How to plant a peat-free summer container

Flowers in a planter in the gardens at Wakehurst , West Sussex, in August, with a wrought iron archway in the foreground.

Our visitors love our peat-free containers bursting with summer colour. Head Gardener Jamie Harris at Polesden Lacey, Surrey, gives his top tips for creating the look in your own garden.

A gardner pushing a wheelbarrow in the Walled Garden at Attingham Park

You'll need...

• Planting containers
• Peat-free compost
• Plants to provide interest all summer
• A regular water supply
• Hand trowel, secateurs and watering can

Optional extras:
• Slow-release fertiliser
• High potassium liquid feed

1. Prepare the containers

Make sure your containers have holes drilled in the bases to allow for drainage. If the containers were used previously, remove the old compost and give them a scrub to remove any pests or diseases.

2. Create your peat-free mix

Most peat-free composts don't have fertiliser pre-added to them, and some hold water less well than a peat-based product, so you could add a slow-release granular fertiliser and water-retaining granules to your mix if you like.

3. Plant selection

Fill the containers with your peat-free compost mix, leaving enough room at the top for the plants. Don’t be afraid to pack the plants in for maximum impact. Think about the colour scheme and how different colours work together.

At Polesden Lacey we often tie our colour scheme to special events at the property. Keep in mind the positioning of the containers, as some plants thrive in full sun while others prefer shade. Try and choose plants that will extend through to late summer, such as salvias or penstemons.

4. Watering

Once the plants have been firmly pressed into the soil and any gaps filled with more compost, water the containers thoroughly. You’ll need to water regularly throughout the growing season. Early morning or early evening is best, as the sun is less likely to dry out the compost straight away.

5. Feeding

For maximum flowering, after six weeks have passed, you can add a high potassium liquid feed to the water every couple of weeks.

6. Maintenance

Deadhead your flowers regularly to keep the containers looking at their best all summer. 

A version of this article first appeared in the National Trust Magazine Summer 2018 issue.

Spring 2019 magazine composite covers image

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