How to have low maintenance planting for pots

how to have low maintenance planting for pots-bp-fi

Low Maintenance Planting for Pots

This is a bit of a misnomer;  planting in pots will always more labour intensive than growing in soil.

Plants were not designed to grow in a pot and so will be more demanding. Having said that, using the wrong type or style pot will ensure your time is spent watering and tending them rather than enjoying them! Luckily, there are ways to that ensure you get low maintenance planting for pots.

So what are our top tips to getting a gorgeous pot collection that not only looks lovely but also survives the summer sunshine and the winter rains!

Which pot to choose?

easy care garden pots

Gone are the days we could only have terracotta pots, now you can get any shape any size and almost any material – so which ones are best.


You need to know the conditions your pot will be in; in order to pick the best material.

For example, if you have a sunny patio, then thin metal planters are going to absorb lots of heat and cook the plants roots. Or if you have a plot that is prone to frost, thin terracotta pots will easily crack and break.

How to choose the best pot

  • In hot sunny sites, use pots that have good thermal insulation, like wood or terracotta and avoid dark colours that will absorb more heat.
  • Wooden pots and planters must have a liner or inner pot, to prevent the wood becoming rotten.
  • Metal pots must have a layer of insulation inserted, otherwise both the sun and the frost will cook and freeze the roots that curl around the edge of the pot.
  • Plastic or fibreglass pots are lighter and so should have some ballast added to the bottom of the pot to prevent them falling over.
  • Stone or large pots try to use castors under the pot before you plant. You will want to move the pot at some point – and you don’t need a hernia doing it!
  • Urns or Round pots look lovely, apart from when you need to repot or remove a plant. So either choose insert a pot that sits in the neck of the urn or only plant in pots that are wider at the top!
  • Terracotta pots, the cheaper ones aren’t usually frost hardy and are prone to cracking in winter. If you are investing in a nice pot, make sure it is – the rims usually break first.

Have enough holes!


All pots need drainage holes, sadly many modern pots don’t seem to have them. Whilst this does prevent muddy puddles, it also drowns the plants.

So make sure there are 3-4 holes in the base. And if you have a large plant in a pot, check the roots aren’t blocking the holes up too.  In winter, raise the pots off the ground a little to prevent soggy bottoms!

Get the right filling.

The problem with multipurpose compost is that it’s just that – multipurpose. Your planted pots are going to need a bit more to grow well and stay looking good.

  • Multipurpose compost dries out really easily – which means more watering.
  • Once dried out this compost is hard to rehydrate, the compost shrinks and compacts making it hard to absorb the water.
  • If you plant certain types of plant in compost, they grow all fat & floppy and won’t produce enough flowers because the compost is too rich, they just produce green leaves.
  • Multipurpose compost is not good if you are planting perennials or shrubs, i.e plants you want to last. The compost loses any mineral elements pretty quickly so the plant is left starving and looking decidedly peaky.

So what to do.

  • Mix 2/3 topsoil with 1/3 compost in a pot mix. Plants know how to grow in soil….the compost just lightens the mix. Soil takes longer to dry out than compost and it hold nutrients better, so your plants will grow better for longer.
  • If you have plants that thrive in poor soils you can use a mix of topsoil, compost and also sand or grit or some subsoil. The plant will grow lean and mean, so it shouldn’t flop, droop and should produce more flowers!
  • Plants that love a rich moist soil, add water retaining granules, topsoil, compost and manure to give the plant the best start.

3 different plants requiring 3 different conditions

Aeonium type succulent

The succulent on the left hand pot appreciates a well drained soil.

It is drought tolerant (but tender) so it can thrive in a smaller pot that might dry out a bit more quickly.

canna w

The Canna on the right is a different kettle of fish.

This plant loves a rich moisture retentive soil, it won’t appreciate being waterlogged. It will look decidedly peaky if all it has to grow in is multipurpose compost. So use a mix of soil, multipurpose and a bit of garden manure to help it grow.

Box Ball 2

Finally, the Box. This plant will last for years, so it is best to plant this in a pot that is predominantly soil as opposed to compost.

You will need to topdress with a feed and ensure it doesn’t dry out, every few years replenish with fresh soil.

THe upshot is; if plants have good growing conditions you won’t have to look after them so often!

Put the right stuff in the pot for the place you want it!

Apologies for maybe stating the obvious, but seeing as we are looking at ways to reduce unwanted garden chores, what you put where is really quite important.

  • In hot sunny areas, make sure all the plants you add to the pot will thrive in hot conditions.
  • Similarly in shade, don’t mix ferns and sun lovers for example.
  • Pots containing a mixture of plants look wonderful in magazines and garden centres but they are actually tricky to keep well fed and watered.

Filling your Pots:

Low maintenance planting for pots 1

  All Pots need ballast at the base to aid with drainage. Leave a gap at the top to allow for easier watering. The plant’s root ball should occupy the area shown in darker brown, that way the plant has enough room, which encourages new root growth.

Low maintenance planting for pots 2

   Here the pot has been overfilled, so the water will simply run over the edge and not get into the soil.

Low maintenance planting for pots 3

If you have a tall pot, you don’t need to fill the entire pot with expensive soil & compost. You will need some ballast for stability and to aid drainage at the base, add a lightweight layer above. This can be old polystyrene plant trays or empty plastic pots. Above that you add a membrane to prevent the soil being wash through and then add the soil as before.

Finally have little pot collections, rather than dotting individual pots here and there around the garden. It makes it much quicker to water them all.

Pots will always require more care and attention than plants in the ground. By choosing the type of pot and by thinking a little more about the compost and the plants, your plants will look healthier and last longer!

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