20 plants for pots and containers
We've picked our favourite plants to grow in pots and containers, for year-round colour and interest.
Pots and containers offer the gardener great versatility and are a fantastic way to experiment with planting and design. From short-term bedding displays to permanent features of small trees and topiary, planting in pots adds another dimension to the garden, softening corners, brightening dull spots and providing instant, yet easily changeable, results.
When choosing your pot, stick to just one or two different materials. Take your cue from the style of the house and garden – red brick buildings are enhanced by terracotta containers, while a modern plot is the best backdrop for galvanised metal pots.
Bigger pots have more impact and plants growing in them won't dry out as quickly, but an eclectic group of small containers creates a quirky, ever-changing scene. Repetition can be effective – garden designers often use three or more identical containers planted with the same plants, for maximum impact.
To recreate the pot pictured above, you will need to plant Zinnia marylandica 'Zahara Yellow', Lantana 'Lucky Pure Gold', Bidens aurea, yellow tagetes, Helichrysum 'Silver Mist' and Cosmos bipinnatus 'Sonata White'.
Alan Titchmarsh shares his five favourite plants for containers in this short video from BBC Gardeners' World Magazine.
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Best plants for pots all year-round
Some plants work well in pots all year round. These include hardy evergreen foliage plants like yucca, English ivy variegated euonymus and heuchera, and flowering plants like Skimmia japonica and hebes. Evergreens tend to be best for year-round pot displays as they are always in leaf and therefore always have something to offer the display. Match them with plants that flower at different times – from spring through to winter. Planting long-flowering plants like perennial wallflowers, which may bloom for 12 months of the year if mild, will add to your display.
Browse our list of 10 plants for pots and containers, below.
The best 10 plants for pots and containers
This elegant evergreen shrub is available in a range of varieties with different coloured foliage. 'Tom Thumb' has rich chocolate-purple leaves that emerge a light green colour before darkening. 'Variegatum' has beautiful grey-green foliage with creamy margins, and 'Golf Ball' is a compact variety with mint green leaves. Pittosporum tenuifolium is slightly tender, so it will need a sheltered spot over winter.
Skimmia japonica has glossy evergreen leaves and an abundance of tiny red buds through the winter, which open to white, pinky-white or greenish flowers in spring. Female and hermaphrodite varieties develop red berries during the autumn.
Hostas make beautiful architectural plants and work well in containers, either alone or with other plants. Try combining with bleeding heart or other foliage plants such as heucheras.
Fountain grass (Pennisetum setaceum)
Fountain grass is a real show-stopper. Grow in large pots with alliums for dramatic impact or on its own to make a statement. Pennisetum setaceum 'Rubrum' has graceful stems and red-tinged, squirrel-tail flowers that fade to beige in autumn. Protect from frost in winter.
Buddleias in the 'Buzz' series are compact, making them perfect for growing in pots. While they don't flower all year round and need to be pruned back in spring, they will form a perennial display that you can complement with other plants that flower at different seasons.
Many hebes are compact enough to grow in pots. Most have evergreen leaves and their flowers last well into autumn and even winter when conditions are mild. Flowers range in colour from pinks to purples and whites.
Agapanthus work well in pots, as they do best when their roots are slightly restricted. Grow them on their own or pair with other plants that flower at different times of year. Most agapanthus are evergreen but there are some deciduous types.
Many varieties of dogwood, including cultivars of Cornus alba, Cornus sanguinea and Cornus sericea, have beautifully colourful winter stems and work well in pots. They make an excellent backdrop for other winter perennials, and you can choose plants (such as the lavender, hebe and phormium shown here), which will take centre stage when the leaves grow on the cornus stems in spring, dulling its display.
Heuchera are evergreen foliage plants that come in a range of vibrant colours. They're perfect for using as a foil for other plants and make excellent long-lasting displays.
Compact phormiums, such as ‘Chocomint’, ‘Jester’ and ‘Platt’s Black’, make ideal low-maintenance outdoor potted plants, creating architectural structure all year round. They can be combined with grasses and low-growing flowering plants to create eye-catching displays beside entrances, on patios or along paths.
Scented-leaf pelargoniums (sometimes referred to as ‘scented-leaf geraniums’) are ideal for pots in full sun beside a path or entrance where their fragrance can be enjoyed as you brush past the foliage. As tender perennials, pelargoniums can be left in pots all year round as long as they're kept in a frost-free place over winter.
These attractive shrubs can be either hardy or tender perennials. Compact hardy fuchsias are a sustainable choice for garden pots as they will flower every summer, whereas tender varieties are often treated as annuals. Trailing varieties, such as ‘Patricia Hodge’, look fantastic spilling over the edge of hanging baskets.
Blueberry plants are low-maintenance shrubs with white bell flowers in spring, followed by delicious summer fruits and then glorious autumn colour. With a wide range of varieties to choose from, it's possible to harvest blueberries throughout the summer. They're well-suited to containers, but do need to be planted in peat-free ericaceous (acidic) compost.
More compact hydrangeas, like Hydrangea macrophylla 'Miss Saori' and 'Early Blue' (shown above), are perfect for large pots in a partially-shaded spot. If you buy a blue variety of Hydrangea macrophyllum or Hydrangea serrata, you'll need to plant it in peat-free ericaceous compost to ensure the pH stays below 5.5, which will maintain the blue coloration.
Patio roses are bred for smaller gardens and container growing. They're easy to grow – they just need a prune in spring and repotting if necessary. Most compact rose varieties suitable for pots have a lifespan of around 5-7 years.
Azaleas are deciduous or evergreen shrubs with vibrant flowers in a wide range of colours, usually in spring. They're well-suited for pots, especially in gardens with alkaline soil where they'd struggle in the ground. Azalea plants in containers need to be grown in peat-free ericaceous compost and watered with rainwater. They grow best in a sheltered position in full sun or partial shade.
Ideal to bring colour and interest to areas in semi-shade, begonias thrive in pots of peat-free multi-purpose compost. Although often grown as annuals, most are tender perennials that can be brought in over winter (for fibrous begonias) or stored as tubers in the same way as dahlias (for tuberous begonias).
With a vast range of varieties to choose from, dahlias come in almost every shape, colour and size. Ideally suited for pots, more compact varieties can be combined with other late summer-flowering perennials grown in containers to create flamboyant displays in hot colours, or used singly as specimen plants.