The Best Flowers for Container Gardens

Seven outstanding annuals that adapt readily to pots and planters
By: Nan Ondra
Begonia semperflorens-cultorum hybrids  (12) Habit

Begonia semperflorens-cultorum hybrids (12) Habit

Wax begonias have long been favorites for adding color to pots in shady sites.

Wax begonias have long been favorites for adding color to pots in shady sites.

Flower-filled containers are a wonderful way to add a welcoming touch to your door, perk up a patio, add delight to a deck or brighten up a balcony. Giving each plant its own pot makes it easy to rearrange your collection as needed and make changes throughout the growing season. Larger planters, which can hold multiple plants, provide more rooting room, encouraging vigorous growth and producing a lush, garden-like effect. Either way, you’ll enjoy an abundance of color for months without digging up a shovelful of soil. An all-purpose, soil-less growing mix will work fine for a wide range of flowering annuals.

One key to growing gorgeous flowering containers is providing a steady supply of nutrients. It takes a lot of energy to keep producing those beautiful blooms. If the growing mix you’re using doesn’t include nutrients, add a slow-release fertilizer before planting. Starting in early to midsummer, treat the plants to a dose of liquid fertilizer every week or two, according to the label directions. Regular watering is important as well so the roots don’t dry out, because stressed plants won’t flower well. Pinching or snipping off the dead blossoms once or twice a week through the summer also helps to prolong the blooming season.

With so many fantastic flowers to pick from, deciding which ones to grow can be the most challenging part of container gardening. Here’s a selection of seven outstanding annuals that adapt readily to pots and planters.

Angelonias: Flowering in shades of blue, purple, pink and white, the dense bloom spikes of angelonias provide months of color throughout summer. They typically grow 18 to 24 inches tall and thrive in full sun to light shade.

Begonias: Wax begonias -- those bushy, 6- to 12-inch-tall plants with green or bronzy leaves and abundant red, pink or white flowers -- have long been favorites for adding color to pots and window boxes in shady sites. For something a little different, look for the ‘Dragon Wing’ types with glossy green leaves and dangling clusters of large red or pink flowers.

Impatiens: In shaded pots, planters or hanging baskets, classic impatiens (also known as busy Lizzies) form branching, spreading 8- to 16-inch-tall plants that are practically smothered with an abundance of flat-faced white, red, pink, peach, lavender or white flowers for months on end. For sunnier sites, there are New Guinea impatiens: Besides showy flowers, many kinds have the added feature of yellow-splashed or deep red leaves.

Million Bells (Calibrachoa): If you like the pretty blooms of petunias but have trouble with them fizzling out in hot, humid weather, you’ll love the similar but scaled-down blooms of million bells. You can find them in both rich and pastel shades of red, pink, orange, purple and yellow. Some kinds are more upright and bushy, to about 8 inches tall; others tend to be more trailing and look great cascading out of a window box or hanging basket. Million bells generally grow best in full sun.

Nasturtiums: These easy annuals are loaded with showy flowers in bright to soft shades of red, pink, yellow, orange and peach. They flower most freely in cool conditions, often taking a break during the hottest part of the summer, but you’ll enjoy the interesting, circular, solid green or cream-splashed leaves while you’re waiting for the blooms to return for a fall show. Bush or mounded types grow 6 to 12 inches tall; vining types can trail or climb 3 to 6 feet or even more. Nasturtiums bloom best in full sun to light shade.

Verbenas: Verbenas contribute an abundance of clustered flowers to grace sun-soaked pots, planters, window boxes and baskets. Colors range from pure white and pastel pinks and lavenders to vibrant reds and purples. Upright, annual or “bedding” types are fine for containers in cool climates, but for season-long container color in hot-summer areas, look for the 6- to 10-inch-tall trailing or “moss” types, such as purple ‘Imagination’, pink ‘Sissinghurst’, red ‘Taylortown Red’ or white ‘Snowflurry’.

Zinnias: Cheery zinnias are a terrific choice for sunny container plantings, supplying single or double flowers in pretty much any color but true blue from planting to frost. Those in the ‘Profusion’ series grow about 12 inches tall; those in the ‘Zahara’ series can reach about 18 inches tall.

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