Growing plants in pots and containers is a great way to make the most of the space you have at your disposal, both inside and outside your polytunnel. In this article, we will cover some of the basics of growing plants in pots or other containers, before discussing some of the best all year round plants for pots.
Growing In Pots & Containers
When choosing your containers, it is important to remember that not all plants enjoy the same conditions. Some plants will need good drainage and will do better in a terracotta pot, while others will enjoy the extra moisture retained in one made of recycled plastic or alternatively, a rustic planter made from wood. A stone planter will retain heat and help sun-loving plants from warmer climates, while a metal one could overheat the roots of some delicate plants. Understanding the needs of the flowers, vegetables or herbs that you want to grow will be the first step in successful container gardening.
The next decision that you will have to make is where to place your pots. Of course, some pots could be placed on windowsills within your home. Others may find their place on a patio or in a courtyard area. Others yet may be part of your scheme to make the most of the space in a polytunnel. Wooden greenhouse staging or polytunnel staging can be very useful to provide extra space to place your pots and containers.
Caring For All Year Round Plants in Pots
Wherever you place them, one of the best things you can do to ensure the continued good-health of plants in your container garden is produce your own compost using waste from your kitchen and any plant waste that is generated in your garden. Creating or sourcing high quality compost/ other growing medium for your pots is crucial to keeping plants healthy all year round.
Many gardeners go wrong when if comes to watering and this can be especially damaging when gardening in containers. Soil/ compost in containers can dry out far more quickly than the soil in open ground and if you do not have adequate drainage in your pots then they can sometimes become waterlogged.
It is important to grow the right plants in the right containers and to understand how much water each one needs. When the weather is dry, mulching around plants in containers can help conserve moisture.
What To Consider When Choosing All Year Round Plants for Pots
When choosing all year round plants for pots, it is very important to think about:
- The type, size and material of the pots or containers in question.
- Where the pots will be placed, and the conditions found there. (indoors, under cover or outdoors?)
- How much care you are prepared to provide for the plants, and how easy they will be to care for throughout the year.
- Whether you want to grow edible plants, or are more concerned about creating an attractive visual display.
- The pests you wish to repel, or beneficial insects you wish to attract, and which plants could help you in your endeavours to create natural balance in your garden/ polytunnel.
One of the main things to consider is whether you would like to grow different annual crops to provide year round interest or year round yield from your pots and containers. Growing annual crops can provide variety and many favourite plants are annuals.
That said, if you are going for year-round plants, you may like to consider choosing perennial plants that cannot only provide interest or yield throughout the year but also take a lot less work. Perennial plants for pots will also endure over time, keeping your pots populated for a number of years.
Choosing Perennial Plants for All Year Round Pots
To give you some inspiration to create your own container garden in your polytunnel or elsewhere in your garden, here are some of the perennial plants that are great for all year round pots in the UK:
Fruit Trees & Other Trees for Pots
One great idea for pots that can look good all year round and produce an edible yield are fruit trees. If you are growing in pots indoors, or in a heated polytunnel or greenhouse, you could consider growing dwarf citrus trees, peaches or apricots. In an unheated polytunnel or outdoors, you could choose dwarf apple trees, plums, cherries or other common fruit trees that thrive in our climate. Fruit trees not only provide fruits in summer/autumn, they also give visual interest of blossom in the spring. Citrus trees and others, such as a wide range of evergreen trees, can look good all year round.
You may be surprised to learn that a number of perennial vegetables can also look good throughout much of the year. By growing a selection of different perennial vegetables in a pot or container, you can get edible produce and an attractive display all year round.
Perennial Herbs for Pots
Of course, perennial herbs can also be great for growing in pots and containers. Indoors or outdoors, growing herbs in pots can help you create attractive displays from which you can harvest small quantities of useful culinary herbs throughout the whole year. Perennial herbs include:
Perennial Flowers for Pots
There are also plenty of flowering plants for pots. While perennial flowers will remain in your pots throughout the year, to create all year round plantings for pots, you can include perennials that bloom during different periods throughout the year. By incorporating plants that flower in spring, summer, autumn and winter you can create pots that provide visual interest all year round. To give you inspiration for your pots and containers, here are some of the great flowers that bloom in each season of the year:
Spring Flowering Plants for Pots
There are plenty of bulbs and perennial plants that make for wonderful and varied spring displays. When kept in a polytunnel, your plants in pots will flower even earlier in the season and bring the spring more quickly. Some spring flowering plants that work well in pots are:
- Violas & violets
Summer Flowering Plants for Pots
Summer is, of course, the time when you will have the most choice about what to place in your pots. Many, many plants are in flower during the season. Below are some great choices which have long-lasting floral displays, though of course these options are just the tip of the iceberg:
Autumn Flowering Plants for Pots
Remember, especially in the autumn, that flowering plants are only one option. Plants with attractive foliage can also create a beautiful display. In this regard, small acers and other small trees and shrubs can be a good choice for growing in pots.
Flowers that bloom long into the autumn include:
- Daisy family (Asters)
Winter Flowering Plants for Pots
Even outdoors, there are a range of plants that you can grow that will provide interest and colour during the coldest part of the year. Not only flowers but also grasses, ferns and trees or shrubs with interesting foliage.
With a polytunnel, you dramatically increase the number of plants that you can grow during the winter months, especially if you make sure that your year round plants in pots are given a little extra protection.
Plants that look great in pots the winter include:
- Festuca glauca
- Nandina domestica
- Winter violas
Of course, in a polytunnel especially, you can also grow a range of winter greens that can also look very attractive in a container display. Try purple varieties of kale and other brassicas, Asian greens like pak choi, mustard and other leafy crops to give some variety in amongst the green.
Using pots and containers need not limit you in what you grow. Whether or not you also have space to grow in the ground, container gardening can be extremely varied and exciting. It can allow you to grow a lot of food or plenty of ornamental plants.
Do you grow edibles or ornamental plants in pots in your polytunnel, or in your home or garden? Share your suggestions for the best all year round plants for pots in the comments below.
Elizabeth Waddington is a writer and green living consultant living in Scotland. Permaculture and sustainability are at the heart of everything she does, from designing gardens and farms around the world, to inspiring and facilitating positive change for small companies and individuals.
She also works on her own property, where she grows fruit and vegetables, keeps chickens and is working on the eco-renovation of an old stone barn.