Container Flower Gardening

Pelargoniums and bacopa
Zonal geraniums and bacopa in a window box

Many annual and perennial flowers are well suited for growing in containers. Even some smaller shrubs and trees can be grown in containers.

Bloom, foliage color, and form should be top considerations when choosing plants for growing in pots, window boxes, or other containers.

Length of bloom and ability to withstand periodic and sometimes erratic watering are also important considerations.

Just as there are seasons in the garden, there are seasons in container gardens. Choose plants that flower in the seasons you will be closest to your container garden—whether it’s summer on the patio or winter in the sunroom.

Purple petunias, yellow daisies, and red verbena in a hanging basket

Choosing Plants for Containers

A satisfying container flower design should include:

  • Blooms that last for several weeks or longer.
  • Foliage is attractive and interesting for months at a time.
  • The overall form is suitable for a container.
  • Roots that don’t mind being crowded.
  • Moderate drought tolerance should the container go dry.
  • Plant size to scale of the container.

Solo Plant in Containers

A single plant growing alone in a container can have an impact and make a design statement. Choose plants that are full, healthy, and colorful—either blooms or colorful foliage

Choose plants that will grow in scale with the container. Small pots want small plants; large pots want large plants. Look at plant labels or descriptions to know the size of the plant at maturity; put that plant in a pot that can accommodate that size.

A terracotta garden planter filled with impatiens and lobelia
A terracotta garden planter filled with impatiens and lobelia

Combining Plants in Containers

Combining flowering plants in a container requires just a tad of design sense. Here’s an easy rule of thumb for combining plants in a container: plant at least three different plants—one tall and spiky, one low and trailing, and one of medium height to fill between the tall and short one.

Follow a color scheme when combining blooming plants. Use a color wheel to make good choices—choose flowers that are either complementary or contrasting. Complementary colors are close to each other on the color wheel; contrasting colors are opposite each other on the color wheel.

Foliage color, texture, and size should also be considered. Again, use the color wheel when looking at foliage color. Choose plants with foliage sizes, shapes, and textures that are either complementary or contrasting as well.

Always consider each plant’s size at maturity when combining plants in a container. Make sure there is enough room for the full size and root growth of each plant.

Always consider the sunlight and water needs of each plant used in combination; all sun plants, all shade plants, plants that need little to moderate water, plants that need lots of water.


Container Planting Basics

Keep the following in mind when planting in containers:

  • Use high-quality potting soil; don’t use regular garden soil.
  • Make sure the pots are clean; used pots should be cleaned with a solution of water and a dash of chlorine bleach.
  • Make sure pots have drainage holes.
  • Moisten the potting soil ahead of planting.
  • Loosen plant root balls when planting.
  • Firm the soil in around the roots and water again.

Plants for Containers

Here are some plants to get you started container flower gardening:

Tall Flowers for Containers

Common NameBotanical Name
Bells of IrelandMoluccella laevis
CelosiaCelosia spp.
CannaCanna hybrids
DelphiniumDelphinium elatum
Flax, New ZealandPhormium spp.
Flowering tobaccoNicotiana spp.
Salvia, annual blueSalvia farinacea
SnapdragonAntirrhinum majus
Spider flowerCleome hassleriana

Medium Height Flowers for Containers

Common NameBotanical Name
AgeratumAgeratum houstonianum
Begonia, variousBegonia spp.
Dusty millerSenecio cineraria
Flowering cabbage, kaleBrassica oleracea
Geranium, upright typesPelargonium spp.
Globe amaranthGomphrena globosa
HeliotropeHeliotropium arborescens
ImpatiensImpatiens spp.
MarigoldTagetes spp.
PansyViola spp.
Tuberous begoniaBegonia x tuberhybrida
Vinca, annualCatharanthus roseus
Wishbone, flowerTorenia fournieri
ZinniaZinnia spp.

Low, Trailing Flowers for Containers

Common NameBotanical Name
Dahlberg, daisyThymophylla tenuiloba
Edging lobeliaLobelia erinus
Fan flowerScaveola aemula
FuchsiaFuchsia spp.
Geranium, ivy typePelargonium spp.
LantanaLantana camara
Licorice plantHelichrysum petiolare
NasturtiumTrapaeolum majus
PetuniaPetunia spp.
Swan River daisyBrachycome iberidifolia
Sweet alyssumLobularia maritima
Sweet peaLathyrus odoratus
Sweet potato vineIpomea batatas
Verbena, trailing formsVerbena spp.

Drought-Tolerant Plants for Containers

Common NameBotanical Name
AgapanthusAgapanthus spp.
ArtemisiaArtemisia spp.
Dusty millerSenecio cineraria
Geranium, annualPelargonium spp.
Flax, New ZealandPhormium spp.
Hens and chicksSempervivum spp.
LantanaLantana spp.
Licorice plantHelichrysum petiolare
Moss rosePortulaca spp.
Salvia, annual blueSalvia farinacea
Sedum, variousSedum spp.
ThymeThymus spp.
VerbenaVerbena spp.
YuccaYucca filamentosa

drought tolerant plants

Drought-Tolerant Gardens

Hummingbirds fuchsia

Flowers That Attract Birds and Butterflies