Once the air gets that autumn chill to it, gardeners usually propagate, discard, or find a home in the ground for their outdoor plants. However, this can result in a huge waste of plants and effort because there are many container plants and shrubs that can live for years in the house or in a patio garden. By taking advantage of this fact, you can reduce the amount of money and time you spend on your containers. The container plants can give you year-round interest, and depending on the plants you pick out, can lend consistency to the landscape design.
For your plants, life in the container is very different than being in the ground. Containers give excellent drainage, but you have to give your plants nutrients and water to survive. Larger perennials and shrubs may stay in a smaller pot, but it depends on the climate, pot, and container. Also, the containers can’t insulate the root system from the winter chill.
The general rule to help your container plants survive in all seasons is that the plant should be hardy to a maximum of two zones colder than your current one. So, if you live in zone 8, your plants should be hardy to zone 6. We’ve picked out the 39 most creative container plants to use to add color and texture to your container garden below.
A tall amaranth like Joseph’s Coat or Love Lies Bleeding can add drama and color to any container garden. It can easily reach heights between two and four feet at full maturity, and you can pick out a container that offers adequate drainage because it likes moist soil but it’ll die if you leave the roots to sit in water. This is a colorful annual plant, so you’ll need to buy plants each year or start from seed in the late winter. However, the nice thing about this container plant is that it allows you to experiment each year.
Amaranth by Eileen Kane / CC BY 2.0
Arborvitae offers foliage texture and shape that allows you to easily combine it with other container plants for a nice display. Putting this hedge tree in a container will restrict the growth, and it’ll keep it under the natural width of 4 feet and height of 15 feet. You should place your container in full shade or light sun, and choices like Emerald Arborvitae are hardy to zones two to seven and give you year-round interest because it keeps the rich green foliage in winter. The narrow, upright growth habit will help it to be the perfect vertical accent to frame your garden.
Arborvitae by Oregon State University / CC BY-SA 2.0
3. Baby Cakes Blackberry
Many people don’t consider blackberries a container plant, but you’re about to be pleasantly surprised. Baby Cakes is a dwarf type of blackberry plant that doesn’t have any thorns. It also has a compact habit of getting between three and four feet tall and wide, and this makes it perfect for pots on the patio. You’ll also get tasty, large blackberries during the summer months, and they produce an encore crop in early fall. It’s hardy to zones four to eight. In colder climates, you should bury the pot in the winter for additional protection.
Blackberries by UGA CAES/Extension / CC BY-NC 2.0
With the oval, glossy, green leaves, this container plant is a very strong grower that gives you a bold addition to your patio container garden. It’s hardy in zones three to eight, and the leaves can be anywhere from 10 to 20 inches long at full maturity with a width of six to eight inches. The leaves turn a pretty burgundy color in the fall, and the flowers form on 12 to 15-inch stalks with pink blossoms that look like hyacinths. It needs excellent drainage, and this is why it does so well in the container. Place it in a location that is in light shade or full sun.
Spring 2022 by carolyngifford / CC BY-NC 2.0
Pick out a hanging basket and use this container plant to lure bees and pollinators to your patio or outdoor living space with the gold and red blossoms. You can mix and match petunias in this container to help fill in the space. They’re all annuals, so you can start over again next spring and try new colors to lure the pollinators in.
Bidens by su neko / CC BY-SA 2.0
6. Bolivian Begonia
Coming from the Andes Mountains, this container plant is a tuberous begonia that explodes with blossoms. Arching, long branches will fill with bell-like flowers, and the fiery colors pull in hummingbirds in droves. You can also find them in pastel shades. The plants from tubers that are easy to overwinter in a dormant state. All you have to do is keep the soil on the dry side and put them in a dark place and it’ll sprout again in spring.
Begonia by Alabama Extension / CC0 1.0
It’s more challenging, but keeping your boxwood in a container will keep it smaller than the typical three foot width and five foot height. Put this container plant in an area sheltered from strong winds and make sure it’s semi-shaded. You want to periodically rotate the pot to balance your plant’s exposure to the light and avoid bare side development. It’s hardy to zones four to nine, and it keeps the dark green coloring throughout the winter months.
Boxwood by Santrina0 / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Calibrachoa offers delightful hues in your container garden. It can look like a miniature version of a petunia, and it comes in a range of color combinations and patterns, including hot pink, gold, deep red, flaming orange, and red with black throats. The secret to this continual blooming is a large appetite. You can keep this container plant blooming by giving it liquid plant food once every two weeks throughout the active growing season. In turn, you’ll get a flowery skirt.
Purple Calibrachoa by Martin LaBar / CC BY-NC 2.0
It’s tough to beat the nostalgic feeling Cleome offers. It’s a favorite of cottage gardens with a fun feathery texture. Better known as the spider flower, this is a butterfly and hummingbird magnet. It’ll get between four and six feet tall at full maturity, and the flower heads can be up to eight-inches in diameter. This container plant has a longer flowering season, and the plants are both deer-resistant and drought-tolerant. You can get a thornless version for containers called Senorita Rosalita Cleome.
Untitled by Louise Leclerc / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
10. Coral Bells
Many coral bells have enough color to make an eye-catching show as a container plant, even if this is all you choose to put in a container. You can get cultivars that offer medium-pink flowers that grow above mounded chartreuse foliage from spring until the late fall months, and some offer ruby-red flowers with darker red stems that bloom from early to midsummer. The light green foliage contrasts nicely with the flower coloring, and it has a silver overlay to give it more appeal. These perennials are hardy in zones four to nine, and they prefer partial to full shade.
DSC_0534 by John Hansen / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
11. Creeping Jenny
This container plant is very low-maintenance and hard to kill, and it’ll do nicely in zones four to eight. It only gets four inches tall at full maturity, and it’ll cascade nicely over the rim of your container. You’ll get coin-shaped, golden leaves that look nice with a host of other plants. It likes to be in partial shade, but it’s also a water-loving plant that will grow in your water garden. It can survive in full sun, but it needs moist soil around the clock or it’ll die.
Creeping Jenny by Susan Harris / CC BY 2.0
12. Diamond Frost Euphorbia
When you plant this container plant, you’re going to have one of the best award-winning cultivars ever developed. To date, over 400 botanical gardens and universities have named it a top plant. This is one that is easy to care for, and it forms a blizzard in the pot with small white flowers all summer long. It will grow best with full sun exposure, but it can do well in partial shade too.
Euphorbia Diamond Frost by Serres Fortier / CC BY 2.0
The dianthus container plant has brightly-colored, large, fringed flower heads that grow on strong stems. It prefers cooler spring temperatures, but some cultivares are heat-tolerant so it can perform well all season long to make it one of the best plants for your patio. It’s easy to grow for those who like container gardens and like plants that are tidy and neat. You can grow it as an annual, and it’s hardy in zones 7 to 10.
Dianthus by Peter Stenzel / CC BY-ND 2.0
This is a classic container plant, and geraniums give you strong color shows all season. To keep the flowers blooming, you should remove any spent blossoms by snapping the stem as close to the base as you possibly can. Try to find geraniums is a host of colors, including white, red, purple, pink, two-tone blends, and coral. All of these colors contrast nicely with the lighter green foliage.
Geraniums by Mike Mozart / CC BY 2.0
Better known as Globe Amaranth, this container plant offers fun rounded flower heads. The lollipop-shaped blooms are a favorite of butterflies, and the papery petals allow you to transform it into stunning dried flowers. If you pick out Fireworks Gomphrena, you’ll get one to two-inch wide flowerheads in hot pink with yellow tips. The colors will persist until the first frost in the fall, and it makes a nice cut flower.
Gomphrena by Lotus Johnson / CC BY-NC 2.0
This is an attractive, low-growing perennial that is hardy in zones three to eight. They give you interest below the taller container plants. You’ll get lobed foliage that can be very showy, and it usually has silver veins on purple or green leaves. This plant is particularly good for containers because they love well-draining soil and they recover easily from the colder winter temperatures. Most heucheras will grow between 12 and 18 inches in diameter in a mound and shoot up flower panicles in red, white, or pink. They can grow in full shade or full sun, depending on which cultivar you choose.
Heuchera by Aaron Carlson / CC BY-SA 2.0
17. Japanese Pieris
This is a deer-resistant shrub that is hardy from zone six to eight, and it’s a great choice for container plants. It offers evergreen foliage that gives you interest in each season, and the spring season is especially striking as you get foliage that varies from salmon pink or glossy red to creamy white, depending on the cultivar.
During the winter months, the flower buds are a darker red and some have shades of pink when they open. You’ll get three to six-inch long racemes in white, and the urn shaped blossoms will appear during spring. The branches will naturally drape over the sides of the container in graceful arcs.
You can get compact forms like Dorothy Wyckoff that grow very densely to remove the need to add smaller plants to create a full and attractive display. They grow well in full shade to full sun, but you want to protect it from strong sun and harsh winter winds.
Japanese Pieris by Alex O’Neal / CC BY-SA 2.0
Juniper is a low-growing container plant that is hardy in zones four to nine, and it has ¼-inch long, tightly arranged, steel blue needles. The color makes this pick stand out during the winter months. It has a three to four-foot spread and stands up to three feet tall, but it’s very slow-growing. It does well as a container plant because it’s easy to combine it with most colors, and the branches will arch over the rim of the container. It prefers to be in full sun but can survive partial shade, and it doesn’t do well in humid conditions.
Juniper by Satrina0 / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Lantana is the star as a container plant, and it has flowers that will fade from color to color as the plant ages. The colors tend to be on the richer side of orange, pink, purple, and gold, and they pull in hummingbirds and butterflies. This plant adores heat, but once the temperatures start to drop, the plant will produce even more blooms that go until the first frost of the fall.
Lantana by Jonathan Donovan / CC BY-NC 2.0
20. Mandevilla Vine
You can add a touch of the tropics to your patio with this container plant. Mandevilla vine is a very bright plant that requires weekly plant food to produce a lot of flowers. You can showcase it in a pot by itself or pair it with other tropical plants like the pink Tropic Escape hibiscus or the Majesty Palm for a bright, south-of-the-border garden.
Mandevilla Vine by Karen / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
This old-fashioned favorite container plant will add a touch of interest to your garden by offering fluttering petals and rounded leaves. Baby Rose is an award-winning choice that has very petite flowers that stand upright on the stem. Nasturtium is an All-America Sections winner, so it does well in every region. The leaves and flowers on this container plant are edible, and they’ll give you a peppery bite. You can use them in salads or sandwiches.
Nasturtiums by Linda, fortuna future / CC BY-NC 2.0
22. Ornamental Millet
When it comes to container plants, this ornamental grass offers a huge amount of stage presence. You can use it alone or pack it with smaller plants as long as you put it in a large pot. The Purple Majesty Ornamental Millet will get up to a foot wide and four to five feet tall at full maturity, and it offers attractive foliage that looks darker purple in the full sun. It’s low-maintenance and tolerant to heat, and it gives you visual interest from early in the spring until late in the fall. It can even hold up to add winter interest in more mild climates.
Ornamental Millet by Andria / CC BY-ND 2.0
23. Ornamental Peppers
Ornamental peppers are heat-loving annuals that offer cheerful, bright fruit that can rival how showstopping flowers are as a container plant. They’re some of the best plants you can have in pots, and the colors range from orange and red to yellow with purple hued foliage and fruits. The compact size combined with the tidy branched growth habit of this plant make them fantastic for placing in containers. They will grow in part shade, but they’ll produce the most fruit in full sun.
Ornamental Peppers by Adam / CC BY-SA 2.0
If you want to attract hordes of butterflies to your full sun container plants, you should include pentas. This is a tropical annual that has star-shaped blooms in dozens of colors, including purple, red, pink, white, and lavender. You should remove the spent blossoms to keep the flowers growing all season long. This is a hot-weather, tropical plant, so you won’t see it for sale until mid or late spring.
Pentas by Toshiyuki IMAI / CC BY-SA 2.0
You can get petunias that offer easy-growing requirements and non-stop flowering from spring until fall. Also, you don’t need to deadhead them to encourage strong blooming and growth. This container plant will form a pretty mound of flowers that gets up to two feet high and stems that trail up to three feet at full maturity. It’s stunning in a container, and you’ll get flowers until the first hard frost hits it.
Petunias by Chris Luczkow / CC BY 2.0
This is a drought-tolerant tropical container plant that is better-known for being a houseplant, but you can put it in an outdoor container garden too. It can vacation outside in a shady spot with other plants or alone. The variegated, textured leaves Plectranthus offer are green and silver-gray, and they give a nice appeal by themselves. It also has delicate white flowers later in the summer months.
Plectranthus by jam343 / CC BY 2.0
27. Red Twig Dogwood
This is a shrub that has variegated leaves that form a nice foil for hydrangeas when you plant them on either side of it. The dogwood’s deepest coloring is on younger stems, so you want to strip out old branches early in the spring months. Put them in shrubs in half shade or full sun, and be wary of Japanese beetles in the summer.
You can have it outdoors in zones two to eight, and it offers white margins on the leaves with greenish-gray centers and bright red stems in the winter. It can get up to two feet wide, so you do need to give it room to spread out.
Red Twig Dogwood by Sheila Sund / CC BY-NC 2.0
Better known as fan flower, this container plant is a low-maintenance annual that falls out over the lips of your pots. You don’t need to deadhead it, and it’ll just keep blooming. This is a nice choice if you need blue tones in your container garden in full sun, and it has white and pink blossoms. It works well in hanging baskets too.
Scaevola by Eric.Ray / CC BY-NC 2.0
Sedum is hardy in zones four to nine, and it offers a bronze leaf color that switches to red during the winter months. You get very delicately scalloped foliage with bigger leaves on some species, and it produces cerise blooms later in the summer months into the fall. Their blooms will last up to three weeks. It’s 12 inches wide by 6 inches tall at full maturity, and this allows you to use it to dress up the container’s edge or use it in cut flower bouquets.
Sedum by PINKE / CC BY-NC 2.0
30. Spiky Blue Corynephorus
This is an upright perennial ornamental grass that gets 8-inches wide by a foot tall, and it works well as a groundcover or at the edge of your containers. The blue-gray foliage is nice enough to showcase on its own as a container plant. It’s also drought and heat-tolerant, and it does well with minimal maintenance. It’s hardy in zones six to nine, and you can treat it as an annual in zones outside of this range.
Corynephorus ‘spikey blue’ and Dichondra silver falls by Jennifer de Graff / CC BY-NC 2.0
When it comes to picking out container plants for full sun, look no further than succulents. Most are sun-lovers that have fleshy, thick leaves that hold water for a built-in water supply. They are usually very shallow-rooted, and this makes them a great fit for a shallow, wide container. A few examples include the Lemon Coral Sedum, Mojave Red Portulaca, and Mojave Yellow Portulaca.
Succulents by PINKE / CC BY-NC 2.0
32. Summer Snapdragon
For spots with high heat and a lot of sun, it’s very hard to find a better container plant than the snapdragon. Also called Angelonia, this is an annual flower that produces spikes of flowers in shapes of white, pink, purple, and bicolors. The blooms lure in butterflies all summer long and they make a great addition to bouquets.
Snapdragons by Dorian Wallender / CC BY-SA 2.0
Everyone adores the cheerful blooms that sunflowers offer, and there is a compact version that makes a pretty container plant. Salsation Flame is a sunflower that will form a bush-type plant covered in blooms all summer. The flowers have pretty chocolate brown centers with gold and bronze petals surrounding it. You can pinch the plants when they’re young to encourage branching and more blooms.
Sunflowers by Michael / CC BY-ND 2.0
34. Sweet Alyssum
If you love this container plant for a pretty spring and autumn flower display, you should try Snow Princess. This is a sweet alyssum that’s sun and heat-tolerant. It’s known for producing non-stop summer flowers. You can use it as a spiller plant in your containers to get a cascade of white flowers. It has tiny blossoms that lure pollinators into the garden, including syrphid flies and butterflies that devour young aphids.
Sweet Alyssum by Photoma* / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
35. Very Berry Creeping Wintergreen
This is a tender perennial that is hardy in zones six to nine, but you can grow it as an annual outside of these zones. It has dark, glossy leaves that are the perfect backdrop for hte bell-shaped, small flowers during the summer months and the bright red berries in the fall. The foliage will change to a purple color to add more visual interest, so it’s great to plant outside in containers.
Wintergreen by Philip Bouchard / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Although most people grow it as an annual, this container plant is very frost-tolerant and can overwinter successfully. The free-flowering habit combined with the compact size make it a great fit as a container plant on your patio. You’ll get a range of festive, bright colors, including lilac, white, purple, orange, and yellow. You can find violas in your local garden center or retailer.
Violas by masa…ysmr77 / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Golden Sword Yucca is hardy in zones 4 to 11, and it combines easily with a host of container plants to make eye-catching designs. It has swordlike leaves that are two inches wide, and the margins are dark green and thin with golden-yellow centers with curly fibers on the edges. It can get between two and three feet high and wide at full maturity.
It will tolerate a little shade, but most yucca do best in dry, sunny conditions. During the summer months, it’ll produce fragrant, white flowers from the plant’s center on three to six foot tall stems. During the late winter months, the foliage will get flat, but it’ll perk in the spring. You can pull off the old foliage to make it tidy and neat.
Yucca by Renee Grayson / CC BY 2.0
Zinnias are very popular for their disease resistance, compact size, and long-lasting blooms with flower garden plants. There are newer additions that offer the same features but have a true red color that doesn’t fade during the summer sun. It’s the All-American Selections Winner in 2017, and it’s the fourth color to win the AAS Winner award. It looks fabulous in container gardening and borders.
Zinnia by Peter Miller / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
39. ZZ Plant
Although this is a popular houseplant, you can turn this into a year-round container plant in zone nine and up. The ZZ Plant will tolerate low light and neglect without any damage, and you want to have them in fast-draining soil with bright but indirect sunlight. It has an upright growth habit with small flowers that look like peace lilies.
ZZ Plant by hollyjazzz362 / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
These 39 container plants can help spruce up your balcony or patio, and you can mix and match several in containers to bring color and texture to your space. They’re low-maintenance, heat and drought-tolerant, and they offer a huge amount of visual interest all summer long.
Jen is a master gardener, interior designer and home improvement expert. She has completed many home improvement, decor and remodeling projects with her family over the past 10 years on their 4,500 sf Victorian house. She is also a passionate farmer who keeps goats, chickens, turkeys cows and pigs on her farm, and an instructor for her community’s Organic and Sustainable Farming project.