Gardens and plants in outdoor containers have taken a battering from the elements over the summer, but now is not the time to throw in the trowel. The extreme conditions have actually revealed many plants that thrive with little fuss, even when it is hot and dry. Here are a few basic care tips and our top choices for tough outdoor plants to keep your garden looking great all year round, whatever the season brings.
Potting mix matters
To keep plants growing well in containers, use a good quality, water-wise potting mix. If the plant has outgrown its pot (for example, the pot is full of roots, hard to wet or prone to blowing over), you should re-pot into a new, larger container with fresh potting mix. Gently wash the old mix away from the roots first.
It is also vital to water pots regularly so they don’t dry out completely. Potting mixes that dry out to the point that they start to shrink away from the sides of the container will be hard to re-wet and may become water repellent. The plants in them will dieback or may even die. To recover a plant that’s dried out to this point, try soaking the entire container in a large bucket of water and using a liquid soil wetting agent, such as Wettasoil or Saturaid. Also consider re-potting into a new container.
Check the location
If a plant is struggling and not looking good, examine the area where it is situated. It may be in a spot that’s too hot (for example, facing the full heat of the western sun in summer), or reflected heat from nearby hot surfaces such as paving, walls or metal fences may be burning the plant. A little extra protection may make a lot of difference to the ability of your plant to survive. Try gentle pruning, then water well to get the plant to put on new growth over the cooler months.
Where plants have died over summer, consider replacing them with a more these drought- and heat-hardy option. No matter how tough your plant is, though, it must be watered and protected when it is first planted until it becomes established in its new situation. Also remember to water when conditions are extremely hot and dry.
Top hardy pot plant choices
All of the below plants will tolerate full sun and get by with minimal care.
For a statement plant in a container it is hard to go past an aloe. The Aloe Aloe range has a number of colourful and heat-hardy choices, which can be grown in a container or in the garden. Aloe is a plant that tolerates extreme heat and has the benefit of flowering well in autumn and winter. There are many different named varieties which bear flowers in white, yellow, gold or orange tones.
Adding a bougainvillea to your tough plant selection will add flamboyant colour to your container garden. Some bougainvilleas are very thorny, so train them over a railing or up a wall well away from passing foot traffic. There are lots of dwarf bougainvilleas that are well suited to container growing including varieties in the Bambino series and a long-time favourite, ‘Raspberry Ice’, which has variegated green and white leaves and dark red, long-lasting flowers (actually floral bracts).
This native plant is often considered as a novelty plant due to its cute looks, but it is also very tough. It grows well in a container and can also be used in raised beds to trail over an edge. Once established it needs little extra care.
Lots of succulents do well in hot, dry spots, but crassulas are among the best and come in all shapes and sizes. Crassula ovata, also known as jade plant or lucky plant, is one species that does exceptionally well and is very easy to grow and propagate. Indeed, it would be hard to find a plant that could take hot dry conditions in its stride more than this plant. Give it bright light to full sun and water as the potting mix dries out and your plant should last for decades!
These showy deciduous shrubs are also surprisingly tough and flower from spring to autumn. For a tough choice in a garden select one of the big old forms such as ‘Apple Blossom’, which has large pink flowers with a dark red eye, as these are almost bomb proof. In a container select compact varieties to around 1m high such as ‘Surfrider’ (which has large orange flowers) but there are flower colours to suit every situation. All hibiscus grow best in a warm, frost-free spot with full sun, regular water and feeding through the warmer months with a flower-boosting fertiliser such as rose and hibiscus food. In a container use a liquid fertiliser. Most varieties are deciduous so have bare stems during winter. Regularly remove and pick up the spent flowers.
These climbers have leathery leaves and pretty flowers. They are also often referred to as dipladenas. They are climbers that are typically available with pink, red or white flowers, but don’t miss the very beautiful new apricot variety in the Sun Parasol series. Grow mandevillas to twine up a pole or on a trellis to make the most of their growth habit and to enjoy their flowers. Thealso make great screening plants. Many varieties are not cold-tolerant and may not cope well during winter, so select a warm, sunny, sheltered spot where they’ll thrive all year round.
European olives grow well in large containers and can reach small tree size. They withstand exposure to heat and salty winds and can be shaped and pruned. They have attractive dark green leaves, silver trunks and may even produce a small crop to preserve and eat.
Also known as Indian hawthorn, this shrub can withstand the toughest spot even on a windy high-rise balcony. It's also a great choice for difficult coastal locations as it's highly tolerant of salt in the air. They survive well as they have very leathery green leaves but these tough leaves are offset with pretty flowers, which look like apple blossoms but also happen to be amazingly tough. Flowers are available in shades of white, cream and pink.