Get plant choices right for pot luck

MORE THE MERRIER: Succulents make excellent pot buddies.
MORE THE MERRIER: Succulents make excellent pot buddies.

Plants in pots can be hard work. They dry out, get starved of nutrients, get pot bound or just turn up their heels and die. But choose the right plant for the right pot, and put it in the right position, and you will have much more success.

Pots are usually placed in extreme conditions like full sun or heavy shade, so here's my tips for success in these two conditions.

You know the saying "monkey see, monkey do", well I like to apply it to the garden. Look at neighbours' potted plants that are doing well and select similar plants. Lots of people I know have roses in pots. They survive but very rarely thrive. In full sun, my tips would be herbs, leafy vegetables, flowering annuals, bougainvillea, flax, grasses and small citrus.

Plants like chives, basil, mint and oregano will love a spot next to the barbecue in full sun. Keep the water up to them in the warmer months and don't let them go to seed and you could keep them all year round in warmer areas.

Potted colour and annuals, such as pansies in winter and petunias in summer, are a great way to bring splashes of colour to balconies and courtyards that need a lift. Feed them with a fast-working liquid fertiliser like Uplift or Seasol for fast results.

Bougainvillea, if you can live with its hooks, loves it hot and on the dry side and can handle the harshest conditions. Bougainvilleas are very hardy and grow in all but the coldest areas of Australia. It's the same with New Zealand flax. Tough and hardy, they can add year-round colour with their foliage and they look amazing in tall narrow pots spilling out over the edge.

But my favourite and probably the most popular choice for full sun is succulents - plants like agaves, echeverias and bromeliads. Their amazing ability to survive drought and heat nearly makes them indestructible. Their foliage is interesting, with lots of amazing patterns and shapes, as well as endless colours to choose from. Lots flower and look their best in late autumn and early winter, at a time when the garden might need a lift.

In the shade, go for plants like cliveas, daphne, camellias, azaleas, palms and ferns, plants that will look their best without midday and afternoon sun. I'm not saying no sun at all, but these plants will function well on a couple of hours sunlight each day.

All plants, whether in full sun or heavy shade, still need a good quality potting mix. It should be free-draining and have slow-release fertilisers with extra goodies like water crystals to supply the plant the food and water it needs.

Cliveas, with their dark-green foliage and their bright-orange flowers, love pots and are low maintenance. The only work to do with them is remove the spent flower heads.

Another good flowering plant in shade is daphne. It actually loves being in a pot because it hates wet feet and will suffer from root rot. With good-quality potting mix, the sweet smelling flowers are a wonderful perfume in any courtyard.

Traditional formal plants like camellias, azaleas and gardenias will do well in pots. Camellia sasanquas (the ones with smaller leaves) do well in part shade and camellia japonica (the ones with larger leaves) do well in heavier shaded positions.

My favourite potted plant for a shady spot is the rhapis palm. It's slow growing, clumping and bamboo-like with lush dark green leaves. It's a great screening plant for a balcony or verandah.

Nearly all palms and ferns do well in pots, so whether it's for colour, foliage, contrast or privacy there's a plant for a pot for you.

Mother Nature may not have invented the pot but she has helped produce plants for all environments.