Growing Plants in Containers

annuals in containerannuals in container

Most annual flowers, perennials, herbs, and vegetables grow well in containers, as long as you choose the right pot and care for the plants properly. We'll guide you in how to choose containers, choose soil for your containers, proper planting techniques, and how to care for your container plants. 

There are many benefits to growing in containers:

  • You can grow plants wherever you want, as long as the light conditions match the plants' needs.
  • You can use your creativity in mixing and matching containers and plants.
  • You can grow plants that aren't hardy in your region, because you can move pots to a sheltered location during cold weather.
  • You can provide the optimal soil type for your plants. If your garden soil is heavy clay, you can grow plants that prefer well-drained soil, like lavender and rosemary, in pots filled with a fast-draining potting mix.
  • You can enjoy the beauty and fragrance of herbs and flowers close up, and harvest fresh produce right from your doorstep.
 

Choosing Containers

Drainage. First and foremost, make sure your container has drainage holes. If you'll be placing the container on a solid surface, make sure the drainage holes aren't blocked. If they are, try placing the planter on "pot feet," casters or on a tray of pebbles. The number one rule of container growing: Water must be able to drain freely.

Material.Water evaporates through the walls of porous containers, like those made from unglazed terra cotta and wood. That usually means you'll need to water more often than plants in nonporous pots. But the porosity can be a good thing for plants that prefer soil on the dry side, like most succulents. Nonporous pots, like those made from plastic, resin and glazed terra cotta, hold in moisture better.

Self-Watering. Self-watering pots contain a water reservoir and wicking system so water is delivered to the plants as they need it. This not only reduces the frequency with which you'll need to add water, it also provides a better growing environment for plants by providing consistent moisture.

Size. In general, small pots dry out more quickly that large pots. Those little unglazed terra cotta pots look lovely but may need watering multiple times on a hot, sunny day. Placing a nonporous plastic pot within a porous pot helps retain moisture. Very large containers, on the other hand, can retain too much water for small plants or those that prefer relatively dry soil. You'll need to check soil moisture before watering so you don't overdo it.

Choosing Soil for Your Containers

Use a high-quality potting soil in your containers. Don't use garden soil, which often drains poorly and may contain disease organisms. Remember that the plants' roots are confined to a relatively limited space so you want to give them everything they need for optimum growth.

Planting Techniques

Don't overcrowd vegetables, herbs and perennials in the containers. Consider their mature size and choose the pots accordingly. Overcrowded containers lead to root-bound plants and the poor air circulation around crowded plants can lead to diseases problems.

Set plants in the container at the same height as they were in their nursery pots. Don't leave roots exposed, and don't bury stems. Plant seeds at the recommended garden depth.

Care and Feeding

The biggest difference between plants growing in containers and those growing in the ground is that container plants will need more frequent watering and fertilizing, because the roots are confined and have limited soil from which to take up water and nutrients.

As with all garden plants, you'll need to keep an eye out for pest and disease problems, but container plants are often less prone to infestation and infection. Sitting on a deck or patio, they're isolated from garden plants, and they aren't exposed to the soil-borne pests in the garden.

Container Happy Plants

  1. Silky Deep Red Tropical Milkweed, Asclepias curassavica, with butterfly, Photo Credit - Quartl

    'Silky Deep Red' Tropical Milkweed produces eye-catching, red-orange flowers with yellow centers. A valuable source of nutrition for Monarch butterflies, this lush beauty carries an ...

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    Silky Deep Red Tropical Milkweed Silky Deep Red Tropical Milkweed, Bloodflower Asclepias curassavica Silky Deep Red
    As low as $16.98 Sale $8.49
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    'Silky Deep Red' Tropical Milkweed produces eye-catching, red-orange flowers with yellow centers. A valuable source of nutrition for Monarch butterflies, this lush beauty carries an air of exotic mystery when planted as an annual in cooler zones. Young foliage has reddish tones adding to the variety’s distinctive beauty. Flowers from late spring to late fall. (Asclepias curassavica)
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  2. Daybreak Coreopsis Li′l Bang™ Series, Coreopsis verticillata Daybreak Li'l Bang™ Series, photo courtesy of Walter's Garden

    Though small in stature, Li'l Bang™ 'Daybreak' Coreopsis packs a powerful punch with a profusion of fiery yellow and red blooms. This low-maintenance, adaptable, drought-toleran...

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    Li'l Bang™ Daybreak Coreopsis Li'l Bang™ Daybreak Coreopsis PP#26138 Coreopsis Li'l Bang™ Daybreak PP#26138
    $15.98 Sale $7.99
    Per Plant - 3" Pot
    Though small in stature, Li'l Bang™ 'Daybreak' Coreopsis packs a powerful punch with a profusion of fiery yellow and red blooms. This low-maintenance, adaptable, drought-tolerant perennial features all the qualities you expect from Coreopsis in a versatile compact form. Liven up a border, edge a walkway, and make containers pop with this reliable pollinator-friendly perennial.
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  3. Black Eyed Susan Goldsturm, Rudbeckia in bloom in perennial garden

    'Goldsturm' Black Eyed Susan brings a burst of showy color to the full-sun garden. Golden yellow, daisy-like petals surround nectar-rich, brown center 'buttons' set atop deep green f...

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    Goldsturm Black Eyed Susan Black Eyed Susan Goldsturm Rudbeckia fulgida Goldsturm
    As low as $9.98 Sale $4.99
    Per Plant - 3" Pot
    'Goldsturm' Black Eyed Susan brings a burst of showy color to the full-sun garden. Golden yellow, daisy-like petals surround nectar-rich, brown center 'buttons' set atop deep green foliage. Unbothered by most pests, poor soils, drought and humidity, 'Goldsturm' is easygoing and the perfect addition to flower arrangements and pollinator gardens. Deer resistant and long-lasting. (Rudbeckia fulgida)
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  4. Japanese Sedge Grass Everillo filling out a container planting

    EverColor 'Everillo' Sedge Grass shines with golden foliage that lights up the shade garden. Part of the popular EverColor Series, foliage emerges lime green and shifts to a sunny ye...

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    EverColor® Everillo Sedge Grass Everillo Japanese Sedge Grass PP#21002 Carex oshimensis EverColor® Everillo PP#21002
    As low as $24.98 Sale $12.49
    Per Plant - 3.5" Pot
    EverColor 'Everillo' Sedge Grass shines with golden foliage that lights up the shade garden. Part of the popular EverColor Series, foliage emerges lime green and shifts to a sunny yellow, adding vibrant texture and year-long color to the landscape. A versatile, low-maintenance groundcover or edging plant for wet or dry shade. Perfect for edging woodland pathways and shady planting beds. Add 'Everillo' to containers and window boxes for evergreen color and lush texture. Deer resistant. (Carex oshimensis)
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  5. Creeping Speedwell, Veronica prostrata

    Forming a low mat of attractive foliage and flowers, Creeping Veronica is an easy-care groundcover that even tolerates light foot traffic. From late spring through early summer, spik...

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    Creeping Veronica Creeping Speedwell Veronica prostrata
    As low as $15.98 Sale $7.99
    Per Plant - 3" Pot
    Forming a low mat of attractive foliage and flowers, Creeping Veronica is an easy-care groundcover that even tolerates light foot traffic. From late spring through early summer, spikes of tiny, pale to dark blue flowers form on upright stems, brightening the garden and attracting pollinators. This versatile Veronica will gently form a deer-and-rabbit-resistant groundcover, without invading the garden. (Veronica)
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  6. Lavender Munstead, Lavandula angustifolia Close Up

    'Munstead' Lavender is an English Lavender that has fragrant, cool lavender-blue spikes and gray-green, mounded foliage. You can tuck this lavender into your herb garden, but we lov...

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    Munstead English Lavender English Lavender Munstead Lavandula angustifolia Munstead
    As low as $9.98 Sale $4.99
    Per Plant - 3" Pot
    'Munstead' Lavender is an English Lavender that has fragrant, cool lavender-blue spikes and gray-green, mounded foliage. You can tuck this lavender into your herb garden, but we love it planted with other colorful perennials in borders, planted in a massive swath where it can sway in the breeze, or set in a pot on the patio where you can enjoy its pleasant scent. Excellent in fresh or dried bouquets. (Lavandula angustifolia)
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  7. Deep Purple Hydrangea blooms turn into a deep purple for the season

    Deep Purple™ Hydrangea lives up to its name, covered with the richest purple blossoms of any hydrangea. Each blossom begins a chartreuse green color, opening to a deep violet hue. ...

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    Deep Purple™ Hydrangea Deep Purple™ Hydrangea PP#28,940 Hydrangea Deep Purple™ PP#28,940
    $29.98 Sale $14.99
    Per Plant - 3.5" Pot
    Deep Purple™ Hydrangea lives up to its name, covered with the richest purple blossoms of any hydrangea. Each blossom begins a chartreuse green color, opening to a deep violet hue. Early blooming and long-lasting flower heads provide months of color in the summer garden, and look stunning in bouquets and vases. Plants form a compact mound, perfect for large containers to decorate porches and patios. Strong stems support oversized mophead blooms above dark green foliage. (Hydrangea macrophylla)
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