Written and compiled by Fred Jaicks
Container gardens are a great way to bring nature close to your home. Many container-friendly plants require little maintenance and do very well when left on their own. Others plants, like those found in vegetable gardens, need constant maintenance. When given proper drainage and nutritious soil, many types of plants will flourish when grown in a container. In fact, people are often surprised to learn that growing plants in containers can be more successful that growing them in the ground! This is because you control the soil composition, frequency of watering, and amount of fertilizer the plant receives. Contained environments are also great for preventing pests and disease and avoiding frost damage.
Plants can be grown in buckets, clay pots, or any other planter that is porous or has enough holes for drainage. Hanging baskets and window boxes are great for decorating your patio with trailing plants and vines, while fuller plants look best in large pots. It is important to choose the right plants for your patio garden. Some plants might require too much light or square footage to do well in containers. It is best to choose plants that require either shade or part sun, unless your patio receives at least six hours of full sun. Usually, the best plants for the patio are those that stay green year-round. These tend to be easy to maintain and keep your outdoor space looking cheerful all year. A few great perennials include the Green Mountain boxwood, which grows into a pyramid (or Christmas tree) shape, and Golden Creeping Jenny, a trailing plant that looks great spilling over the edge of your container. Blue Star juniper is another low-growing plant that will add a pop of color over the rim of your container. All of these plants do well in part sun. If your patio is completely shaded, Japanese pieris is a good choice. This evergreen shrub produces red and pink buds in the winter and glossy white flowers in the spring.
Other great choices for shady spaces are dwarf golden yew, “El Brighto” coleus, and “All Gold” Japanese forest grass. These three plants mix wonderfully together and bring much needed color to your patio. Coleus in particular is an easy to find, fast-growing, hardy plant that looks excellent in pots with other plants. It comes in many colors, so you are sure to find a variety to fit your garden. Japanese forest grass is shaggy and bright, while the yew brings height and clean lines to the mix.
Sunny patios give gardeners a few more options. Although there are many shade-tolerant flowers, some of the biggest and most stunning blooms tend to require full or part sun. In general, plants with small, densely packed flowers tend to look better on a patio than shrubs with just a few large flowers. Calibrachoa, also known as “Million Bells,” is a beautiful plant that comes in many colors and attracts butterflies and hummingbirds. Verbena is another great space-filler that blooms constantly from early summer to late fall. They are both drought-tolerant and need good drainage. Petunias are also pretty flowering plants that do well in containers. You can find them in many sizes and colors, and taking care of them is a breeze.
Experienced gardeners will agree that the best way to cultivate a visually pleasing mixed container is to vary plants by height and color. Large planters are perfect for adding something that grows tall (at least two feet), something bushy and wide, at least one flowering plant, and a trailing plant or vine. Morning glory, maypop, jasmine, and all types of ivy are popular choices for trailing vines.
Did you know you can easily grow an entire vegetable garden on your patio? As long as you pay close attention to the space, sun, and water requirements of each plant, you can grow almost any vegetable in a container. Some favorites for container vegetable gardens are tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchini, eggplant, and all types of herbs. Most vegetables require at least five gallons of soil. Some plants, like tomatoes, must be planted alone in their own container. Others, like cucumber and zucchini, can be planted in groups of three or four. Many herbs make wonderful companion plants for vegetables. Basil is great with tomatoes: Each plant helps the other grow better, and many people enjoy their tastes more when they are grown together. Planting cilantro near tomatoes will also help ward off pests and draw beneficial insects to your garden. Zucchini loves to grow near parsley, spinach, and peppers, while cucumbers pair well with carrots, lettuce, and beets.
Before choosing any of these plants for your container garden, make sure they are compatible with your hardiness zone. Check the water, temperature, soil, and space requirements thoroughly. Good luck, and happy gardening!
Container Gardening Information
- Alabama Cooperative Extension: Container Gardening (PDF)
- Growing in Containers
- Container Gardens for Outdoor Spaces
- Outdoor Container Gardening With Flowering and Foliage Plants
Caring For (Patio) Plants
Growing Vegetables in Containers