How to Pick Plants for Container Gardens

How to Pick Plants for Container Gardens

With warmth and sunshine as early as mid-February this year, we were sent a refreshing tease of spring accompanied by the fever to garden! This is nature’s alarm clock, reminding us that we have some planning to do. Now we are into April, so drizzle some honey in your green tea and tell Alexa to play Für Elise, it’s time to plan our containers!

Plant Needs

There are four basic plant needs to consider when deciding on arrangements to fill your containers: sun, water, drainage, and space. We will talk about style in a moment, but first let us address need.


The first step is to decide where your container is going to live. Once you have decided on just the right spot, watch it for a few days to more accurately assess the amount of sun your plants will get in this location. Six or more hours a day of direct sun is considered full sun. You will see this referred to on Al’s plant tags as Full Sun or Sun. Also keep in mind, plants that require part shade are going to prefer that the shade be in the afternoon, providing shelter from the hottest sun of the day.


The plants that you choose to combine in your container have to all require the same watering amount and frequency. As a rule of thumb, most plants want to live in a soil that retains moisture but drains well. This can be accomplished by adding an element that retains water, like peat moss or finely shredded mulch, plus an element that helps release the excess water. I like to add a few handfuls of double crushed hazelnut shells to my planting mix to keep the soil light and airy. Pumice and vermiculite are two products that each accomplish both of those goals, as well.

Not all plants prefer moisture, however. The category of drought tolerant plants is not a small one, so be sure to do your research, and read the plant tags, to be certain of how thirsty each of your plants will be.


The containers that you use must have adequate drainage, and that starts with holes in the bottom. I am often asked if rocks at the bottom of the pot is enough, and I always advise against it. In my experience it rarely works out to the plants benefit. The water that pools in the rocks turns sour if not allowed to dry between watering, and eventually your plant’s roots will grow down into the rocks where the excess water collects, and they will rot. Also, a container with a very flat bottom set on flat cement may not be draining, even if the holes are perfect. Consider putting these pots on feet.


Plants like to live snuggly together in their container, but they will not thrive if they are forced to compete for space. It can be easy to be fooled by a cute little gem that will fit perfectly in that small space up front, only to find that little gem grows into a 3-foot space invader by the end of the season! Know what your plants ultimate space needs are for the time that it will live with others in a container, then allow your plants to grow into their space.

Let’s Talk Style

Contrast is an important element in the garden. Contrast presents itself in plant height, foliage shape, flower color. Each plant is easier to see and the overall effect if more pleasing when good contrast is present: Black Mamba petunias accompanied by white verbena: Bright orange geraniums popping out over deep purple Petunias: Beautiful red flowering quince carpeted below with electric blue speedwell: Goldcrest Cypress, Pink Morn Calibrachoa, and Bronze Ipoma in a tall white pot. In your container, foliage should be different sizes and colors, flowers should be colors that go well together, and heights should vary from low plants that spill over the side of the container, to mounding plants that fill space and add color, and finally, tall centerpiece plants to add height and dimension to your arrangement.

Check out a few of the plants that you can use for your containers in our Online Shop!



It is hard to go wrong when combining healthy beautiful plants into an arrangement, and if you follow these bits of advice, you should have enviable containers all season long. Happy Gardening!


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