A classic for front porch containers, these cheerful plants will flower spring through summer with deadheading (pinching off spent blooms) and fertilizer. Though they like full sun, they do appreciate some afternoon shade in intense heat. Learn how to winterize potted geraniums.
Yes, you can grow irises in containers, says Melissa Lallo Johnson, a Midwest-based master gardener who grows 23 varieties on her extensive property, which she shares on Instagram at @fancyflowerfarmer. “The thing I love most about irises is that after they are done putting on their show, their stunning green leaves with a bluish tint stay beautiful the rest of the season and much into the beginning of winter,” she says. “When they start to brown at the tips, I cut the brown off and cut them to a point. That usually stops the browning and keeps them looking picture perfect.”
This tropical bloomer makes a striking accent in a grouping of containers, especially when you have one with a braided trunk. It’s also long-lived as long as you protect it from the cold. “I keep mine indoors over the winter,” says Johnson. “The once $5 plant is now a thick trunk braided beauty at nearly seven years old.
The heart-shaped foliage of this tropical plant will take centerstage in a container. Pair it with impatiens in a shady spot, but take note: Keep caladium away from pets, especially those who like to chew on plants. Caladiums contain insoluble calcium oxalates, which are toxic if consumed.
“This classic will never grow old,” says Johnson. “I use these sometimes as the fill and the spill.”
6. Sweet Potato Vine
With foliage ranging from bright lime green to dark purple depending on the variety, trailing sweet potato vines can add a welcome color contrast to your container. “One of my favorite spillers,” says Johnson. “Big color, big leaves, big impact.”
“Up to 4 feet of spill in containers—sold!” says Johnson. You’ll also love that this low-maintenance petunia hybrid doesn’t need require deadheading for repeat blooms.
When you plant basil in your container garden, you’ll always have fresh leaves on hand for culinary endeavors—and it’ll help keep mosquitoes away. Johnson uses basil as a filler plant in her containers and lets them go to flower. “The flowers are so beautiful and fragrant,” she says. “They are also excellent in floral arrangements.”
Even beginners will enjoy success with this spiller in a container or hanging basket. Both heat and drought tolerant, this low-maintenance perennial is a butterfly magnet that blooms late spring through frost. “I love the intricate petal structure, the colors, and the smell,” says Johnson.
10. Sweet Alyssum
“The delicate and airy look of sweet alyssum is so special as it falls over the container rim,” says Johnson. “I love to tuck this into my rock wall also.” White is the most common color, but purple- and pink-blooming varieties are also available.
This somewhat lesser-known plant looks frilly but it’s tough as nails in a variety of conditions including heat and drought. Its wispy leaves and profuse airy white flowers offer a delicate baby’s breath-like effect to mixed pots, says Glenn Kopp, horticulture information manager at the Missouri Botanical Garden in St. Louis.
Begonias are versatile, hardy, and showy with a variety of leaf shapes and flower colors ranging from white to brilliant orange. “Many varieties do very well in containers,” says Kopp. “Just don’t let them get too wet.” Plant them on their own in a hanging basket or in a mixed container. For extra showy blooms, go for a double begonia variety, such as the aptly named Roseform.
13. Ornamental Pepper
These bushy little plants are fun additions to containers with their season-long color, texture and showy fruit, says Kopp. The tiny fruits typically mature from black to red. Though technically edible, most varieties of ornamental peppers are ultra-hot—so keep them out of the reach of kids and pets!
Delicate but heat-tolerant angelonia, also called summer snapdragon, doesn’t need to be deadheaded to keep blooming all season. They come in pinks, mauves, deep purple, purple-blues, white, and more. Mix them with trailing herbs for an attractive combination planter, suggests Kopp.
15. Coral Bells
This perennial, also called heuchera, has frothy little flowers that arch over mounded foliage in early summer. Its leaves come in a rainbow of shades from peach to deepest burgundy. “These are one of my favorites that I’ve used in hundreds of planters. They tend to do better in pots in some places, especially if you have a lot of hungry creatures such as voles in your yard,” says Barbara Wise, author of Container Gardening for All Seasons.
In the last few years, coleus has had an explosion of new colors. It’s drought tolerant and includes trailing, mounded, and upright varieties in too many colors to count. “A bonus is that their delicate flowers are a huge pollinator magnet for butterflies, bees, and hummingbirds,” says Wise.
Perky little flowers last all season on upright stems in tons of bright colors including purple, pink, cranberry, bright yellow, pale yellow, orange, and white. The plant may flower in winter in milder climates, but it’s generally considered an annual. Use as a vertical accent as part of a mixed container.
18. Dwarf Hydrangea
Surprise! Flowering shrubs can be planted in containers, too, especially dwarf varieties that don’t get more than two or three feet tall. An explosion of new hydrangea varieties in the past decade means you’re certain to find one you love. Most hydrangeas bloom white or whitish-pink, then turn to shades of pink, purple, lime green, or a combination of shades. Cut blooms dry beautifully for an indoor display all winter long.
19. Shrub Rose
Roses are lovely in landscape planting, but many shrub varieties work well in pots, too, says Wise. Newer varieties also are more disease resistant than old-school roses so they generally don’t need to be sprayed and coddled. Set these out in pretty decorative pots as elegant focal points on your deck or patio.
20. Pansies and Violas
These darlings of spring and fall gardens come in a stunning array of single and multi-color blooms. Some types last well past the first frost and even rebound in the spring. Plant them en masse in one color for impact, or mix with a variety of later-blooming plants for season-long interest.