If you are like many other gardeners out there, you have run out of room in your garden beds. Don’t worry; you can create more space by adopting something we refer to as container gardening. The secret to container gardening is choosing the right shrubs for containers.
Placing outdoor plants in pots allows you to create more space for your shrubs. The containers let you beautify your decks, patios, and other areas where plants can’t grow in the ground. Keeping plants in a container is far different than planting in the ground. Most containers offer excellent drainage, so the soil is never too wet, but everything else is left up to you.
You must ensure the plant is receiving the water and nutrients it needs, which means following fertilizing guidelines and routinely checking the soil for dryness. Not all plants are suited for container life, but many are hardy and provide a splash of color with their beautiful foliage.
Types of Container Gardening
With container shrubs, there are two ways you can go about planning them. The first type of planting for container gardening is called temporary planting. This kind of planting involves picking shrubs for containers that are only going to stay for a few weeks to a few months.
Temporary planting allows you to showcase your outdoor plants in pots in various aspects of your yard. It also allows you the ability to mix and match your containers to create a variety of landscape styles in your backyard. Even better, these container plants can be planted directly into the ground at the end of the season rather than throwing them in the garbage.
The other type of planting is known as permanent planting. As the name suggests, these shrubs stay in containers for several years. Continuous container plants act as year-round decorations on porches, patios, etc. The only thing to remember when choosing the best plants for pots all year round is that they will always be outside.
Container plants are not meant to move indoors and outdoors, as they need the intense sunlight and fresh air to thrive inside the container. The best outdoor plants for pots are the ones recommended for your hardiness zone or even one or two zones hardier than where you live.
Choosing the Right Container for Your Shrubs
No matter if you are doing temporary or permanent planting, you need to select the right container for shrubs staying outside. Look for a weatherproof pot when choosing something for permanent plantings. You need something that is not going to rust, crack, chip, or flake when left outdoors in the winter.
What this means is staying away from ceramic, clay, or terra cotta pots. Materials are not a concern with temporary planters as you remove the plant at the end of the season.
Size, which includes width and depth, is also essential when selecting the best one for your outdoor plants. You need something large enough to allow the outdoor plants you choose to continue growing for your permanent shrubs.
Smaller planters dry out quickly, making them harder to maintain year round. With a temporary planter, find something large enough to fit your garden design.
Watering Tips for Container Shrubs
All plants need water to thrive, and the bigger your plant grows, the more water it needs. Pots tend to dry out quickly in hot weather, so consider purchasing a self-watering container.
You might also wish to use a drip irrigation system, but hand watering will work if you can keep up on the task. Drainage holes are something else to keep in mind. If your planter doesn’t have them and your plant requires excellent drainage, you can drill some depending on the material.
Do Container Plants Need Particular Soil and Fertilizer?
For your potted plants, you can use regular potting soil; you don’t need anything too fancy. Potting soil is preferred as it is lightweight and promotes healthy root growth since it offers excellent drainage.
Permanent plants require fertilization after the first growing season. Most flowery shrubs require a granular fertilizer applied in the early spring.
Winterizing Your Outdoor Plants in Pots and Other Maintenance Tips
Your temporary plants will need rehoming at least six weeks before the ground freezes. Permanent plants need a nice layer of mulch over the root zone year-round, but make sure it is in place before winter arrives. A two or three-inch layer of mulch keeps soil moisture consistent and will protect the roots during the cold winter.
If you live in areas that don’t freeze, check plants every two weeks to see if they require water. If the ground does freeze, check the plant if the weather warms up enough to thaw the ground before spring arrives.
Once spring comes, give your plant a few weeks for buds to appear. Once they start to show, trim off any wood that remains lifeless. If your plant shows signs of stunted flowering or isn’t growing right, it needs transplanting to a larger container or planting in your raised garden beds.
17 Easy-to-Grow Shrubs for Containers
Golden Sword (Yucca filamentosa) – Low Maintenance Container Shrub
One of the great things about Golden Sword is how well it works in containers, as it can be paired with various plants. The Golden Sword has sword-like leaves that grow to about 2 inches wide. The leaves of the plant provide a golden center with thin dark green margins with edges that curl slightly.
The Gold Spike plant grows to about 3 feet tall and 3 feet wide and features an architectural shape. Even inside a container, be careful where you place your planter. Yucca does best in sunny and dry conditions but tolerates a little shade.
Creamy white flowers bloom from the center of the plant during the summer. These flowers emerge on stalks that range in height from 3 to 6 feet, so plan where you are placing the planter.
Green Mountain (Buxus)
When not planted in a container the Green Mountain reaches heights of 5 feet with a width of 3 feet. Keeping it in a container allows you to keep it at a more manageable size, as it won’t grow to its full potential. Like other plants in your container garden, placement is essential with the Green Mountain evergreen shrub.
It needs to be tucked away in partially shaded locations where it won’t feel the damaging effects of strong winds. The shrub grows well in hardiness zones 4 through 9, but when planted in containers, rotate it to prevent bare sides from lack of proper lighting.
A slow growing boxwood shrub, the Green Mountain keeps its dark green color even through the harsh winter. Its pyramid shape rather than a round shape allows it to stand out from other evergreen shrubs.
Golden Creeping Jenny (Lysimachia nummularia)
Golden Creeping Jenny is a great plant to pair with others inside of a container if you want something that won’t disappoint you. Golden Creeping Jenny grows well in zones 4 through 8 and is perfect for the edges of containers and pots as it drapes quite beautifully over the side.
Golden Creeping Jenny only grows to about 4 inches tall, so it does great in pots with taller plants. The Golden Creeping Jenny offers coin-shaped leaves that pair well with just about any other shrub.
The ideal location for this plant is an area with partial shade, although it can handle full sun. Water requirements are high for this shrub. Keep the soil evenly moist; if placed in full sun, check the earth regularly to prevent it from drying out.
Best Plant for Outdoor Pots – Japanese Pieris (Pieris japonica)
A deer resistant shrub, Japanese Pieris provides color year-round. Evergreen foliage is present each season, but it is the flower buds that make this shrub a great addition to any container. During the colder winter months, the flower buds appear dark red to a pink color as they start to open.
The blossoms are shaped like urns, develop in the early spring and naturally drape over the edges of containers. This flowering evergreen shrub grows well in zones 6 through 8 but needs protection from cold winter winds and the intense summer rays of the sun. It thrives in areas with full sun to partial shade and comes in many different forms, including compact types that offer a dense growth.
Emerald Arborvitae (Thuja occidentalis)
If you are looking for something that provides color all year long and serves as a focal point for any container, consider the Emerald Arborvitae. The plant sits upright, so it works well as a vertical accent in a variety of containers with a long-lasting green color all through the winter. The Emerald Arborvitae’s unique shape and its textured foliage make it a favorable companion shrub for a variety of plants.
Planting this evergreen inside a container ensures it stays well under its maximum size of 15 feet tall and 4 feet wide. When deciding on a location, look for an area that receives full sun to partial shade for optimal growth. It is also a great choice if you are looking for privacy plants for pots.
Fuldaglut Sedum (Sedum spurium)
If you want something that works well in small gardens, look no further than the Fuldagult which grows well in zones 4 through 9. The dominant feature of this small shrub is the bronze-red leaf color that changes to red during the winter months. Fuldaglut Sedum offers larger leaves than other species in the family, and the scalloped foliage is paired with cerise blooms for three weeks during the late summer.
Reaching only 6 inches tall and 12 inches wide, this plant is an excellent addition to the edges of containers. The plant requires excellent drainage and does best when located in full sun, but also grows quite well in partial shade.
Japanese Maple (Acer palmatum) – Outdoor Plants in Pots
Whether you want to grow a bonsai specimen or use the Japanese Maple as part of a larger container, you can find something that works with one of the hundreds of varieties. Color choices for Japanese Maples range from green to purple foliage to everything in between. This tree grows from 8 to 30 feet tall and wide and does quite well in zones 5 through 8.
The Japanese Maple doesn’t do well in heat and is best known for its beautiful fall colors. These trees only grow about two feet a year, and the growth rate slows down drastically as they mature.
These trees leaf out early, so late cold snaps are not beneficial. For containers, pick a smaller variety, although these trees will top out on growth if roots are confined.
Daphne (Daphne burkwoodii)
As flowering shrubs, the Daphne is well known for brightly colored berries and pleasantly scented flowers. Two of the best choices for containers in your yard are the Briggs Moonlight and Carol Mackie.
The Carol Mackie reaches up to three feet tall and about the same width. These plants require partial shade to partial sun to thrive. The spring flowers range from white to light pink and do best in well-draining soil that is kept slightly moist.
Daphne shrubs are poisonous, so do not plant if young children or pets frequent your garden. Daphnes grow best in zones 4 through 9 and are classified as deciduous rather than evergreen despite some species maintaining their leaves in winter in colder areas.
Crape Myrtle (Lagerstroemia indica)
These small trees are known for their showy flowers in the summertime, their beautiful fall colors, and their bark. For the best display of colors, these trees do well in areas with long, crisp autumns. Sudden freezes followed by warm weather disrupt the fall show of colors.
Crape Myrtle requires pruning in the winter or early spring before new growth. When pruning these trees or shrubs, remove all twiggy growth, crossing branches, basal suckers, and branches growing towards the center.
To display the bark, remove side branches gradually no more than 5 feet in height. Dwarf varieties need pruning throughout the growing season.
The Indica Crape Myrtle is drought-tolerant, so it does well in the Southern heat as long as it is in well-draining soil. The narrow dark green leaves reach up to 2 ½ inches long and turn bright orange to red color in the fall. Purple, red, white, or pink flowers appear in dense clusters during the spring and have a crinkled appearance.
Best Container Plant – Butterfly Bush (Buddleia davidii)
For containers, opt for the dwarf variety of this fast-growing shrub that blooms from summer to fall and is known for attracting butterflies and birds. This shrub is available in a variety of colors, but to attract butterflies, opt for the mauve-colored species. In Zone 8, 9, and 10 these shrubs stay green all year but can survive in zone 5, 6, and 7.
These plants require full sun with fertile, well-draining soil. When planting in a container, ensure the root ball is level with the soil surface.
These shrubs should be planted well before the first frost of the year and need thorough watering after planting. Remove dead flower spikes from the bush to encourage new shoots and buds.
Sweetspire (Itea virginica)
Sweetspire offers clusters of white flowers with a sweet fragrance set against dark green foliage. As the seasons change, the green foliage turns a stunning red-purple color that lasts well into the winter. Plant the dwarf variety in containers that are in full sun or areas with a little shade.
These low maintenance shrubs grow well in zones 5 to 9. This moderately growing shrub requires regular watering. Soil needs to be well draining but must stay moist for optimal growth.
Once it is established, the bush can withstand drought and bog conditions. Shrubs should be fertilized in spring before new growth appears. Root suckers need removing to prevent the plant from spreading.
Hydrangea (Hydrangea macrophylla)
Aside from their large heads of flowers, Hydrangeas are well known for how easy they are to grow as they can tolerate just about any soil conditions. Flower colors when these shrubs bloom in the summer and fall range from blue, pink, green, purple, white, and red, and sometimes you get a variety of colors on a single bush. Hardiness zones for Hydrangeas range from 3 to 9.
Place these shrubs in pots that receive full sun in the morning and shade in the afternoon. These shrubs grow from a root ball or a cutting that has not flowered. Water regularly for the first two years; once established, you can cut back on watering.
Do not prune this shrub after August 1. All dead wood should be cut away in fall or early spring.
Ninebark (Physocarpus opulifolius) – Container Shrubs
If you are after a versatile shrub that is native to North America, look no further than the Ninebark. This shrub gets its name from the bark having nine layers that can peel away. Ninebark is a popular choice for outdoor pots as it can handle a variety of growing conditions except for the hottest climates.
Ninebark features reddish or dark green leaves that are four inches long. The leaves go together to create an arched cascade. White or pink flowers appear in clusters in the late spring, while the red fruit appears closer to the fall.
The plant requires full sun but will tolerate partial shade. Pruning, if needed, is done after flowering occurs.
Bergenia (Bergenia cordifolia)
The bold leaves of the Bergenia shrub add something to containers. The oval-shaped leaves are a glossy green color and range in size from 10 to 20 inches long. The leaves change from a bright green to burgundy in the fall.
Early in the spring, you will notice some pink blossoms that look similar to hyacinths. These flowers are on top of stalks that grow from 12 to 15 inches long.
This shrub grows well in zones 3 through 8 and does best growing in areas of light shade or full sun. Many gardeners report they have better luck growing this shrub inside pots than they do in flower beds. Reasons behind it may be because of the better drainage provided in containers.
Red-Twig Dogwood (Cornus alba)
This bigger shrub grows well in zones 2 through 8 and does quite well in containers. These bushes grow up to 24 inches wide and work well as a single focal point in containers along walkways or as borders. When caring for this shrub, you will notice that the deeper colors appear on the younger stems.
Prune back old branches in the early spring and locate the container in areas that get no more than half shade, but full sun is preferred. The leaves of the Red-Twig Dogwood feature a gray-green center with white margins.
The red stems of the plant stand out in the winter, markedly so when placed with an evergreen serving as a backdrop. Despite its beauty, this shrub is known to attract Japanese beetles during the hot summer months.
Best Shrub for Outdoor Pots – Coral Bells (Heuchera)
This low growing perennial is the perfect companion plant in containers with taller plants. What allows Heucheras to stand out is their showy foliage that features silver veins passing through leaves that are green or purple. These plants grow well in zones 3 through 8 and do exceptionally well in pots because of the well-draining soil.
For those who are worried about wintering their plants, you will enjoy Heucheras as they recover quickly after winter. These shrubs grow in a mounded form and can spread to an 18-inch diameter.
Flowers on these mounds range from red, white, or pink and can grow in full shade or full sun. Too much sun will wash out the leaves color, however, and these plants do best in moist soil conditions.
Lemon (Citrus × limon)
To grow a fruit tree in a container, lemons are an excellent choice. Note that these trees can only be kept outside year-round in zones 10 and 11. For other areas, move the plant indoors for the winter to protect it from the cold and frost.
A tropical tree, lemons prefer the warmest climates, so find an area that has very few drafts and a lot of sun. For kitchens and balconies, you will do best with the Meyer Lemon variety, but other types will work as lemon trees don’t get very large.
Choose a container that is 25% bigger than the root ball and offers excellent drainage, as lemon trees do not enjoy soggy soil. Lemon trees need to be repotted every couple of years during the beginning of spring in a pot that is a size bigger than the previous one.
Keep in mind that you can also grow many vegetables in containers to have fresh produce all year. Choose from spinach and lettuce, tomatoes, and more, as some of the best vegetables for containers.
Thank you for learning about the small space garden plants with us. If you liked any of our ideas for low maintenance outdoor potted plants, please take a minute to share the best shrubs for containers with your friends and family on Facebook and Pinterest.