Robin, Erithacus rubecula: adult, sitting on flowerpot in garden

Hanging baskets, planters and tubs

Tubs and planters are versatile and can allow even the smallest of gardens to grow wildlife friendly plants.

Tubs and planters for wildlife

Tubs, planters and hanging baskets can be used to grow a variety of climbers and small shrubs, perennials, annual plants and vegetables. You can even grow a small lawn, wild flower meadow or arable flowers in a container!

  • Arrange tubs of different shapes, heights and sizes in groups and use plants of varying growth characteristics. This retains humidity and mimics the variation in height and structure found in the wild.
  • Large tubs can support a small standard shrub or tree. There are many varieties available that have been grafted onto dwarf rootstocks. These may be under planted with a variety of other lower shrubs or herbaceous plants and annuals. This also helps reduce moisture loss.
  • Climbers are easy to grow in tubs, as they take up minimal space and can be grown against a wall or trained up and over a balcony railing. They can act as a windshield and reduce the drying effect on the other plants in the tubs, as well as providing shelter. Their beautiful flowers provide colour and scent.
  • Maximise the benefit of your plants by growing varieties attractive to insects and some fruiting shrubs or small trees. Try to include at least one or two native varieties. By careful planning, it may be possible to have something in flower for most of the year. Always use peat free composts - there are many brands on the market.
  • Containers are not just restricted to growing shrubs and flowering plants. You may like to consider growing vegetables and salads individually in tubs, or mixed with the other plants you are growing.
  • Many attractive water features have been designed around one or two tubs or containers, or even an old bath or sink! Remember to include a sloping edge for somewhere safe for birds to drink or bathe. A modest-sized water feature can attract damselflies and other water insects.
  • Features normally associated with larger gardens that you may like to try with planters are lawns, flower meadows, arable plants or deadwood.
Close up of garden container planting, Surrey

Special care for container grown plants

There is no natural supply of nutrients, so they need a small application of fertiliser once or twice a year.

If you have room for a small compost bin, homemade compost will help. Compost can be used as mulch to retain soil moisture and reduce the amount of artificial fertiliser needed.

Containers need regular watering. If you have room, you could set up a water butt, or use waste household water from washing. You could try to use drought resistant varieties, particularly if your terrace is south-facing.

How hanging baskets can make important habitats

Hanging baskets are very popular and can be hung in the smallest garden or courtyard. They can be surprisingly good for wildlife too.

You can create hanging baskets full of gorgeous summer annuals and have other baskets that last throughout the year.

If you can, choose native plants as these attract the most wildlife. However, many non-native species are rich in nectar and draw in plenty of insects.

Make the most of your garden

  • Experiment with your hanging baskets – many plants that attract insects will happily grow as long as you water and feed them regularly. Try using marigolds, Verbena, petunias, fuchsias, heathers, dead-nettles, pelargoniums, ivy and nasturtiums.
  • Protect winter baskets in harsh weather.   
  • Some birds, such as the spotted flycatcher, will sometimes nest in hanging baskets.

How window boxes can make good habitats

Window boxes can be good for wildlife. Even if you don’t have a garden you can still plant one up, and you’ll get a great view of the small creatures that visit.

Many plants, bulbs and even small shrubs will grow happily in a window box as long as you water and feed them regularly.

Make the most of your garden

  • Choose native plants as these attract the most species.
  • Include some plants that flower early and late and insects will visit in spring and autumn as well as summer.
  • Experiment with your window boxes. Try a herb garden, a meadow patch or use low-growing woodland plants (in a shady spot).    
  • Ladybirds and other insects use sheltered places, such as window boxes, to hibernate.