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Do’s and don’ts of patio gardening

Whilst visiting a client recently I could not help but admire her bricked patio covered with containers of various shapes and sizes which in turn had a wide range of interesting plant material, which quite simply highlighted the whole area.

As we spend so much time from April through October outside on the patio or pool area, adding a feature of pots and plants brings the area to life. The selection of pots and containers in itself makes decisions difficult; styles, colours, sizes and shapes can be overwhelming. Plant selection for the area and container are also important to get right as pots/containers are not inexpensive so plant selection can make or break the visual effect or the wallet if wrong. Potential plant growth should be taken into consideration not only for the location but also container size as large plants in small containers soon outgrow their root run.

I would recommend not planting potentially large growing plants in containers that have a ‘bulge’ or rounded effect and with a narrow neck as, simply put, it is very difficult to remove the plant once it starts to grow and the root system ‘follows’ the shape of the container. In such cases it is often the container which breaks and usually at a high cost. When planting on a patio or veranda consider location in relation to windows and blinds, pedestrian access, water availability — if numerous plants are used — location of furnishings, doors etc. Plants grow and if of a flowering nature and if they have to be constantly pruned back to ‘fit the spot’ they are in the wrong location and by pruning you are most probably removing potential flower production.

Choose pots for their versatility, you can then move them around to fit numerous locations. Keep scale and perspective in mind when selecting containers, I often see situations where the pot is far too large or small for the location; a perfect example is on top of gate pillars. I like to offset the line of movement with pots, if the patio has a curving habit I like to use square containers, the same with pillars round containers on square pillars. If the outline of container and pillar is the same it tends to highlight the perpendicular especially if also using plants with a vertical habit.

To make a statement one can use stand-alone containers or in a module, mixing shapes but care should be taken when mixing colours in a modular layout. Containers do not necessarily need plants to make a statement, if the shape, texture, colour and size are ‘striking’ enough they can be used accordingly. When using tall thin containers simply using dry twigs of ‘Which Hazel’ or dried grasses, etc, creates an interesting vocal point. Remember large containers will hold a lot of planting mix and should only be used for plants if the plant is likely to ‘use’ the volume of soil, if not leave empty.

Drainage is important, so ensure drainage holes are present; also add several inches of small stones for natural drainage from the soil mix. The planting mix should be a mix of soil and peat with amendments of other humus type material and of course a long lasting fertiliser such as Osmocote. Peat mixes can dry out quickly which if a constant can adversely affect plant growth.

Select the plants to suit the location and the container; is the patio/veranda sunny or in shade is it exposed to harsh winter winds how long will plants ‘last’ in the location. Squat containers up to 18 inches in height and the same across will require low slow growing plants or for example Lantana and be prepared to change them annually. Annuals up to 12 inches in height are also compatible with squat containers. Small shrub material with a dimension in the range 30 inches high and 24 inches across should be planted in medium sized containers and this is where the pot size of plant comes in, if the plant is the above size and it is in a one gallon container it is most probably pot bound, if in a four-gallon pot that is fine and should be installed in a container at least 50 percent larger than its pot. Remember the larger the container the heavier it will be when moving so select a permanent location to avoid this problem.

Flowering plants always add interest and enhance an area especially during the warmer months of the year, basically from April through to November barring any storms. Vines and rambling plants do especially well at this time and can be trained on a small trellis, e.g. Mandevilla; Allamanda; Mexican Flame vine; Natal ivy; Coral Creeper. Several of the grasses also do well in containers including Purple Fountain grass; Zebra grass and Muhly grass. Some unusual plants to consider, not of a floriferous nature but interesting none the less; African Spear, Lavender Scallops and Heavenly Bamboo.

Of course once planted that’s when the interest starts, giving a bit of TLC makes all the difference, give it a go and enjoy.


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Published June 29, 2013 at 9:00 am (Updated June 28, 2013 at 6:58 pm)

Do’s and don’ts of patio gardening

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