a soil pH of 5.5 or lower, for example. Control the pH by using acid potting soil and feeding them with ericaceous fertiliser.
  • Figs grow well when space is limited, so containers are ideal for this fruit.

Find out about growing fruit in containers

Top tips: getting the best out of potted plants

Harriet Rycroft offers the following advice on how to care for your plants:

  • Use containers with good drainage holes. Tiny holes are useless because they will clog up easily and your plants are likely to drown.
  • When planting, ensure plants have moist roots and always water them in immediately so the roots are in contact with new compost, helping them to establish quickly and stay healthier.
  • Check plants regularly – make sure they aren’t dry but they shouldn’t be soggy constantly either. Check the compost hasn’t got washed off the plants’ rootballs and top it up if necessary.
  • Aim to water thoroughly but not frequently. If you have to water your plants every day in summer, they may be in the wrong position or in pots which are too small to hold enough water.
  • Most plants benefit from weekly deadheading – it helps them stay healthy and flower for a longer period.
  • Keep observing your plants. This will help you notice pests and problems and if you are new to gardening, you’ll quickly learn what keeps your potted plants happy!

Saga Garden Centre

Get free delivery and a no-quibble refund or replacement policy at the Saga Garden Centre. All our plants are grown on Jersey by an expert team who've been supplying the UK with mail-order plants for over 30 years.

Shop now

The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.