How to Grow Shrubs in Containers

Count on shrubs for the ultimate one-two punch of color in your yard. Tuck them into pots for the growing season, and then plunk them into planting beds in fall. It’s an easy way to improve your landscape without blowing your budget.

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Photo By: Bailey Nurseries Inc. at BaileyNurseries.com

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Photo By: Bailey Nurseries Inc. at BaileyNurseries.com

Photo By: ProvenWinners.com

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Photo By: Anthony Tesselaar Plants at Tesselaar.com

Photo By: ProvenWinners.com

Photo By: ProvenWinners.com

Photo By: Bailey Nurseries Inc. at BaileyNurseries.com

Photo By: ProvenWinners.com

Photo By: ProvenWinners.com

Butterfly Bush

Shrubs are the ultimate best buy when it comes to filling container gardens. They deliver strong color all season long, even year-round in warmer zones. After spending their first season in a container, you can transition shrubs to a permanent home in a planting bed, where they’ll enhance your landscape for years to come. It’s not hard to design container gardens with a few shrubs in the mix. This galvanized tub features a patriotic theme with red Superbena Scarlet Star verbena, Superbells White calibrachoa and blue-purple dwarf butterfly bush (Lo & Behold ‘Lilac Chip’ Buddleia x), which grows 2 feet tall — an ideal shrub size for a pot. Hardy in Zones 5-9.

Endless Summer Hydrangea

Hydrangeas turn containers into flower fests where the show doesn’t end — even faded blooms look great. Tucking shrubs like hydrangeas into a pot lets you buy smaller, inexpensive plants that expand through the growing season. It’s a great way to stretch your planting budget. The bonus with hydrangeas is that it’s much easier to shift flower color from pink to blue in a container, thanks to the small soil volume. The secret to gorgeous blue blooms is acid soil. Just add soil acidifier (find it with other fertilizers), garden sulfur or aluminum sulfate. Endless Summer hydrangea grows 3 feet to 5 feet tall and wide. Hardy in Zones 4-9.

Peach Sorbet Blueberry

Put your container gardens to work by filling them with shrubby edibles. You can find compact, ornamental, self-pollinating fruits that yield tasty crops of berries in the confines of a 20- to 24-inch-wide container. The list includes favorites like blueberry, raspberry or blackberry. In warmer regions (Zone 6 and higher), grow Peach Sorbet blueberry outdoors in pots year-round, enjoying leaves that turn eggplant purple when tinged with cold. In colder regions, shift containers to an unheated shed or garage for winter, watering every six weeks to keep the soil barely moist. Peach Sorbet blueberry grows 18 to 24 inches tall with a mounding shape. Hardy in Zones 5-10.

Fine Line Buckthorn

For a strong vertical element, it’s tough to beat Fine Line buckthorn (Rhamnus frangula ‘Ron Williams’). In containers, count on this shrub to fill the thriller role. Buckthorn is an ideal choice for creating a privacy hedge on a patio or rooftop garden. Simply tuck it into pots and line them up to create a hedgerow of feathery foliage. Or use it in paired pots to frame a doorway. Buckthorn combines well with annuals, such as Margarita sweet potato vine, Giant Pink supertunia and Black Prince coleus. In the landscape, buckthorn grows 5 to 7 feet tall and 2 to 3 feet wide. Hardy in Zones 2-7.

Flower Carpet Rose

Roses are a garden favorite, and they also look gorgeous in containers. When selecting roses for pots, focus on shrub roses or ground cover roses like this Flower Carpet Red. Use containers at least 14 inches across (bigger is better) for full size rose bushes. In Zones 6 and warmer, roses overwinter readily in containers. In colder zones, a potted rose must be protected in winter, either buried in the ground or stored in a spot with temps between 25°F and 50°F. Alternatively, you can grow roses in a container for a season and then add them to your garden. In that case, Flower Carpet Red rose makes a great choice with its drought-tolerant, low-maintenance personality. This rose grows 2 to 4 feet tall and wide. Hardy in Zones 4-10.

BananAppeal Small Anise Tree

For shady spots on a porch or patio, look to the gold leaves of BananAppeal small anise tree (Illicium parviflorum ‘PIIIP-I’) to deliver season-long color in containers. Despite the name of small anise tree, BananAppeal is a mounding shrub that fits well in pots and transitions effortlessly to a part- to full-shade planting bed. In the landscape, use it as an accent plant or focal point, or add it to a rain garden (it tolerates wet soil well). Leaves have an anise smell when crushed, making it a deer-resistant plant. BananAppeal grows 3 to 4 feet tall and wide. Hardy in Zones 7-9.

Sweetspire

This native shrub boasts versatility that makes it a can’t-miss addition to your home and garden. Sweetspire (Itea virginica) grows in full sun to full shade, preferring moist (and tolerating wet) soil. White, sweetly scented blooms appear on plants in early summer. Little Henry (Itea virginica ‘Sprich’) downsizes the native shrub into a package that fits neatly in containers. In the landscape, use it as a shrubby edging plant along paths or planting beds. Little Henry grows 2 to 3 feet tall and wide. Hardy in Zones 5-9.

Wedding Gown Hydrangea

Lacecap hydrangeas are the epitome of romance, with their deep green leaves and layered textural blooms. Wedding Gown hydrangea (Hydrangea macrophylla ‘Dancing Snow’) takes lacecaps to the next level with double white blossoms. Each flower head has roughly 600 individual florets (tiny flowers) and resembles a bridal bouquet, which is why it’s called Wedding Gown. The plant flowers on old and new growth and reflowers through summer if dead blossoms are removed. This bloomer is a stunner in containers. In beds, space plants 3 to 5 feet apart. Plants grow 2 to 3 feet tall and 3 to 5 feet wide. Hardy in Zones 5-9.

Sunjoy Gold Pillar Barberry

For a formal look, skirt an upright shrub — like Sunjoy Gold Pillar barberry (Berberis thunbergii ‘Maria’) — with billows of blooms, in this case, a trio of Superbells: Tropical Sunrise, Yellow and Yellow Chiffon. With its modest spread, Sunjoy barberry is a great choice for containers, but that same vertical shape makes it a fantastic plant for the garden. The gold leaves command attention, and the plant thrives from full sun to full shade. Leaves shift to orange-red shades in autumn. Sunjoy Gold grows 3 to 4 feet tall and 18 to 24 inches wide. Hardy in Zones 4-7.

Volunteer Camellia

Camellia makes for a luxurious container planting with its evergreen leaves and waxy-petalled blooms. ‘Volunteer’ camellia opens large-flowered, anemone-type blossoms in mid- to late winter. Petals edges are frosted, and flower color shifts through the growing season, featuring pink, white and red tones. It grows and flowers best in part shade, but copes with full sun, although extreme heat can scorch leaves. Named to honor volunteers around the world, this pretty camellia grows well in containers and makes a great addition to a porch, courtyard or deck. In the landscape, plant it as a hedge, spacing plants 54 inches apart. Plants grow 6 feet tall to 5 feet wide. Hardy in Zones 7-10.

Yuki Cherry Blossom Deutzia

Over 10 years in the making, Yuki Cherry Blossom deutzia is a hybrid celebration of old-fashioned deutzia in a smaller size and with pink flowers. The bell-like blooms blanket the plant from early to late spring, and deep green leaves turn red in fall. Yuki Cherry Blossom forms a tidy mound that looks smart in a pot or as an edging plant in a flower bed. Give plants part to full sun. Deer-resistant plants grow 12 to 24 inches tall and wide. Hardy in Zones 5-8.

Blue False Cypress

Potted evergreens dress an entry with elegance, and blue false cypress (Pinpoint Blue Chamaecyparis lawsoniana ‘SMNCLBF’) is no exception. The steel blue hue complements tough-to-match orange or red brick home exteriors. Foliage is feathery and soft to the touch, blending well in a pot with perennial hosta, lungwort, spring phlox, annual viola and Honeyberry Superbells. You can keep false cypress in a pot for years as long as you remove it every other year and prune roots back by one-third, and repotting in fresh soil. In the landscape, this deer-resistant evergreen grows 15 to 20 feet tall and 5 to 6 feet wide. Hardy in Zones 5-7.

Blue Puffball Chaste Tree

Deep blue fragrant flowers cover Blue Puffball chaste tree (Vitex agnus-castus ‘PIIVAC-Il’) from June through September. Chaste tree is a native plant, and Blue Puffball tames the native size, transforming it into an ideal candidate for containers. Leaves resemble an open hand, shifting to gold tones in autumn. Plants are deer resistant and drought tolerant, growing best in full sun, where they’ll stay a tidy 3 to 4 feet tall and wide. Hardy in Zones 6-9.

Gem Box Inkberry Holly

Meet a native plant alternative to boxwood. Gem Box inkberry holly (Ilex glabra ‘SMNIGAB17’) is a new dwarf evergreen with dainty leaves resembling a boxwood. The plant is dense and naturally ball-shaped, with good branching right to the ground so it never has bare lower stems. Use it in a container in part to full sun, growing it solo or pairing with Diamond Snow euphorbia or Superbells in your favorite shade. This evergreen grows 2 to 3 feet tall and wide. Hardy in Zones 5-9.

My Monet Weigela

Who says shrubs in pots can’t be stunning? This icy combination features variegated My Monet weigela (top center, Weigela florida ‘Verweig’), a spring-blooming shrub with green and white leaves. Plants are deer resistant and grow best in part to full sun. In this container, companion plants include (counterclockwise from left) Diamond Snow euphorbia, Silver Bullet wormwood, Snow Princess sweet alyssum and fiber optic grass. To keep My Monet thriving in pots year-round in Zones 5 and colder, provide winter protection by planting the shrub into the ground in early fall or storing the pot in a spot where temps stay between 25°F and 50°F through winter. My Monet grows 12 to 18 inches high and 18 to 24 inches wide. Hardy in Zones 4-6.

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