Don’t have a lot of gardening space? Or maybe you want to learn how to design a beautiful container garden for your deck, porch, or patio this season. Transform your outdoor space into a vibrant oasis with container gardening! This beginner-friendly guide will equip you with the knowledge to choose the perfect pots, plants, and soil for your flourishing container garden.

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 a container garden.

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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About 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 garden 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.

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

Limited Space, Abundant Possibilities

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 windowsill into a vibrant oasis with different flower pot ideas.

Total Control Over Conditions

Containers offer unparalleled control over growing conditions. You can select specific soil types, regulate drainage, and manipulate 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 Freedom for Flower Planter Ideas

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

Portability and Accessibility

Potted plant arrangement ideas 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.

Year-Round 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

Easy Maintenance and Accessibility

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

Container gardens are super fun to design. It is one of my favorite things to do in the garden 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 Your Container

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

Step 2: Choosing Plants and Designing 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.

What is the Rule of Thumb for Container Gardening

You’ll want to keep your plants in proportion with the pot you choose. Therefore, the size and quantity of plants will depend on the type of planter you choose. In general, the tallest plant height shouldn’t exceed 1-2x the container height of a tall container or the width of a shorter bowl-type planter.

Choosing Plants for a Pot of Flowers

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

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

Some Favorite 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.

  • 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.

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 3: Add 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.

How to Plant Flowers in a Pot: My Best Tips

  • 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!
Happy gardening with dark horse wiegela, peonies and container gardening

Step 4: Design Your Container

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
How to Plant a Mosquito Repellent Garden

Step 5: How to Care for a Container Garden

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

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 my secret to keeping plants from getting overwatered.

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

When to Water a Pot of Flowers

It is important to always water your plants – whether houseplant, outdoor planter, vegetable garden…whatever they are – earlier in the day. Because watering 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. Make it a habit to water in the early part of the day. Your plants will reward you for it with prolific blooms and good overall health.

If you’d like to learn more about caring for potted houseplants, click here.

Before and After Garden Shed

Frequently Asked Questions About Flower Pot Design and Container Garden Care

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

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

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

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 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.

Overwintering Challenges

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

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

More About Planting in Containers

Do you grow flowers, herbs, or vegetables in containers? Do you have any tips you’d like to share? I would love to know more in the comments below.

And don’t miss joining my Gardening DIY and Decorating Community on Facebook for more chatter. And follow along there and on Instagram as well. There are behind-the-scenes daily things that I share on Instagram that don’t make it to the blog. Would love to see you there too!

If you prefer to binge-watch Bricks ’n Blooms on TV, we go more in-depth with tours and posts on my YouTube channel. Would love to hang out with you there!

And… If you’re catching up on blog posts you may have missed, be sure to sign-up to get my newest posts via email to stay up to date with everything that’s happening here on the blog and more.

Garden Supplies I Use

Since I’ve been gardening for well over twenty-five years, I’m often asked about the garden supplies and tools that I use most. From pruners to deer repellents, here are some of my favorites that I use in no particular order.

dahlia kogane fubuki in the potager garden

Click here to shop my favorite garden supplies!

Buy My Book!

Stacy Ling with her book the bricks n blooms guide to a beauitful and easy care flower garden

If you’ve always dreamed of bringing country charm to your home while creating a beautiful, relaxing space, I got you! Learn how to grow flowers in even the smallest of spaces with my easy-care, low-maintenance approach.

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!

YouTube video

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container gardening made easy with gorgeous flower pot ideas

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Want to learn more about me?

I’m a master gardener who’s been gardening and growing things for over 25 years and author of the best-selling book, The Bricks ‘n Blooms Guide to a Beautiful and Easy-Care Flower Garden. With a deep passion for gardening, I enjoy helping others find their inner green thumb with all things plants and flowers, as well as finding ways to bring the outdoors inside their homes.

Get the inside scoop about my background as a master gardener, education, and experience, as well as why I started blogging here.

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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!