Growing Alpines in Troughs
Rob Potterton, from Potterton's Nursery in Lincolnshire, with a step-by-step guide to creating and planting an alpine trough. - 09 March 2023
I am often asked for advice on how to grow alpines in troughs but the advice I am about to give also covers using all manner of containers from traditional stone troughs, clay pots and plastic or wooden planters, I have even used a pair of old, discarded walking boots!
Your container MUST have a drainage hole - it is surprising how often this simple point is overlooked. Instead of creating a beautiful miniature garden you finish with a muddy swimming pool and dead plants. To protect the function of the hole, place large angular gravel or similar over it, before adding your compost.
I would recommend using John Innes Number 2. The surface of the soil should be blinded off with small horticulture grit after planting.
Next, it’s important to consider where you want to position your trough - to grow alpines well, it needs to be in a well-ventilated location with a sunny aspect, somewhere that receives at least 50% daytime sunlight and good light the remainder of the day. If your aspect receives 100% this is still possible but will affect the types of alpines that you select. If your garden is shaded then alpines are not recommended, you could instead grow dwarf ericaceous plants, using an acid compost.
In addition to plants, you may also consider including a few small stones to imitate a rocky mountainside or possibly a crevice garden or tufa for the more adventurous.
When selecting your plants, it is vital to choose slow-growing varieties that have much interest & colour all year round, varied flowering periods and a variety of texture & form or colour of foliage, all these add to a visually pleasing trough. The plants should also complement each other rather than compete. You could include one bulb variety that offers flowers in January or February or September to October to extend your flowering season but remember bulbs are usually dormant for most of the year. A specialist alpine nursery can give you good advice or make a selection for you and we would happily bring a collection of plants to any fair that we attend. Or search our mail order catalogues or web site to make your own selection.
Aftercare: Water regularly after first planting for a few weeks, dependant on the weather and remember to always water during dry spells, as troughs dry out quickly. Apart from weeding (yes even troughs can get weeds 😊) they need little attention once the plants are established and should last for at least 5 to 7 years.
Potterton's Nursery is a traditional, family-run specialist nursery established in 1971 which grows and supplies an extensive selection of alpines, dwarf bulbs and woodland plants. Plants are by MAIL ORDER and at the many shows that they attend throughout the UK, or directly from Their nursery (check website for opening times). They are winners of 7 Chelsea Gold medals and many other awards.
All text and photos copyright the author.