A make-over for pots and containers

by Drucilla James

The path of container gardening is paved with good intentions. It begins with gleaming specimens in shiny pots, but a walk down any street too often reveals only desiccated, overgrown and weather-beaten remnants of those former splendours. So here’s how to give your neglected pots a beauty overhaul to get them back in shape and set up good routines for the future.

This needn’t be hard work- the care programme  common to most areas of the garden, such as weeding, mulching, pruning, watering, and feeding – will ensure they keep in good trim.

Spring is the best time for giving established pots a make-over as well as planting. This is also a good time to adjust or completely alter your planting scheme as unlike a garden plot, the container garden is marvellously flexible.

Wash and brush up

Scrub pots with water and detergent so they regain their former sparkle.

Treat blemishes

Clear weeds by hand while they are still tiny and before they produce seed.

Hydrate and moisturise

Water your plants effectively to keep them healthy. Don’t leave containers to dry out, nor let them become waterlogged. Keep an eye on the weather -during dry and hot conditions a thorough soaking will be needed at least once a day. Clay and terracotta containers will also need more careful watering than those made from plastic as the rate of evaporation is considerably higher. To water, fill the container to the top with water and let it soak in and then repeat so the water has drained down through all the compost.

To make watering less time-consuming try some of the following:

  • Add water-absorbing granules to your compost to increase water-retention.
  • If you have a number of containers, invest in an automatic watering system. Small trickle systems such as the Hozelock Mini Auto Watering Kits are available and have the advantage of delivering the water directly to the roots; the 20 pot watering kit 2756 costs £22 – £55.
  • Plant in self-watering containers which have their own in-built water reservoirs.
  • Insert watering globes in the pots.

watering 2

Protect/ apply sunscreen

Apply mulch over the compost in your pot. Conserving water is vital in container gardening and mulching helps to do this by shielding the compost from drying sun and wind. A number of different materials can be used including gravels, pebbles, pieces of slate, chipped bark and tumbled glass, depending on the style of your container, but the most attractive tend to be the gravels or pebbles of a size appropriate for the container and the plants in it.

Other mulches include chipped bark (use the fine variety), cocoa shell (again the finely chopped version), peat moss (note this is not peat but a moss grown for use in the garden) and the compost itself.

Mulching, by covering the soil and cutting out the light, also prevents the production of weeds.


Horticultural grit, pea gravel, shredded bark and compost.


Compost usually only contains enough plant food to last for a few weeks so you’ll either need to add a controlled-release fertiliser at planting time or use a liquid feed during the growing season once the supply in the compost has run out. Feeding is an important part of container maintenance. As compared to those in the garden, plants are in a limited amount of soil and their more frequent watering washes away nutrients.

Firm and lift

There are numerous wooden, metal and plastic plant supports available which range in shape and size from the short to the tall, from the large to the small and from pyramids and columns to globes. These can be secured in the container to support the plants.

Give a hair-cut

Trim or prune plants to keep them in shape, stop them growing too large for the container or overshadowing others and to encourage dense bushy growth. See: http://www.cityplanter.co.uk/practical/how-to/how-to-prune-the-kindest-cut

Minor surgery

Well-established containers that are getting a little tired may need top dressing. Scrape away the top 5- 10 cms of compost taking care not to damage any underlying roots and replace with some fresh compost to which slow- release fertiliser has been added.

top dressing


Dig out any old or unwanted plants, avoiding damaging those that are to remain and plant new specimens in their places.

Complete face-lift

Long-established containers may need plants re-potting or potting on in early spring. Do any pruning necessary and dig out the plant. Empty, clean and re-fill the container or use a new, larger one putting drainage material at the base and filling with new fresh compost and slow-release fertiliser. Gently tease out the roots at the base of the root ball before planting.


And finally:

Hopefully after all this pampering, your containers will be rejuvenated and ready to face their public once more.

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