Often overlooked as container plants, shrubs offer seasonal interest, structure and fun in planters of all sizes. There are just a few simple rules to follow. To start with, grow them in weatherproof fiberglass, concrete or plastic containers with drainage holes. It’s also important to select container shrubs one or two zones hardier than usual to help them overwinter in colder climates. Finally, don’t be afraid to grow them in the company of annuals, perennials or even other shrubs. Ready to try it yourself? These 10 shrubs will not only perk up your small space garden, they’ll also help you attract birds and butterflies!
Weigela, Zones 5 to 8
Whether you’re looking for colorful foliage, bright flowers or plants to attract hummingbirds, try weigela. The luscious spring floral display is often followed by a sprinkling of flowers later in the season. Grow in full sun for the best blooms, and water regularly, especially during the hotter months.
Why we love it: The many dazzling options incude variegated, bronze or golden foliage, and white, yellow, pink, magenta or red flowers.
- Bailey Nurseries
Spiraea, Zones 3 to 9
This favorite isn’t just beautiful, it’s also tough as nails. Spring bloomers, like the garland spirea, have arching branches covered with white flowers in spring. The summer bloomers boast white, pink or purple flowers, with leaves that may be green, blue-green or yellow in summer, turning purple-red in fall.
Why we love it: There’s a possibility for a second and even a third flush of blooms if the summer bloomers are given a light trim as the first flowers fade.
- Proven Winners
Syringa, Zones 3 to 8
Add some fragrance to your container garden with one of the compact varieties of lilac. You’ll get more than double the fragrance and beauty with a repeat-blooming Bloomerang lilac. Gardeners in Zones 7 and 8 need to select a heat-tolerant, low-chill variety.
Why we love it: Enchanting outdoors, lilacs are equally lovely in your house as cut flowers.
Chamaecyparis, Zones 4 to 9
Mounded, upright or spreading—take your pick among this diverse group of evergreens. The foliage texture and color, along with interesting growth habit, will make these a focal point in your container garden. Most types tolerate full sun to light or partial shade and prefer moist, well-drained soil.
Why we love it: Lots of dwarf varieties, like Baby Blue Sawara, are perfect for containers.
Pyracantha, Zones 5 to 9
For year-round interest, try adding firethorn to your containers. You’ll have white flowers in spring, glossy green leaves in summer and orange-red berries from fall into winter. The leaves are evergreen in milder climates, making this shrub an especially nice choice for winter container gardens. Thornless and dwarf varieties like Red Elf (shown here) are available.
Why we love it: Firethorn can be trained as an espalier for a unique display.
- Bailey Nurseries
Pieris, Zones 4 to 7
Start spring off with fragrant white flowers both you and the early pollinators will love. Then stand back and admire the show as the new growth emerges red. Evergreen pieris grows well in full sun or partial shade; afternoon shade is best where summers are hot.
Why we love it: The North American native pieris has fragrant white flowers and is fairly tolerant of higher-pH soils.
- Randall C. Smith/Iseli Nursery
Picea, Zones 2 to 7, 8 or 9 on the West Coast
Bring the majesty of evergreens to your containers with dwarf spruce. Pyramids, globes or mounds of green, blue-green or yellow foliage create year-round interest. Grow these in full sun and moist, well-drained soils. Avoid dry, hot locations.
Why we love it: With miniature varieties, you can have a spruce forest in a pot!
- Proven Winners, Tim wood/Spring Meadow Nursery
Clethra, Zones 4 to 9
Brighten up your late-summer garden with the fragrant white or pink flowers of summersweet. The pale yellow or rich golden brown fall foliage gives it appeal in autumn, too. Grow in full sun or partial shade and moist soil. Try one of the dwarf cultivars, like Sugartina, Sixteen Candles or Sweet Suzanne.
Why we love it: The summer blooms and the butterflies they attract are both irresistible.
- Proven Winners
Dwarf butterfly bush
Buddleia ‘Lo & Behold’, Zones 5 to 9
This small-scale butterfly bush is the perfect size for a container, and its heat and drought tolerance adds to its appeal. Grow in full sun for best flowering. Perfect for low-maintenance gardening, it doesn’t need deadheading. Just enjoy the blooms and watch as they bring in the butterflies.
Why we love it: It’s available in white, purple-blue and pink, and it’s important to note that Lo & Behold shrubs are noninvasive.
- Proven Winners
Hydrangea, Zones 3 to 9
Expand your hydrangea collection, or try one of the newer varieties of these longtime favorites. Grow hydrangeas in full sun or shade, depending on type. The hardy panicle and oakleaf varieties are available in smaller sizes just right for containers.
Why we love it: The hardy hydrangea blooms start out white or lime green and fade to pink or red—and the dried flowers persist through winter.
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