Planting and Growing Hedge Plants in Containers Part 1

For those gardens that do not have the bare earth for direct planting (and this includes far too many front gardens and, of course, patios), the container comes to the rescue. Fortunately, many hedging plants will happily grow in a container. But, to paraphrase Mrs. Beaton: first choose your pot…


Containers are available in many different materials but it is essential that whichever you choose, it has drainage holes. Each type has advantages and disadvantages:

Clay and Terracotta

The most traditional of materials, clay and terracotta have the added advantage of suiting just about every garden style. However, they are prone to crack when the frosts come and also dry out quicker in the spring and summer, and therefore you will need to water them a little more frequently when the sun’s out. For added reassurance and insurance:

  •  Always choose frost-proof pots
  •  Protect them in winter by wrapping in bubble-wrap, sacking or a similar material
  •  Stand them on feet and remove saucers in winter. This will help protect against waterlogging – an equal, if not bigger, threat, than frost damage. (You can, of course, keep the feet in place throughout the year)
  • Move them to a more sheltered spot for winter (If your containers are too large and therefore too heavy to move easily, make sure their location is not over-exposed)
  • In dry periods during summer, check the compost regularly and water if dry

Terracotta plant pots


Plastic containers are lighter than clay or terracotta and can therefore be more easily moved – an important consideration if heavy lifting isn’t your forte or you simply don’t fancy it. They also retain moisture better and less watering is generally required.

Aesthetically, plastic containers now come in such variety that you should have little difficulty in finding pots to suit your taste and garden – the mock terracotta ones are particularly popular and the best are virtually indistinguishable.

Plastic plant pots stacked up


Probably the material of choice for the modern-style garden. Always choose a galvanised (or other rust-proof) metal.

While frost won’t crack them, they do get colder in winter and particularly sensitive hedging plants should be protected with bubble wrap and/or sacking. In the summer they will retain moisture well but if placed in full sun can overheat.

Metal plant pots with lilac flowers


Wooden containers are an excellent compromise – they won’t crack in winter and retain moisture in summer. But wood is a natural material and will, therefore, eventually rot. A wood preservative can add decades of life but make sure that the preservative cannot permeate into the compost and poison it. A plastic lining is advisable – but do remember to make holes in the bottom for drainage.

The traditional half-barrel works well (especially with a lining), though the metal hoops can rust. It is therefore worthwhile painting the hoops carefully with a weather proof paint or other coating.
Raising a wooden container so it does not touch the ground will also help prevent premature rotting.

Stone: Stone containers can make an attractive alternative, though they tend to be on the heavy side. Choose only frost resistant containers and protect in winter as above. They retain moisture reasonably well.

Wooden plant pot with brightly coloured plants in

Builders’ Bags

Over the last few years, these large bags normally used to deliver sand, gravel etc in bulk have become increasingly popular as garden ‘containers’. They’re cheap, provide more than enough depth but only come in white and, once they’re in position and filled, impossible to move. If you go this route, remember to puncture the base with at least a dozen drainage holes and to use gravel rather than crocks (which could puncture the bag) for drainage. Rather than filling with just proprietary compost, you can put 10-15 cm of garden waste and compost on top of the gravel before filling with compost.

Builder's bag with gravel in


Having chosen your preferred pot material, the next (and more important) decision is to buy pots of the correct size.  Although it is tempting to put small plants in large containers, the plants, counter-intuitively, won’t thank you for it. Instead, start off with containers large enough to take the roots with 6-8cm spare at the widest point. This will encourage the plant to grow strongly and you will not need to repot into a larger container for 2-3 years.

In Planting and Growing Hedge Plants in Containers Part 2, we’ll look at planting and aftercare.

The following varieties of are just a few species of plants that can be grown in pots, so head to our pages on them to find out more: beech, cherry laurel, photinia red robin, privet, and yew.

Part 3 in this series will discuss in detail the various types of plants that grow well in pots.