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. Sedum reflexum Angelina, Stonecrop

    Dwarf Stonecrop Angelina is an evergreen mat of needle-like foliage in chartreuse with tips turning reddish-orange in fall. Drought tolerant. PPAF (Sedum reflexum)...

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    Angelina Sedum Angelina Stonecrop (Patent Pending) Sedum rupestre Angelina (Patent Pending)
    As low as $7.99 Sale $5.99
    Per Plant - 3" Pot
    Dwarf Stonecrop Angelina is an evergreen mat of needle-like foliage in chartreuse with tips turning reddish-orange in fall. Drought tolerant. PPAF (Sedum reflexum)
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  2. Dragon's Blood Sedum

    Create a charismatic carpet of changing colors with 'Dragon's Blood' Sedum. Growing only 4 to 6 inches tall, the succulent green leaves are edged in dark cranberry and covered with v...

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    Dragon's Blood Sedum Stonecrop Dragon's Blood Sedum spurium Dragon's Blood
    As low as $10.65 Sale $7.99
    Per Plant - 3" Pot
    Create a charismatic carpet of changing colors with 'Dragon's Blood' Sedum. Growing only 4 to 6 inches tall, the succulent green leaves are edged in dark cranberry and covered with vivid red, starry flowers in late summer. Foliage turns crimson with the arrival of cool weather. 'Dragon's Blood' makes an excellent groundcover owing to its spreading habit and tolerance of dry soils. (Sedum spurium)
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  3. Blue Spruce Sedum

    This Sedum gets its name from small, blue leaves that resemble the needles of a blue Spruce. Cheerful yellow flowers emerge in the early summer. (Sedum reflexum)...

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    Blue Spruce Sedum Blue Spruce Stonecrop Sedum reflexum Blue Spruce
    As low as $9.32 Sale $6.99
    Per Plant - 3" Pot
    This Sedum gets its name from small, blue leaves that resemble the needles of a blue Spruce. Cheerful yellow flowers emerge in the early summer. (Sedum reflexum)
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  4. All Gold Japanese Forest Grass, Hakonechloa macra All Gold

    All Gold Japanese Forest Grass is a fantastic deer resistant perennial to brighten gardens and container plantings. Feathery spikes of chartreuse foliage emerge in mid-spring, and sh...

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    All Gold Japanese Forest Grass All Gold Japanese Forest Grass Hakonechloa macra All Gold
    As low as $17.32 Sale $12.99
    Per Plant - 3" Pot
    All Gold Japanese Forest Grass is a fantastic deer resistant perennial to brighten gardens and container plantings. Feathery spikes of chartreuse foliage emerge in mid-spring, and shift to tawny tones in autumn. Showcase their gentle mounding habit and beautiful texture by planting on a slight slope, in the front of a bed to soften edges, or beneath shrubs or trees. (Hakonechloa macra)
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  5. Crème Caramel Tickseed, Coreopsis verticillata Crème Caramel, photo courtesy of the National Garden Bureau

    Dip into to the sophisticated side of native flowers with the fabulous Crème Caramel Coreopsis. Dainty peach and terracotta flowers with yellow centers bloom for several weeks in su...

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    Creme Caramel Coreopsis Crème Caramel Tickseed Coreopsis verticillata Crème Caramel
    $10.65 Sale $7.99
    Per Plant - 3" Pot
    Dip into to the sophisticated side of native flowers with the fabulous Crème Caramel Coreopsis. Dainty peach and terracotta flowers with yellow centers bloom for several weeks in summer, topping deep green threadleaf foliage. Color deepens with cooler temperatures. This attractive native cultivar will invite pollinators and seed-eating birds such as chickadees and finches to your garden. (Coreopsis verticillata)
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  6. Sunstruck False Sunflower, Heliopsis helianthoides Sunstruck, photo courtesy of Walter's Garden Inc.

    Sunstruck Heliopsis, also called Oxeye Sunflower, is the embodiment of sunshine. Striking variegated foliage forms attractive clumps, and golden daisy-shaped flowers provide bright p...

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    Sunstruck Heliopsis Sunstruck False Sunflower PP#25524 Heliopsis helianthoides Sunstruck PP#25524
    $10.65 Sale $7.99
    Per Plant - 3" Pot
    Sunstruck Heliopsis, also called Oxeye Sunflower, is the embodiment of sunshine. Striking variegated foliage forms attractive clumps, and golden daisy-shaped flowers provide bright pops of summer color in the front of garden beds and flower pots. This compact native cultivar attracts butterflies, and provides food for birds and ground nesting bees. (Heliopsis helianthoides)
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  7. 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 $7.99 Sale $5.99
    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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  8. 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 $7.32 Sale $5.49
    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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