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If you want to turn your so-so yard into a so-terrific garden retreat, nothing could be easier or more effective than introducing container plants. Beyond a simple potted plant or two, you can create masterpieces with a few simple design tips and plant suggestions. And if your idea of digging a hole to plant something is using a garden trowel in a container, you’re already on the right track!

Types of Containers

Practically anything will work. Elaborate or simple, small or large, lightweight or stone…the choices are limited only by your imagination and preferences.

Here are some ideas to get your creative thoughts going:

  • Purchased planters. These come in all shapes, sizes and colors and are ready to plant. Find styles or colors that incorporate a single theme…or a diverse mix that’s to your liking.
  • Lightweight, “stone look” planters. These are good choices if you can’t lift heavy things.
  • Stackable containers. You can purchase containers that assemble easily to form pyramid-shaped pots. Simply tuck in plants around the “pyramid” for a vertical container garden.
  • Buckets and pails. Not for a formal garden; nevertheless, pretty buckets and pails are a snap to plant and can be moved easily if the handle is still intact. Don’t forget to drill a drain hole in the bottom.
  • Yes, a lady’s handbag can even accessorize her garden! This recycled item adds a bit of whimsy and creates a real conversation piece. Poke drainage holes in the bottom, fill with potting mix and plant away.
  • Wicker baskets. Your local thrift store is a super source of wicker baskets. If the weave of the wicker is tight enough, you can pour potting mix directly in the basket. If the weave is too open and won’t contain the soil easily, simply line the basket with a black plastic garbage bag, trim the excess and poke drainage holes at the bottom of the bag before planting.

Types of Plants

You can plant practically anything in a container! Just give careful thought to the mature size of the plant and its root structure to make sure the contained environment is suited to specific plant needs.

Annuals. These are typically “container plants of choice” for most gardeners. Annuals are easy to pop in a container; they give a lot of “flash” during a single growing season and you can have a different look each year for your container by planting different annuals.

Perennials. Some perennial plants actually do better in containers than in the ground, particularly if your garden soil doesn’t drain well; for example, heavy clay. Hostas and Heucheras are easily grown in containers, which also makes it easier for these shade-garden plants to be placed under trees instead of digging and damaging tree roots to plant them in the ground.

Bulbs and Tubers. A bowl full of colorful Caladiums is so quick and easy to plant! And because this tropical plant cannot live outside during winter, except in frost-free climates, it’s a snap to bring them indoors when cold weather threatens.

Shrubs. Most shrubs are suitable container plants. And if you choose a flowering shrub, such as Red Sensation Hydrangea, you’ll enjoy spectacular flowers, too! Because container plants are not insulated by the ground, choose a shrub that is hardy to one zone warmer than yours. For example, if the USDA hardiness zone where you live extends to zone 7 at the coldest end, choose a shrub that’s hardy to zone 8 to grow in a container.

Ornamental Grasses. As a standalone container plant, ornamental grasses are pretty. But as an accent in a mixed container planting, ornamental grasses are even prettier. They add texture, color and height to surrounding flowers. Consider using Fireworks Red Fountain Grass as a colorful addition to a container of flowering annuals.

General Container Care & Design Tips 

  • Always consider the sun/shade needs of your plants. In other words, don’t plant a container of caladiums in full sun or the leaf edges may burn.
  • Don’t place drainage dishes underneath your outside containers. Typically, they hold too much water that is wicked up by the soil, which keeps plant roots too wet.
  • Do, however, keep your containers well-watered when the weather is particularly hot. The soil in containers dries out faster than the soil in the ground.
  • Instead of placing single containers, plant a grouping of containers with varying sizes, shapes and designs — to hold plants of various types.
  • Lastly, experiment with different plants, different containers and different combinations – that’s part of the fun of gardening – just have fun doing it!