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Don't give up on your containers, just because the summer's ended. Joe Swift's got some great ideas for keeping them looking bright and beautiful through the coming months.

You may think that your garden is looking tired and that the colour has gone for another year, but think again. This is the perfect time to make over your planters, whether they are pots on the patio or troughs on the windowsill, to help brighten up the shorter, darker days ahead. If you add spring flowering bulbs as well you could be reaping the rewards well into next year.

There are some really reliable plants that can be put in straight away to give immediate impact to your containers. Heathers are available in a range of colours, from whites through pinks to my favourites - lush deep purples, which work perfectly as an autumn colour. They like acidic soil, so plant into ericaceous compost to keep them healthy. Skimmias are also acid-loving plants that look great into the autumn with their display of flowers then berries. The female Skimmia japonica has bright red berries against a dark evergreen leaf. Buy it with berries on to make sure it’s a female. It can be planted out into the garden next year, but will only flower and fruit again if it has a male plant close by. Skimmia japonica ‘Rubella’ has coppery stalks bearing long open sprays of beautiful pink buds all winter.

Good foliage plants for a winter container include Euonymous fortunei ‘Emerald Gaiety’ with its crisp white edge to the evergreen leaf or E. f. ‘Emerald ‘n’ Gold’, which has a golden yellow edge. Their contrasting foliage and tolerance of shade can be really useful in brightening a shady balcony or windowsill.

If it’s bright colours you’re after, winter flowering pansies (Viola x wittrockiana) are unbeatable. They are available in pretty much every colour under the sun, so you can either do a planned display of complementary colours or throw caution to the wind, forget about trying to be tasteful and mix all the colours together for a real old-fashioned ‘eyecatcher’. They are also good for underplanting the heathers or skimmias, and will flower for ages.

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The larger flowering cyclamen is a classy plant for a winter window box. They are available in rich pinks, purples and whites. They will look great when planted alongside the black grass Ophiopogon planiscapus ‘Nigrescens’. In fact, this evergreen black grass works well in any winter container display and brilliantly sets off all colours and textures. A trailing ivy along the front of the container will help to break up the edge whilst also setting off the other plants.

For a central plant in a container think about the red Cordyline australis ‘purpurea’. It will add an architectural quality and give a bit of height. When it grows too big for the container it can be planted straight out into the garden where it will easily earn its keep.

As well as planning for the immediate future this is the time to plant spring flowering bulbs. They can be planted quite densely into containers with other plants and, apart from watering, can be pretty much forgotten about. The other plants can then be ‘thinned out’ in the spring, allowing space for the bulbs to come up and flower properly.

There are plenty of spring bulbs to choose from: daffodils, tulips, snowdrops, iris, scilla, narcissus, winter aconites, cyclamen and grape hyacinths, to name a few. Again, the combinations you choose are all down to your taste. If you’re aiming for a designed look limit yourself to fewer varieties, but plant greater quantities of each: two or three colours will make more impact.

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There are plenty of spring bulbs to choose from: daffodils, tulips, snowdrops, iris, scilla, narcissus, winter aconites, cyclamen and grape hyacinths, to name a few. Again, the combinations you choose are all down to your taste. If you’re aiming for a designed look limit yourself to fewer varieties, but plant greater quantities of each: two or three colours will make more impact.

As a rule, plant bulbs twice as deep as the bulb itself, so if its 1 inch long, dig a hole 3 inches deep and put the bulb in the bottom, then backfill the soil on top. Make sure the planter has enough depth for the bulbs you want to grow, and that there is good drainage otherwise the bulb will get too wet and rot.

Whatever you plant in your containers make sure that they can easily be seen from inside. It’s unlikely you’ll be going out much during the colder days, but that doesn’t mean you have to go through the whole of winter without any colour in your life!

Visit our Superstore to see its vast range of winter and spring flowering plants

See also the Helping Hands workshops:
How to plant a bulb in earth
How to plant a container
How to plant a window box


Click to view  Plug Plants for sale  in our online store

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Other Joe Swift Articles
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   Less Work, More Fun        Let There Be Light!
   Patio Pleasure        Pots of Colour
   Turn up the heat        Urban Chic
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