Scented-leaf pelargoniums

Pot plants that will tolerate neglect

Discover beautiful plants that can be grown as part of a low-maintenance container display.

Growing plants in pots and containers is a great way to liven up a dull, paved space. However, it can be hard to keep up with the watering and feeding requirements of thirsty plants, especially if growing in a sunny spot. Luckily, there are many drought-tolerant plants that will cope with a bit of neglect. These plants have adapted to hot dry conditions, and will look great while saving you time and effort.

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It’s usually easy to spot the plants that need less looking after. You might find them growing in cracks in walls or paving, where it’s unlikely that they get a lot of water and nutrients. Others have adapted to dry conditions by changing their leaf shape or type to reduce evaporation – look for plants with tiny hairs on their leaves, leaves with spines, aromatic or silvery leaves, or fleshy, succulent or really small leaves. These all thrive in baking, parched conditions, perfect for a low-maintenance container display.

If you’re really short on time, it’s worth choosing plants that also require very little feeding or pruning. Good examples include the slow-growing evergreen shrub Cistus purpureus, or short-lived perennial Erysimum ‘Bowles’s Mauve’. Alternatively, herbaceous perennials such as some types of agapanthus will die back in autumn and grow again in spring, leaving you with very little to do.

However, just because a plant is tolerant of drought doesn’t mean you can neglect it completely. Plants in pots can dry out quickly and any plants in small pots, or those that have been recently planted, will need watering to become established. Established plants have well-developed root systems, which can reach further to the bottom of the pot to find moisture.

The following plants are perfect for the busy gardener.

Just because a plant is tolerant of drought doesn’t mean you can neglect it completely. Plants in pots can dry out quickly and any plants in small pots, or those that have been recently planted, will need watering to become established. 

Erigeron karvinskianus

Mexican fleabane, Erigeron karvinskianus, looks lovely creeping down the sides of stone steps or tucked in wall crevices, where it self seeds and also spreads via rhizomatous roots. Perfect for growing in a terracotta pot, its flowers will spill over the sides.

Height x spread: 30 x 60cm

mexican-fleabane

Stachys byzantina

The leaves of lamb’s ear, Stachys byzantina, are covered in fine, silvery hairs, to reduce evaporation. It’s perfect for planting around a central focal point in a large pot, or with other drought-tolerant plants.

Height x spread: 20 x 45cm

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Cistus

Hailing from the rocky areas of the Mediterranean, cistus are perfect for growing in a large container of free-draining compost and forgetting. Pair with other Mediterranean shrubs such as rosemary, lavender and santolina.

Height x spread: 100 x 150cm

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Pelargonium

Scented-leaf pelargoniums are more drought-tolerant than those without scent, owing to the aromatic oils in their leaves, which help prevent evaporation. The flowers are usually small but you can create an interesting foliage display by planting several varieties together.

Height x spread: 80 x 80cm

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Lavender

The slender, silvery and scented leaves of lavender are perfectly adapted for hot dry conditions. Plant in a 30cm pot on its own or team with other drought-tolerant favourites. Choose a dwarf cultivar such as Lavandula angustifolia ‘Nana Alba’ (pictured).

Height x spread: 30 x 30cm

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Agapanthus

Either evergreen or herbaceous, Agapanthus flower best when their roots are a little pot-bound, so they’re ideal for growing in a pot and neglecting. They will benefit from water and food in summer, but won’t need pruning – you can deadhead spent flowers or leave them to develop seedheads.

Height x spread: 60 x 45cm

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Rosemary

Rosemary, Rosmarinus officinalis, is hardy down to -15°C, and suffers more from winter wet than from frost. Grow in a container in full sun, making sure it has plenty of room to spread. Water initially to help it become established and then leave. Repot in two to three years.

Height x spread: 100 x 100cm

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Erysimum ‘Bowles’s Mauve’

Erysimum ‘Bowles’s Mauve’ is a short-lived, woody perennial that flowers throughout the year. You can deadhead spent blooms and trim to size but you don’t have to. Take summer cuttings to make new, young plants for when the parent plant dies off.

Height x spread: 100 x 100cm

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Sempervivum

There are hundreds of sempervivums to choose from. These hardy succulents will look pretty in a pot and require no watering or feeding. Plant them in full sun in well-drained soil, preferably in a container with added horticultural grit to aid drainage. Finish with a layer of gravel.

Height x spread: 20 x 30cm

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Echeveria

Echeveria are attractive succulents, usually grown in Britain as houseplants, but they can be grown outside in milder regions. They form an evergreen rosette of fleshy leaves. Grow in pots in well-drained compost, in a sunny position. Bring indoors in autumn to survive winter.

Height x spread: 20 x 30cm

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How to keep your pots looking fresh

  • Deadhead spent blooms
  • Remove dead and diseased leaves
  • Mulch annually with a layer of compost
  • Top-dress with gravel or slate to prevent weeds

Watering can
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