Extend the summer’s colour to the first winter frosts, says Ruth

Containers are an easy and manageable way of extending colour beyond summer and into the autumn, right up to the first frosts if you’re lucky.

I’ve planted up a late summer pot of flame-coloured perennials with some interesting foliage plants for extra oomph.

I selected a ‘Bishops Children’ dahlia as my central plant as it will look stunning with its combination of bronze leaves and tall stems bearing single blooms in shades of red.

The fiery tones of a ‘Bishops Children’ dahlia

I also added an Astilbe ‘Astary White’, which has beautiful frond-like leaves and white plumes of flowers, a begonia salvaged from last year’s hanging basket (waste notant not!), ‘Taisan Mixed’ marigolds and mixed rudbeckia.

I filled in the gaps with a trailing variegated ivy and a stunning silver Calocephalus,a hardy plant that almost looks like a form of deep sea coral.


My plan is that these will keep the colour and interest coming right through the rest of the summer and well into autumn. Then most of the plants can be lifted and either overwintered undercover or planted out, freeing up the pot for whatever comes next.

Because the pot had already been used I gave it a good scrub first with a weak disinfectant solution to remove any lingering pests or diseases.

Wash pots before use if they have been planted up before

I used proprietary container mix for the planting as this has added nutrients and improved water-retaining properties. However, multipurpose is fine if that’s all you’ve got, just remember to add some water-retaining granules before planting as they will help keep the compost damp and reduce the amount of watering needed.

While containers are easy to create, their aftercare can seem a bit of a faff, but believe me, it’s worth it! It only takes a couple of minutes of care every other day to keep your pots looking glorious right through the season.

TRart vine weevils with a nematode or carefully applied chemical drench

The ones to keep in mind the most are baskets and anything standing in a rain shadow, hanging under the eaves of the house or out of the prevailing wind. These will be sheltered from the worst of the weather when it happens, which is good, but it also means they won’t have easy access to rain.

Because of the dense planting they contain, pots and baskets dry out quickly so sheltered ones need to be checked every day. Just stick your finger in the compost up to the first knuckle and if it feels dry, add water.

Rudbeckias add sparky late-summer colour to the pot

On the other hand, baskets that are hanging facing the prevailing wind are vulnerable to an almighty battering when storms are forecast so it is worth taking them down and popping them on a large pot or bucket undercover until the weather blows itself out.

Not all containers have to be a complicated collection of plant and colours. Vibrant plants such as lilies, dahlias and fuchsias are fabulous statement plants and will happily hold their own singly in an attractive container.

Use proprietary container compost that has added nutrients and holds water well

Fuchsias and dahlias are an especially good buy at this time of year as they will flower well into autumn and can be overwintered (I nursed a non-hardy fuchsia through last winter and it’s flowering fantastically now) and returned outside next summer.

Here are four tips to keep your pots looking good:

Deadhead to keep the flowers coming

Deadheading: Remove flower as soon as they fade to encourage more blooms right through autumn if the weather stays kind.

Get rid of snails lurking in the cool under leaves and around pot lips

Pest controls:  Keep on top of pests. Snails lurk under leaves and around pot rims, greenfly will attack new shoots and buds.

Feed containers fortnightly with liquid tomato food

Feeding: Lots of plants in a confined space will soon work through available nutrients so feed with tomato fertiliser fortnightly.

A few drops of detergent in the water makes it easier to rehydrate very dry compost

Watering: Pot compost dries out fast so plants need daily watering during dry spells. A couple of drops of detergent makes re-wetting easier.


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