Container Ideas: Perennials in Pots

From the bucks you’ll save to the boundless array of container ideas you can choose from, benefits abound when you plant perennials in pots.

If you plant containers every year, you probably have a list of go-to annuals at the ready. But why should annuals have all the fun? From stunning succulents to savory herbs, we’re learning that, as container gardening evolves, almost anything will thrive in a pot. That holds true for perennials in pots, too.

With literally hundreds of gorgeous varieties available for the planting, your options for creating the prettiest pots on the block are endless. And think of all the money you’ll save at the end of the growing season when you can transfer your container plants into the garden instead of throwing them out. Cha-ching!

Container Ideas: Perennials in PotsMark Turner/Turner PhotographicsContainer Ideas: A few things you need to know before you pot up your first perennial beauty!

Bigger is better. You can definitely plant perennials in the containers you currently have, but if you’re buying new, shoot for something bigger. This way, you can plant more and offer plenty of room for the roots.

Take a lesson from Potting 101. As you would with any container planting, make sure the pot you choose has drainage holes and that it has been cleaned thoroughly if used before. And remember to use a
well-drained potting soil mix to keep your plants healthy and strong.

Know your zone. It’s true that perennials are tougher than annuals, so one advantage of using them in containers is that you can set out your pots a couple of weeks earlier than usual. But play it safe by selecting hardy plants. This is especially important if you plan to overwinter them in their pots or transfer permanently into a garden bed. (More on that below.)

Give ’em what they want. All plants have specific growing requirements. So before you buy, be sure you can fulfill them. If you plan to pot up a corydalis, for instance, make sure you have a shady spot for it—a covered porch or under a leafy tree. If you face gardening challenges—say, a windy, unprotected patio—planting a wind-resistant perennial like flax, feather reed grass or Russian sage might give you the backyard beauty you’ve been longing for.

Finding Mr. Right. Spend a little time researching pot-perfect perennials, or select from our list. Choose slow growers or varieties that have a more compact growing habit. Dwarf varieties and disease-resistant perennials may also offer you the best chance for success.

Less is more at planting time. Since perennials tend to grow larger than annuals, resist the urge to crowd them. Give them the elbow room they need by planting only one or two specimens. If you’re planting two varieties, pick a “thriller” and a “spiller.” Craving more color, fun or drama? Find a container that will up the cool quota.

Your space, your style. Similar to redoing your home’s interior, exterior decorating lets you express your personality. Want a romantic, cottage-y look? Pot up a fringed bleeding heart or some feathery astilbe. If you lean toward the modern and edgy, purple fountain grass and Japanese painted fern may be for you. Both are low maintenance and look dramatic planted in modern containers.

Think seasonal. For continuous bloom and color, plant a combination of containers that include seasonal showboats. For example, when the nodding bells of spring-blooming columbine are on their way out, have a butterfly-welcoming bee balm waiting in the wings. When that begins to fade, your dwarf aster should be ready to make its autumn debut.

Have fun with foliage. Annuals may be known for their showy flowers, but perennials boast some way cool foliage. Hostas offer an almost endless variety of green to blue hues and distinctive shapes, plus they’re tough and easy to care for. Just make sure you provide ample shade. Coralbells is another foliage all-star whose leaves come in a dazzling array of colors and patterns.

Reuse and recycle. Perhaps the best thing about potting perennials is that you can add them to the landscape instead of tossing them when the growing season ends. Pull your perennials from their pots—and divide if necessary—in late fall. Planting them then still gives the plants enough time to acclimate to their surroundings before winter sets in. If you don’t have room in your garden bed or your container plantings don’t fit in with the theme of your landscape, consider creating a holding bed to overwinter plants until you can dig them back up and repot.

Container Ideas: LungwortWalters Gardens
Walters Gardens Lungwort


Bleeding heart
Coral bells
Dwarf aster
Hardy geranium
Ornamental grasses

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Rachael Liska
Rachael Liska is a freelance writer and editor specializing in birding, gardening, food and family. She has over 20 years of writing, editing, content strategy and project management experience in the parenting/family, food, gardening, home decor/goods, travel and birding niches.