The 10 Best Plants for Container Gardens

By   | Last Updated :   May 5, 2021 | Filed In :   Garden Style Ideas

Earlier this week we looked at 18 container garden ideas, to bring life and colour into your outside space with the help of pots and planters.

If you love the idea of having lots of pot plants but aren’t sure where to get started, here are some of the best plants for container gardens.

Don’t forget to check out our list of the best vegetables for container gardening if you want to grow edible plants!

a collection of pots filled with the best plants for container gardening

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How do you start a container garden?

All you need to start a container garden is a few pots or planters that you like, some all-purpose compost and the selection of plants that you want to grow.

You can grow your container arrangements from seeds, but it can be more satisfying to start with young plants – especially if you’re planning to change your containers every season or so.

As long as you have the right plants, container gardens are incredibly practical. You can physically move them in and out of the sun, or rearrange them to accommodate seating, sunbathing or any of your other favourite garden activities.

Best of all, they’re low-maintenance and are easy to change and replant whenever you want a change of scene.

More on this: Are Containers, Raised Beds Or In-Ground Best For Establishing A Garden?

Quick tips for choosing the best plants for garden containers.

When you’re planning a container garden, there are few things that can make your job easier or harder.

Here are some of the things to keep in mind if you want successful and low maintenance pots and planters:

  1. Assess the sunlight availability in your garden and plant accordingly. Shade-loving plants will sizzle with too much sun, and those that need lots of direct light will struggle without. Our guide to shade gardens has more info.
  2. Compact plant varieties are generally well-suited to containers, as their root systems need less space and they’re less likely to grow so tall they flop over the edge of their pot.
  3. Make sure you have plenty of beautiful non-flowering plants to keep your container gardens looking fresh and healthy all year round, even when your flowers begin to fade.
  4. You can help your containers drain by adding loose materials (like gravel or hydro granules) to the bottom 2-5cm of your pots – which is especially important if there’s no existing drainage hole at the bottom. Another method is to place an upturned plastic pot at the bottom of your planter to create a compost-free area for drainage.

The 10 best plants for container gardens

There are lots of plants that will happily grow in container gardens, and as your gardening skills grow you’ll find lots of new combinations.

These are my top-10 picks for the best plants for container gardens because they’re easy and rewarding to grow.

1. Busy Lizzies

Busy Lizzies are incredibly easy to grow and come in mixed shades of white, red, pink and purple.

a row of hanging baskets filled with busy lizzies

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As long as they’ve got a sunny spot, containers of busy lizzies will flower throughout summer and provide continuous dazzling colour.

2. Dwarf buddleja

Dwarf buddleja are among my favourite container plants because of their fantastic shapes and colour – and because their nectar-rich flowers can attract butterflies.

a dwarf buddleia plant is one of the best plants for container gardens

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Compared to the full-sized variety, dwarf buddleja, or bush buddleja, will only grow 60-90cm tall, making them a much more practical choice for smaller gardens.

3. Verbena flowers

Verbena flowers are another favourite of butterflies and pollinators, making them an environmentally-friendly choice for any garden.

garden ideas for wildlife like planting verbena, a favourite of butterflies

Credit: Shutterstock

Their tall flowers are a great structural centrepiece for containers, and come in classic shades of pink and purple, but also white, red and peach.

4. Nasturtiums

Nasturtiums grow quickly from seeds and are ideal for filling out gaps in larger containers as they’ll creep, climb and cascade into just about any sunny spot.

a flower bed of yellow orange and red nasturtiums

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Although they don’t quite make my list of vegetables to grow in containers, nasturtiums are edible and make great salad garnishes.

Learn more: Will Nasturtiums Climb Trellis?

5. Lavender

Lavender can grow almost anywhere – in borders, beds or containers. Pollinators love lavender plants, and their unusual flowers and soothing fragrance will mean you do too!

One thing I love about lavender is how visually versatile it is, being just as home in a contemporary garden as a traditional cottage garden or romantic Italian-inspired space.

6. Fuchsia

If you’re struggling with a garden that doesn’t get a lot of sun, fuchsia is your friend.

fuchsia in a hanging basket container garden

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These stunning flowers look incredible cascading over the edge of the pot, but are too delicate for too much direct light. Position them in partial sun or shade, and remember to pinch out the tips so they grow bushy.

More on this: Which Garden Plants Grow Well In Shade?

7. Tulips

Keen to get some flowers blooming early in the year? Plant tulip bulbs in autumn and they’ll treat you to a carpet of colour the following April.

pots of tulips in a container garden

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There are over15 families of tulips, so you can have your pick of colours and shapes.

8. Begonia

Begonia is another option for delicate-but-hardy flowers in your container gardening.

a rectangular planter filled with begonia flowers

Credit: Shutterstock

Keep the soil well-drained and position them in partial shade, and you’ll have gorgeous flowers of white, pink or orange to enjoy all season.

9. Mexican Feather Grass

Ornamental grasses look fantastic, and are one of the best plants for container gardens that last year-round.

Just make sure you stay on top of splitting them out as they grow.

a container garden with Mexican feather grass surrounded by petunia flowers

Credit: Shutterstock

My top pick would be the Pony Tails variety of Mexican Feather Grass (Stipa tenuissima) – it stays between 30-60cm across, captures the sunlight beautifully and moves gracefully in the breeze.

10. Boxwood shrubs

Boxwood shrubs are a classic container gardening plant, and another great option if you want something nice to look at year-round.

a row of neat box shrubs cut into spheres in concrete pots

Credit: Shutterstock

Boxwood shrubs are slow-growing so won’t need much maintenance – just a weekly water and top-up with food in spring and summer.

There are so many plant combinations that will create a stunning container garden, these are just my top ten to get you started.

If you want to try growing edible plants in containers, take a look at my picks for the best vegetables to grow in containers, and don’t forget about hanging baskets – we’ve got hanging basket tips and options for growing edible hanging baskets for you!

The 10 Best Plants for Container Gardens

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By Kirsteen Mackay

Kirsteen is a professional writer who traded a tiny garden for an even smaller balcony when she moved to Brighton in 2015. Her interest in gardening stems from a keen desire to turn her simple slab of concrete into a lush urban oasis, complete with cosy-but-practical garden furniture and delicious edible plants.

View All Posts By Kirsteen Mackay »

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