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Using Perennials and Shrubs as Container Plants

Using Perennials and Shrubs as Container Plants

When it comes to container gardening there is a big emphasis on getting a quick fix of colour – nurseries are full of bowls of pansies in spring, salvias in summer and mums in fall. Annual flowers in full bloom are an easy way to spruce up your doorstep, but plants with a longer lifespan – shrubs and perennials – are equally worthy of container culture. They bloom year after year and are larger, helping to soften the space of a balcony, deck or patio with vegetation throughout the seasons.

Just like a well-designed yard, a well-designed container garden should have several layers of plants. They may mingle together in one container or each be presented in their own pot, in a grouping of several. Those vibrant annuals are great in the foreground while they are in bloom, but a few choice shrubs, especially evergreen ones, will form a verdant backdrop year round and a carefully curated selection of perennials provides a varying spray of colour and texture in spring, summer and fall in the mid-ground. Consider ferns for shady niches, ornamental grasses for exposed windy locations and succulents on hot south-facing walls.

Hardy Fern Succulent Planter Ornamental grass

The right size container for the plant is one of the most important considerations for keeping potted shrubs and perennials in good condition year after year. One gallon containers are fine for perennials in their first year, but most need a five gallon container to stay happy in the long term. For shrubs, five gallon containers suffice at first, but depending on their mature size, 15 gallon size pots or larger will eventually be necessary. Good quality soilless potting mix is important, though it should be refreshed every few years. Applying a balanced slow release fertilizer during the growing season goes a long way toward replacing the nutrients that are leached out of potting soil every time you water.

Matching your container plants to the sun exposure they will receive is the most important selection criteria, but it's also important to match them to each other, just like you would if you were laying out a garden bed. Hostas look great with hydrangeas, for example, but neither would pair well with a yucca plant – the woodsy look and the desert look just don't go together.

Hosta Patio Hydrangea Heuchera villosa Coral Bells Veronica repens Creeping Speedwell

Finally, the style of the container is just as important as anything else. If a cottage garden look is your thing, weathered wood planters and wine barrels might be the perfect fit to hold your roses and columbine. If postmodern chic is more your style, perhaps a Corten steel planter and a few glazed black pots planted with architectural grasses and a large agave or cycad would hit the mark.

Companion Plants

Potted Rose (Rosa hybrid) Patio Rose

Enjoy the beauty and elegance of roses in any sunny spot. Patio roses are perfectly sized for the deck, patio, doorway, or a bright balcony. Rearrange them through the season for a fresh look. Pots… More Details »

Patio Tomato (Lycopersicon esculentum)

Patio type tomato varieties are perfect not only for fitting limited space, but also for ease of access and care, especially when grown in containers. Their compact vines produce a full size… More Details »

Patio Tree

Create a beautiful landscape just about anywhere! Potted trees and shrubs are perfect for defining deck and patio areas to create privacy, adding a dimension of height among other patio planters, or… More Details »