Container Shrubs: The Best Plants for Your Porch

PimlicoDan
Published on March 14th 2020
9
A close up of a flower garden in front of a building
Growing trees and shrubs in containers is a great way to add instant colour and form to your patio or terrace while perfectly framing your doorway.
Choose carefully and you could have a plant that will last for years and add seasons of colour.

Getting started

Picking your pot
Choosing the right pot is essential not only for aesthetic but also for the welfare of the plant. There are plenty of options available to help you find the perfect one for your porch.
Terracotta: Select frost-proof designs and be cautious that the clay dries out rapidly. These are heavy, rustic and environmentally friendly.
Plastic: Not environmentally friendly, but lighter and holds moisture better than terracotta.
Glazed terracotta & stone: Glazed pots are better for water retention, though not to everyone’s taste. Stone can be gorgeous, but is, of course, very heavy.
Empty garden pots ready for summer planting
Wood: Ensure the wood is treated correctly. Half barrels can look great, especially with a spreading shrub, like a maple.
Metal: Gives a modern feel, but in a south-facing spot will microwave your plants to a crisp.
Growing media
The most frequently advised compost for perennials in containers is John Innes No.3.
John Innes No.3 is a loam-based, balanced medium which holds onto water and nutrients well while allowing free drainage.
Increasingly, there are peat-free alternatives. However, some plants, such as camellias and azaleas, will need ericaceous soil, so always check before planting.
Use a single crock to cover the drainage hole in the bottom of the container.
A tree in front of a building

Plants

Standards
Standard plants are a popular style of porch plants, where shrubs are shaped into a tree-like form.
Plants are usually grafted at the top of the long, single stem, which prevents them from getting taller, but they’ll still need regular trimming to keep a tight shape.
Remove suckers growing from the base of the plant, which will weaken the lollipop shape.
Often seen in evergreens, such as bay, box and conifers, there are coloured-foliage plants, too, such as Photinia ‘Red Robin’ or the deciduous flamingo willow:
There are a number of hardy flowering and berrying shrubs which are also grown as standards, including:
A green plant in a garden
Topiary
In a similar vein to standards, other forms of topiary include pyramids, cones and spirals. Again, they require regular trimming to keep a compact shape.
As in standard plants, it's generally bay, conifers and box which are grown in this fashion.
Conifers are much-overlooked container plants, but make excellent specimens providing they are never allowed to dry out.
Edibles
Switching it up from the more traditional evergreens and ornamentals, growing a miniature fruit tree is not only a good talking point but also provides something to add to the table.
There’s a surprising amount to choose from, with apple, pear, plum, peaches and nectarine varieties a-plenty. Be sure to check they are miniatures, designed for patio growing on dwarf rootstocks.
Growing fruit trees does require more attention, but the sweet taste of success can make it all the more rewarding.
A fruit hanging from a branch
South-facing aspects
With their ability to withstand drought and scorching sun, Mediterranean plants are an excellent choice for south-facing porches.
They will still need regular watering during the summer. Still, the sheltered position means that you can try some more tender subjects, like olives, bottlebrushes and standard French lavender, which will also add fragrance.
In mild areas of the country, you can try oleanders, standard pelargoniums and even lemons, just be prepared to give protection during winter cold spells.
Shaded spots
Plants grown in containers in the shade will not dry out as quickly, but care must be taken with many species to shelter them from bitter, blasting winds.
Japanese maples look spectacular in containers, and some varieties, such as ‘Sango-kaku' have coloured stems and seasonally-changing foliage for year-round interest.

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