Cape Town - Dry winds and the heat of summer are here, so it’s time to focus on decorating your patio, home and entrance with pots of waterwise shrubs and attractive colour. The easiest and quickest way to give your outdoor entertainment areas an instant and colourful “lift” is to add attractive containers filled with fast-growing and colourful annuals and perennials.

The same applies to the entrance area, where shade-loving annuals can be used to create that all-important welcoming first impression.

Containers can also be used to provide positive focal points in a newly planted or lacklustre border.

Never underestimate the 50 shades of green that vegetables and herbs can offer your colour scheme when you are planting containers. Hasten their effect by buying packs of ready-grown herbs and vegetable seedlings.

Look for the following vegetables that you can plant in containers this month: beans, beet, brinjals, broccoli, cabbages, carrots, cauliflower, celery, corn, cucumbers, gems, lettuce, leeks, marrows, peppers, potatoes, pumpkin, radish, Swiss chard, tomatoes and turnips. If you are looking for herbs, try basil, borage, parsley or thyme.

Designing with containers:

What can you do to perk up your home with containers? Consider these ideas this summer:

* For containers in sunny spots choose alyssum, lavatera, bedding dahlia, marigold, nasturtium, nicotiana, petunia, red and purple salvia, verbena and zinnia. Perennials such as colourful pelargoniums, gazanias and daisy bushes can also be used.

* For shady places choose begonias, coleus, lobelia and pansies. For height, plant a fuchsia in the centre of the container.

* On a large patio use a group of containers for more effect, and to soften the harshness of the area.

* Troughs can be used effectively along the edge of a patio or beside a pool.

* When buying annuals, look for compact, healthy plants. Plants that have been allowed to dry out should be rejected. Avoid plants that are pot bound, with roots showing beneath the seed tray or pot.

* For best effect, limit the number of colours to a maximum of three, and choose shades that harmonise or contrast with each other.

* A low container will focus attention on the plants, while a decorative pot can be as much a part of the display as the plants it holds.

* In hot, dry areas coat the inside of porous containers with a sealant to stop excessive moisture loss.

* Position broken terracotta shards and broken bricks or large stones at the bottom of the pot to ensure good drainage. Then put in a layer of decayed leaves before adding soil. Or make a ball of the plastic netting that fruit and vegetables are sold in, and use this at the base of the container.

* Charcoal prevents the pot plant soil from going sour and makes it friable. Use large pieces among the drainage material, and mix small pieces with the soil.

* Mix polymer granules (such as SaturAid) with the potting soil to help retain moisture. Leave a 2.5cm gap below the rim of the pot where water can collect and soak in.

* If you prefer, you can make potting soil. Mix two parts good gardening loam, one part well decomposed compost or leaf mould, and one part clean coarse sand. Add a handful of general fertiliser granules to a large container.

* Give both the seed tray and the prepared container a good watering before putting in plants.

* Water regularly and feed every two weeks with a foliar feed such as Multifeed P, Nitrosol or Supranure.

* Deadhead the plants regularly to encourage repeat flowering.

* Put Vaseline around the rim of the pot to make it difficult for snails to get to the plants.

- Weekend Argus