Orchid style petunias in containers

Petunias are an excellent and cost-effective way to fill a container
Image: Petunia ‘Orchid-Flowered Mixed’ F1 Hybrid from T&M

It’s amazing what a difference a few pots and baskets can make, regardless of how much space you have. Pots, planters and hanging baskets are a great way of creating a garden, even in a small soil-less courtyard or on a bland balcony. If you grow plants from seed, you can fill your containers with colour without breaking the bank. We asked radio garden expert Shaun Gagie how he makes his own pots and baskets interesting, pretty and productive. Here are his five top tips…

In the meantime, browse our collection of hanging baskets and accessories if you need to stock up.

1. Try making your own planters to save money

Pink purple and white petunia hanging basket

Brighten up doorways with hanging baskets
Image: Petunia ‘Surfinia’ Collection from Thompson & Morgan

There are lots of different planter sizes, shapes and colours to choose from, so you can pretty much buy pots that perfectly suit your outdoor area. Don’t forget that there are window boxes if you don’t have a yard or patio, or if you live in a flat. And of course you can go for hanging baskets by your front or back doors.

If money is tight, why not make your own pots and planters out of old pallets? They look great painted up and many companies are happy to give away pallets for free. I also like to use builder’s rubble buckets – they come in some really funky colours and they’re a fraction of the price of bespoke planters. Just add a few drainage holes.

2. Choose a fun mixture of ornamental and edible plants

Ornamental and edible flowers in containers

Shaun mixes up ornamentals and edibles for an interesting display
Image: Shaun Gagie

I like to plant my baskets and tubs with a striking mixture of flowers and vegetable plants (there’s no reason why a tub should look glum!) This summer I’m growing lots of different veg including baby sweetcorn, dwarf beans, beetroots, salads and courgettes. The varieties I’ve chosen are all small, so they’ll grow well together in a large pot or container. The leaf structures really complement each other too, and I love to interplant my veg with flowers like dwarf sweet peas, aubrietia, violas and nasturtiums to create a colourful display.

3. Use hanging baskets for fruit and veg

Blackberry in hanging basket

You can pick up to 1.3kg of blackberries from a single basket of ‘Black Cascade’
Image: Blackberry ‘Black Cascade’ from Thompson & Morgan

There’s nothing better than picking fresh tomatoes, so I grow tumbling toms in my hanging baskets, alongside rocket, nasturtiums, violas and basil. The nasturtiums trail, the violas provide colour and the basil, rocket and tomatoes are handy for salads. Chives and spring onions also make a nice alternative, or strawberry plants and mint for a sweet treat. Where possible, I like to use edible flowers too. My baskets are colourful and useful, and the variety of plants brighten up any boring walls.

4. Feed plants with comfrey tea

Closeup of comfrey in garden

Comfrey can be turned into a fantastic liquid manure for tomato and potato plants
Image: Comfrey seeds from Thompson & Morgan

When planting up tubs and baskets you have to be mindful that they need watering and feeding regularly. In my pots I use a good quality multipurpose compost with some slow release fertiliser and water-retaining crystals to help hold in moisture. I’ve never gone for fancy composts unless I’m planting something on a more permanent basis like shrubs or fruit bushes. If you can get down to your local farm for some well-rotted horse manure, this always enriches any tub.

There are a number of innovative pots and baskets that have water canals built into them to take the strain off watering. I tend to water my baskets daily, regardless of the weather, and I do the tubs every few days unless the weather is hot. Then I do it every day.

To keep plants healthy, I find that a tomato feed works best, as it contains all the right nutrients for flowers and fruits. However I’ve also made comfrey tea recently with great results. And it’s free, so double bonus!

5. Make a garlic spray to ward off pests

Collection of pink tinged garlic

After harvesting your garlic, set aside one head for homemade garlic spray
Image: Garlic ‘Rose Wight’ (Autumn Planting) from Thompson & Morgan

Once I’ve planned out my pots and hanging baskets, I look forward to planting them up. They can’t go outside until the end of May where I live in Manchester, as the threat of frost is still present. Until they’re ready to be safely put outside, just keep them in a cool shed or greenhouse overnight.

As your plants grow and develop, keep an eye out for pests like aphids, as they like to feast on the succulent young plants. I find the best thing to use to get rid of most pests is a garlic spray or a weak solution of water and washing up liquid. There’s no need to spend lots of money on expensive chemicals and homemade versions won’t hurt the bees and ladybirds.

Just remember you can grow almost anything in pots and many dwarf vegetables will thrive in baskets. You just need to water religiously and keep the food levels up as they exhaust the nutrients in the soil quickly. In addition, keep an eye out for pests, and deadhead any spent flowers regularly to enjoy lovely colour and tasty treats all summer long. For more information and advice about hanging baskets, head over to our hub page. Happy gardening!

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