Learn how to create a thriving container garden with this easy-to-follow guide. Discover tips on choosing the right plants, containers, and soil, plus expert advice on care and maintenance for year-round blooms.

When you lack garden or landscape space, a great option is to grow plants in containers. There are SO many things you can grow in a container garden and several of you have been asking how to plant, design, and care for one.

So let’s cover it all in today’s post. In my landscape, I love to do a mix of both elaborate and simple container garden designs.

An elaborate planting has more than one type of plant. A simple planting has one type of plant.

Simple container plantings are pretty straightforward, so today we’ll focus on how to plant and design a more elaborate container garden plus cover some care basics after planting.

Here’s what you need to know!

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Benefits of Container Gardening

Container gardening is the perfect option for those wanting to grow things without a vast outdoor space, those who want to start small, and those who want to spruce up garden rooms and outdoor living spaces with flowers and plants.

As a master gardener who loves adding more plants and flowers to every nook and cranny of my home and outdoor living spaces, I’m excited to share insights into why opting for container gardening can be an absolute game-changer if you lack space or just want to dabble with growing plants.

And as a quick aside, while this post focuses a bit more on flower gardening, you can apply alot of these concepts to growing vegetables and herbs in containers too. Here are some of the best benefits of container gardening:

shade container garden in the zen garden with begonias, sweet potato vines and bacopa

Container Gardening: The Perfect Solution for Limited Space

Not everyone has the luxury of a sprawling garden, but that shouldn’t hinder the love for plants. Containers open doors to gardening for urban dwellers, apartment renters, or anyone with limited outdoor space. You can transform a small balcony, patio, or even a windowsill into a vibrant oasis with different flower pot ideas.

Optimize Sunlight, Soil, and Water with Container Gardening

Containers offer unparalleled control over growing conditions. You can select specific soil types, regulate drainage, and manipulate their sunlight exposure. This flexibility allows you to cater to the unique needs of various plant species, enabling a wider range of gardening possibilities.

copper planters with supertunia mini vista indigo, superbells prism pink lemonade and angelonia cascade blue with safari dusk

Design Your Dream Garden in Containers

A pot of flowers is your canvas. You have the creative freedom to experiment with different plant combinations, colors, textures, and sizes. Mix and match different planter ideas to create an aesthetic masterpiece or cultivate a themed garden effortlessly.

Move Your Garden Anywhere with Container Gardening

Potted plant arrangement ideas also provide mobility. You can move them around to optimize sunlight exposure or protect delicate plants from harsh weather conditions. Plus, they make maintenance tasks like watering, deadheading, pruning, and pest control much more accessible and simple.

Extend Your Growing Season with Container Gardening

With planter designs, you can extend your growing season. Portable containers allow you to bring plants indoors during colder months, enabling year-round gardening and ensuring your pot of flowers and porch plants thrive despite changing weather. I do this all the time with my houseplants and they respond well to the vacation outdoors during summer.

close up of accent chairs in sunroom with houseplants, plaid blanket, poof ottoman and throw pillows

Simplify Your Gardening Routine with Low-Maintenance, Accessible Container Gardens

Container gardening often requires less maintenance than traditional garden beds. It’s easier to control weeds and manage soil quality in smaller spaces. Additionally, tending to plants in pots or even raised beds is more accessible for individuals with mobility issues or limited physical capabilities.

In short, container gardening is a great gateway to nurturing your green thumb, regardless of growing space constraints. It is a versatile, manageable, and rewarding way to embrace the joys of gardening in a smaller, more manageable way.

Are you ready to dive into the world of planting containers? Let’s go!

gorgeous front porch planters with gomphrena, supertunias, superbells and angelonia with garden treasures from the thrift store

How to Design a Container Garden in 5 Steps

Container gardens are super fun to design. It is one of my favorite things to do because you can play around with many different flowers, textures, and dimensions in the porch planters.

Whether you keep your planter ideas simple or create something more elaborate, they are the perfect addition to both indoor and outdoor living spaces.

While you can easily do one type of flower in a pot planter idea or pot up some perennials, shrubs, and or small trees, I’m going to share how to create beautiful annual flower pot designs with ease.

wakefield pottery planters

Step One: Choose the Perfect Container For Your Garden

First, it’s important to determine what style, color, and size containers you are using before purchasing plants.

For my flowering annual patio and porch planters, I prefer to use oversized or large containers because they do not dry out as quickly and can hold more flowers and greens. Cause we all want more blooms, am I right?

Going with larger pots creates a greater visual impact in a space and affords you more space to squeeze in a few varieties of porch plants and flowers.

While you are choosing your porch planters, think outside the box as far as containers are concerned. And don’t be limited to what you find at the garden nursery.

I LOVE to thrift around for the perfect containers at thrift stores, flea markets, and antique malls for the garden and find the coolest items to use for my container gardens! Like this thrift store find that I flipped for my front porch.

Close up of thrift flip idea planted with scaevola on front porch with different varietes of coleus in terra cotta pots, a white porch swing and outdoor area rug

Best Types of Container Garden Pots

Head to your local nursery or home improvement store and you’ll likely be overwhelmed with all of the choices for pots and other planting containers. Here are some of the most common options you’ll see:

  • Terra Cotta Containers: Terra cotta containers look really beautiful in a garden. However, they can be more expensive than other types, heavier to move and they are breakable. I’ve also found that my plants in terracotta pots dry out faster because they get hot. So keep that in mind when planning your watering.
  • Ceramic Glazed Containers: Glazed ceramic containers are similar to terra cotta and also look really beautiful. They tend to hold moisture a little better due to the glaze on the container. They can be fairly expensive. They’re a great investment if you only need a few, but may be too much if you want a lot of containers.
  • Plastic: Plastic gardening containers are by far the cheapest option and also the lightest to move around. Just make sure you opt for thicker plastic pots that will hold up year after year, otherwise you’ll end up spending more money replacing them.
  • Wood: Wooden containers, especially raised beds, are a great option for many gardens! You can find beautiful wooden planter boxes at stores or could even make your own DIY planters if you’re handy!
  • Cement: Cement planters are expensive but very durable. I recommend only going with cement if you plan on keeping your containers in one spot – they’re not fun to move around!
  • Self-Watering: Self-watering planters come in all shapes and sizes. They have a water reservoir at the bottom of the container that holds water. The beauty of it is your plants will get watered from the roots and you’ll use a little less potting soil when you plant.

Do Garden Containers Need Drainage Holes?

Yes, garden containers absolutely need drainage holes, unless they are self-watering planters. Proper drainage is crucial for the health and vitality of plants grown in containers. 

Proper drainage prevents waterlogging plants, which can lead to root rot and ultimately kill your plant. Drainage also reduces the risk of diseases since standing water in containers can create favorable conditions for the growth of mold, mildew, and fungal diseases.

Most gardening containers will come with drainage holes built in, but if you buy a container that doesn’t have holes in the bottom you’ll need to add your own. This is easy if you have a plastic or wooden container, but not so simple with terra cotta, ceramic, or concrete – so make sure to look for drainage holes before purchasing!

Step 2: Craft a Stunning Color Scheme for Your Pot of Flowers

When creating more elaborate summer annual flower planter designs, consider the container design technique: thriller, filler, and spiller while shopping. To further explain this planting technique, see Proven Winners Container Gardening Techniques because they are a great resource.

As an aside, I use the thriller, filler, and spiller technique with almost all of my container garden and centerpiece designs.

While shopping at the garden nursery for potted plant arrangement ideas, play around with different flowers and foliage using this technique to see what colors and textures look best to you.

If I don’t have the actual container with me while shopping, I use the cart to visually see how my designs will look. So oftentimes, you’ll see me creating a flower pot design right there on my cart!

Choose plants that inspire you, but also keep in mind where your outdoor planters will be maintained. Because shade vs sun matters when buying plants.

flower pot ideas in the zen garden

Best Plants for Container Gardening

There are so many options if you want to start a container garden. From flowers and herbs to fruits and vegetables, the possibilities are virtually endless. Here are some of my favorite plants to grow in containers:

Flowers for Container Gardening

  • Petunias
  • Geraniums
  • Marigolds
  • Calibrachoa (Million Bells)
  • Zinnias
  • Impatiens
  • Pansies
  • Begonia

Vegetables and Fruits for Containers

  • Tomatoes
  • Peppers
  • Lettuce
  • Cucumbers
  • Squash
  • Strawberries
  • Blueberries
  • Dwarf Citrus Trees

Herbs for Container Gardens

  • Basil
  • Rosemary
  • Thyme
  • Parsley
  • Chives
  • Mint
  • Oregano
  • Cilantro

If you want to grow perennials, shrubs, or small trees in planters, you absolutely can. To overwinter them with success, choose plants are two zones hardier than your current growing zone. This means, if you garden in zone 6, choose plants that can handle zone 4.

Determining the Number of Plants for Your Container Garden

As you shop, keep in mind you’ll want to plant containers in odd numbers so it is more pleasing to the eye. So make sure you purchase enough plants to fit in the container you are using.

If I don’t have the container with me (and I most often do not), I’ll grab something of a similar size to figure out how many plants to use. But I recommend rounding up instead of down if you aren’t sure how many plants to buy.

You can always squeeze one more plant in but it’s kind of a pain to head back to the nursery to get more and discover they don’t have the plant that you bought!

I tend to overstuff my outdoor planters so they look fuller but you don’t have to if you don’t want to. They eventually fill in but I like a fuller look from the get-go because the season is so short.

How to Plant Flowers in a Window Box Planter

Top Thriller, Filler, and Spiller Plants

If you need some great examples of what to look for when you shop at the nursery, I got you. Here are some of my favorite patio plant ideas for containers.

Because I use the thriller, filler, and spiller method of planter design, I usually look for plants that will fall into one of these three categories.

  • Thriller plants add height and drama to flower pot designs. I love using dracaena, calla lilies, ornamental grasses, colocasia, caladium, and lots more. But you could even use a dwarf tree and underplant it with several spiller plants.
  • Filler plants do exactly as it sounds and help fill in a flower pot design. Look for marigolds, petunias, pansies, begonia… there are really so many that I love but these are just a few.
  • Spiller plants will creep out and over the edges of your planters. I love to include bacopa, petunias, lantana, creeping jenny, sweet potato vine, and so many others in my patio plant ideas.

I’ll share more on how to design a container garden with the thriller, filler, and spiller method in Step 5.

Step 3: Full Sun, Partial Shade, or Full Shade: Matching Plants to Light in Container Gardens

One of the best things about container gardening is that you can grow full sun, partial-sun, and full shade plants all on the same property! While an in-ground garden has to be carefully planned based on natural light, containers can be placed anywhere in your yard or patio and can even be moved around if needed.

Pro-Tip: Make sure you choose plants that have the same light and watering requirements in the same pot.

close up of whiskey barrel planter with pink geraniums, calibroca, bacopa, latte superwave petunias, euphorbia, coleus and canna lillies

Step 4: Nourish Your Plants with Fresh Potting Soil

If you do not have potting soil in your containers, add fresh potting soil. And if your container already has potting soil, remove some of that old soil and add fresh potting soil. Trust me, your container garden plants need fresh soil to grow well, be healthy, and bloom.

When we water plants, soil nutrients wash out, so always add fresh soil to your containers when planting. I tend to remove about half of the old soil and then add new soil underneath and around new summer annual flowering plants so the roots have healthy soil to grow in.

My Best Tips for Planting Flowers in Pots

  • Before adding potting soil, line the inside of the container with weed fabric. Weed fabric allows water to seep out the drainage hole while keeping soil inside the container.
  • To keep a container garden lightweight, recycle plastic nursery pots by filling the bottom of a container about 1/4-1/3 of the way. I usually crush them down. Then fill it with soil and plants. Containers will be significantly lighter to move around!

Do Container Plants Need Fertilizer?

Yes, container plants require fertilizer to grow well. Unlike plants in the ground, container plants have restricted access to nutrients, making fertilization crucial. With each watering, nutrients can be leached out of the soil, particularly water-soluble ones like nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. Fertilizing helps replace these lost nutrients and ensures plants have the essential elements they need for robust growth.

I recommend using a balanced, slow-release fertilizer designed for container plants. Monitor your plants for signs of nutrient deficiency or excess fertilization and adjust as needed throughout the growing season. I also like to use a bloom booster during the growing season to help maximize flowering.

Happy gardening with dark horse wiegela, peonies and container gardening

Step 5: Container Garden Design 101 – Tips for Beautiful and Thriving Arrangements

When the container is ready for planting, start stuffing it with the thriller, filler, and spiller planting technique. While working, step back a few times to see that the container has symmetry, balance, and fullness. Since I like to stuff plants in containers – there is usually no room left in a pot after I plant.

But if you want to take it a step further, you could add natural elements such as bows, raffia, wicker, birdhouses, etc.

Do what you love and most importantly, have fun with it! Because that’s part of the joy of gardening.

container garden for spring with alyssum and pansies with backdrop of daffodils and tulips with flowering crabapple trees
Early spring flower pot ideas: sweet alyssum and pansies

The Best Way to Pot a Plant

The best way to pot a plant is from an upright position. For years, I was bending over and planting containers from the ground. But then I started using a potting bench, and it is so much easier to plant a container garden that way!

If you don’t have one, consider using a folding table or something to raise those outdoor planters and containers off the ground while you work.

It Helps to Have a Potting Bench

To raise your workspace so there is less strain on your body and organize all the things, you totally need a potting bench. There are so many wonderful options you can buy that will accommodate any garden space or budget.

I found some great ones that I would LOVE to have. Some are so pretty yet functional. And if you aren’t that big into gardening, they would even make great decor for a porch or patio. Click here to shop for potting benches.

potting table with terracotta pots and plants

Nurturing Your Container Garden: Essential Tips for Year-Round Success

To keep annuals healthy and looking good, they must be watered well and fertilized. As I mentioned earlier, I use this slow-release fertilizer that is set and forget because it lasts for a few months before it needs another application.

Watering Container Gardens

Water outdoor containers regularly. In spring, my New Jersey gardening zone 6b elements usually do most of the work for me in New Jersey but in general, it’s about once a week. Once the New Jersey hot summer humid temps hit, I water them once a day.

The best rule of thumb is to keep an eye on any potted plants you have. If they start looking sad and droopy, it’s time to water.

But the best way to tell if your plants need to be watered? Check the soil for dryness. You can use a moisture meter like this or just stick your finger about an inch or two down into the soil. If it feels dry, it’s time to water.

You can learn more about how to test for soil moisture in my post where I share my secret to keeping plants from getting overwatered.

My Watering Hack for Container Gardens

Many of us know about drip irrigation systems for in-ground gardens, but did you know that there are easy kits you can buy for your planters too?

Drip irrigation kits set on timers are total game changers where planting in containers is concerned. If you have a lot of planters, you could literally spend hours watering in the summer if you don’t set up some sort of drip irrigation system for them.

I run these drip irrigation kits to all of my containers that include planters, hanging baskets, and window boxes set on timers so they are easy to care for all season long. I check them frequently to make sure they aren’t getting over or under-watered. And if they need adjusting, I adjust!

But overall these kits are super easy to install, use, and are MUST-HAVES if you garden with any sort of planters because they will significantly cut down on your watering chores.

To accommodate the drip system and still be able to use a garden hose, I use these two or four-way hose splitters too. These additions to my gardens has quite literally changed my gardening life with how well they bloom and grow. So I can’t recommend these enough.

Note: You may need to adjust the timing of hose timers throughout the season to accommodate seasonal and climate conditions.

Garden Blogger Stacy Ling watering a chinese evergreen on the deck -Watering houseplants - The Secret to Keeping Houseplants Alive

How and When to Water a Pot of Flowers

It is important to always water your plants – whether houseplant, outdoor planter, vegetable garden…whatever they are – at the base of plants earlier in the day. Because watering from above or at night promotes pest and disease problems.

Admittedly, I have watered in the late afternoon on occasion if I did not get a chance to water during the day – but that is rare. If your garden needs it, water it! But try to make it a habit to water in the earlier part of the day. Your plants will reward you for it with prolific blooms and good overall health.

Before and After Garden Shed

Deadheading Container Gardens

Deadheading, the process of removing spent flowers from plants, is often recommended for flowering plants grown in containers. It promotes continuous blooming by redirecting the plant’s energy from seed production back into flower production. This encourages a longer blooming period and helps keep your containers neat and tidy.

Deadheading container plants also redirects nutrients back into the plant, promoting healthier growth that results in stronger stems, increased foliage, and overall better plant health. 

While deadheading may not be necessary for every flowering plant in a container garden, incorporating this practice into routine maintenance can help maximize the beauty and overall health of your containers.

How to Keep Pests Out of Your Container Garden

Just like any garden, container gardens can easily fall prey to squirrels, birds, bunnies, deer and insects looking for a tasty bite. 

Here are a few simple tips to keep pests at bay:

  • Choose deer-resistant plants and bulbs.
  • Try making an all-natural garlic spray with water, vinegar, and chopped garlic or sprinkle cayenne pepper powder around plants to help keep wildlife at bay. Or you can buy deer repellents like this one that help keep other wildlife away as well.
  • Strategically place windchimes or motion-activated sprinklers to startle deer, bunnies, and other wildlife and keep them away from your plants.
  • Nets and cages that cover containers can also help keep birds and squirrels from digging or eating seeds. Consider placing your containers inside fenced patios or even bringing your plants inside overnight for extra protection.

Overwintering Potted Plants

In colder climates, overwintering plants in containers can be more challenging than those in the ground. Pots can freeze and damage the roots of plants, leading to their demise. Use porch planters that can withstand a range of weather conditions like resin or move potted plants indoors in a location where they will receive some protection in colder climates.

Stacy ling with coffee in the sunroom with indoor plants

Frequently Asked Questions About Flower Pot Design and Container Garden Care

Have questions about container gardening? You’re not alone! We’ve compiled answers to some of the most common questions to help you get started and keep your plants thriving in pots and planters.

What kind of plants can be grown in containers?

A vast array of plants can thrive in containers, offering flexibility, beauty, and functionality to your garden space depending on what you want to grow. Here’s a breakdown of various types of plants suitable for container gardening:

When selecting plants for containers, consider their mature size, growth habits, and container size needed to accommodate their root systems.

If choosing trees or shrubs, seek out dwarf varieties where possible to ensure they won’t outgrow their containers too quickly. It’s also a good idea to pay attention to sunlight and water requirements to ensure they thrive in their container environment.

Summer front porch planters filled with flowering annuals from proven winners. Old farmhouse front porch with front door wreath, planters, stone lions, harlequin tile walkway and fresh eggs sign

What are some limitations of container gardening?

So far we’ve chatted about all the great things about container gardening, but there can be some drawbacks too that you may want to consider before embarking on growing plants and flowers in a pot.

Limited Root Space in Container Gardens

Plants in containers have restricted root space compared to those in the ground. This limitation can affect the overall size and health of the plants, especially for larger or deep-rooted species. When working with houseplants, perennials, shrubs, and small trees, you may need to pot up to make room for larger root systems as plants grow.

But there are also types of plants that prefer to be a little pot-bound (like Christmas cactus) or are slower growing and won’t outgrow their planters too quickly. Do some research before you plant if this is of concern to you. There are lots of plants out there, it will just be a matter of choosing what works best for you and your garden.

christmas cactus in full bloom with pink flowers

Watering Challenges of Container Gardens

Containers can dry out quickly, especially during hot weather. Ensuring adequate watering without overwatering can be a delicate balance. Improper watering can lead to root rot or dehydration, affecting plant health.

Consider using a drip irrigation system outdoors to help your plants stay hydrated through the hotter days of the year. I use this exact one in both my zen garden, front porch planters, and hanging baskets. I can’t tell you how much EASIER that drip irrigation system makes watering in the dog days of summer. It’s easy to install, works really well, and plants will look much healthier as a result.

If you grow things in window boxes, hanging baskets, or any type of outdoor planter, it’s a must-have to make your gardening life easier.

Nutrient Depletion in Planters

The soil in containers can lose nutrients much faster than garden beds because they wash out each time you water. Therefore, regular fertilization or soil replenishment is necessary to maintain the nutrient levels essential for healthy plant growth.

It’s always a good idea to add some compost and leaf mold to container gardens as they help feed plants, enrich the soil, and help retain soil moisture.

gomphrena truffala pink and sweet allysum in a container garden

Temperature Regulation

Containers can be more susceptible to temperature fluctuations. Roots in containers are exposed to more extreme temperatures than those in the ground, which can stress plants, particularly during temperature extremes. During extreme weather, keep an eye on your potted plants.

Limited Plant Variety

Not all plants do well in containers, but there are several that do. Certain trees, shrubs, or large vegetables may struggle in containers due to space constraints. So do some research before shopping and planting.

Risk of Pots Tipping Over

Taller or top-heavy plants in containers might be prone to tipping over in windy conditions, potentially damaging both the plants and the containers themselves. This could also happen with taller skinnier containers too. So make sure the containers themselves have some weight to them to help keep your plants from falling over.

You can weight them down with landscape rocks in the bottom if need be. Or go with heavier planter materials like ceramic or clay instead of something like resin. Just keep in mind that materials like terra cotta, cannot stay outdoors during cold winter months because they can freeze, crack, and thaw with fluctuating temperatures.

potted flowers in urn that include pansies, ranunculus and cordyline

Final Thoughts on Container Gardening

Container gardening is a joyful and rewarding way to bring the beauty of flowers into your life, no matter where you live. With a little creativity and care, you can transform even the smallest spaces into vibrant, blooming oases.

So why wait? Start your container flower garden today and experience the magic of growing your own blossoms.

Do you grow flowers, herbs, or vegetables in containers? Do you have any tips you’d like to share? If you have any comments, suggestions or questions, please share them in the comments below. And feel free to share this post with anyone who may find it helpful.

For more information about container gardening, please see this article from the University of California Santa Clarita Master Gardeners article.

Thanks for stopping by the blog today!

Enjoy your day! xoxo

Stacy Ling bricksnblooms logo

Want More Container Gardening Ideas?

If you want some container garden inspiration, wait until you see these spring, summer, fall, and winter ideas!

Want to Pot Up Some Spring Garden Plants With Me in Real-Time?

You can watch the video HERE!

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  • Have you never met a plant you couldn’t kill?
  • Have you dug around in the dirt with nothing to show for it except a sunburn and a sore back?
  • Do you currently enjoy growing flowers, but are looking for more tips and ideas to level up your gardening game?

Then the Bricks ‘n Blooms Guide is for YOU

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10 Comments

  1. So many good tips! I love planting in my containers and can’t wait to start. Looking forward to seeing all your new gardens in all their glory!

    1. Thank you so much Kim! I love planting in containers – its one of my favorite things to do in the garden!

  2. Lots of great information here! We just finished our new patio so I am eager to start planting our containers. You have given me lots of inspiration!