If you want to have flowers and greenery, but you don't technically have a yard or a garden to plant in, the options for container plants seem bleak (well, predictable at least): herbs, geraniums, pansies. . . That's it, right? I'm about to turn into my grandmother, right? Wrong. Many plants that aren't traditionally thought of as container plants—hydrangeas, for example! — have cultivars that will do just fine in a pot on the porch.
AD caught up with Natalia Hamill, brand manager at Bailey Nurseries in St. Paul, Minnesota, to learn which of these less-obvious choices come highly recommended (plus, how to care for them). Whether you perch them on your city stoop, your itty-bitty patio, or your fire escape, these six plants can do just fine in containers.
According to Hamill, there are two hydrangea species that work particularly well in containers: Hydrangea macrophylla and Hydrangea paniculata. A couple macrophylla she recommends, in particular, are BloomStruck, a variety of 'Endless Summer' that are so rich in colour they're blurple (blue-purple), with mophead flowers that rebloom from June through Halloween, and Blushing Bride, with their huge white mophead flowers. Macrophylla, which bloom on old buds, don't need to be pruned at the end or start of the season; just store them in a garage through the winter.
Two kinds of paniculata, which need to be pruned back come fall since they bloom on new wood the next year, do well in containers: Vanilla Strawberry (larger blooms) and Strawberry Sundae (smaller blooms) both have white flowers that turn red as the nights get cooler.
Tiger Eyes sumac
Hamill describes 'Tiger Eyes' sumac as a jagged, Japanese-like shrub with cut-leaf shapes. They go from chartreuse to gold, orange, and then red over the course of the year and lose all their leaves come winter. An upside: You can winter them right in the container outside.
Best for warm climates, crepe myrtles love super-hot summers—they'll flower for months and attract butterflies. Hamill says that the 'Magic' cultivars are great for containers, since they're "not big and tree-like, they're shrubby." Some varieties of 'Magic' she prefers: Coral (coral flowers), Purple (purple flowers), Plum (fuschia pink flowers), Midnight Magic (dark leaves), and Lunar Magic (white flowers against dark foliage). You'll want to store them in a garage come winter, then prune them back hard come spring.
With yellow-gold leaves that have streaks of white in them, the 'Rainbow Sensation' cultivar is a great choice for growing in a container—they'll get soft pink tubular flowers in May or June. Hamill describes them as being "very, very good in urban environments, good for balconies in a city." They'll lose all their leaves and go dormant in the winter, and "if you don’t have a place to winter it, get some styrofoam and wrap it around the planter and help keep the roots from freezing," she says.
If you're looking for a fragrant choice, consider 'Double Mint' gardenias, which will flower multiple times throughout the season and are the right size for containers. "If you’re in an area where they are hardy in the ground, just leave it in the container and water it periodically [throughout winter]," Hamill says. "If you’re in a colder area, you’re going to want to move it inside." A shot of fertilizer come spring will help these beauties come back to life.
From hibiscus to citrus and olive trees, many Mediterranean plants can be kept in containers successfully—so long as your summers aren't too humid. (Hamill says that if you can grow lavender successfully in the garden, you can probably grow an olive tree outside just fine.) "Take real care on winter protection for those plants," she says, suggesting they are kept right inside in a sunny spot during winter if you can manage it. At winter's end, cut them back pretty hard and fertilize to help get them going again.