Hydrangea macrophylla 'Blue Danube'

Five shrubs to grow in containers

We pick five of the best shrubs to grow in pots, for a display that will last for years.

There are plenty of attractive shrubs that can be grow in pots or containers.

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This is good news if you don’t have space in your borders, or don’t have a garden at all. Plus, growing shrubs in containers will ave you having to refresh your displays every spring or autumn.

The secret to success lies in getting the initial planting right, followed by a timely care and maintenance regime.

More shrub and container content:

Follow our guide to the best shrubs to grow in permanent containers, plus our tips on keeping them happy and healthy.


Skimmia japonica subsp. reevesiana

Skimmia japonica 'Tansley Gem'
Skimmia japonica ‘Tansley Gem’

This cheery, easy-care shrub will bring warmth and colour to the frostiest winter doorstep. Hardy, with striking scarlet berries, Skimmia japonica subsp. reevesiana offers year-round interest. In spring it’s dotted with fragrant, creamy-white flowers and will grow to form a rounded dome. Give it a general-purpose liquid feed monthly from spring to autumn.

Height x spread: 90cm x 90cm.


Viburnum tinus ‘Spring Bouquet’

Viburnum tinus 'Spring Bouquet'
Viburnum tinus ‘Spring Bouquet’

Viburnum is a classic garden shrub that will grow happily in a container. The glossy evergreen leaves of this Viburnum tinus ‘Spring Bouquet’ look beautiful year-round, while the delicate pink buds and white flowers, followed by dark, shiny berries, give interest throughout winter.

H x S: 1.5m x 1.5m.


Rosa ‘Little White Pet’

Rosa 'Little White Pet'
Rosa ‘Little White Pet’

Roses work beautifully in pots, which is great news if you’re short on space. Choose patio or bush varieties, as these will be more compact, with less chance of toppling over during windy weather. Prune back hard annually in spring, and feed with rose fertiliser as per pack instructions. Potted here is Rosa ‘Little White Pet’.

H x S: 60cm x 60cm.


Hydrangea ‘Blue Danube’

Hydrangea macrophylla 'Blue Danube'
Hydrangea macrophylla ‘Blue Danube’

Many hydrangeas, such as this ‘Blue Danube’, produce pink, mauve or blue flowers, depending on the soil type. For blue flowers, they need acidic soil, so use soil-based ericaceous compost. Leave the old flowerheads in place over winter, then prune the stems back to a bud in spring.

H x S: 1.25m x 1.25m.


Camellia sasanqua ‘Kenkyo’

Camellia sasanqua 'Kenkyo
Camellia sasanqua ‘Kenkyo’

Camellias light up the garden when they flower between early autumn and late spring with elegant blooms in white, pink or rich red. Their glossy leaves also provide year-round appeal. Give them ericaceous compost and water well with rainwater when the flower buds are forming, around nine months before the flowers open. Position the pot in a sheltered spot. Here, we’ve planted Camellia sasanqua ‘Kenkyo’.

H x S: 2.5m x 2m.


More tips on growing shrubs in containers

Cornus sanguinea Winter Orange
Cornus sanguinea ‘Winter Orange’
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  • The minimum size of pot for small shrubs is 45cm in diameter. Bigger is better as it gives the plant a cooler root-run and will be less liable to drying out. Go for frost-proof terracotta, reconstituted stone, resin or ‘fibre-cast’ material with at least one large drainage hole in the base.
  • Loam-based compost is best for permanent plantings, as it maintains good aeration and drainage over time. John Innes No.3 is ideal, but you can also use a mix of bagged ‘screened loam’ and multi-purpose compost in the bottom half to save money.
  • Shrubs establish more quickly when mycorrhizal fungi are applied at planting time. They connect to the plant’s roots and help to deliver water and nutrients. To feed, apply Vitax Q4 or a similar general-purpose fertiliser at planting time, then twice in each growing season. Top-dress annually by scraping off the top 5cm of compost in winter or early spring and replace with fresh compost.
  • All plants in pots rely on the gardener for much of their water, even if there are spells of heavy rain. Give each large pot a full can of water once a week or twice in hot, dry weather. Don’t add water-retaining granules to permanently planted containers, as they can become waterlogged and stagnant during winter.
  • Over time, the shrub will use up the nutrients in the compost and its roots will become crowded in the pot. So every four or five years, during the dormant season, knock the shrub from its pot and brush the compost from its roots. Trim off any damaged roots. Re-plant in the same container, using fresh John Innes No.3, firming it around the roots, then water thoroughly.