Container Shrubs

Container Shrubs


By Gary Garner Sr.

There are many reasons to love shrubs and the many purposes they serve in our home landscape. They give us multiple seasons of interest, provide habitat and food for birds and other wildlife. Some even provide food for humans. Plant breeders recognize their versatility in garden design and with today’s smaller properties in mind are breeding petite varieties of older classic shrubs. These newer smaller plants are naturals for container gardening. 

When designing with container plants one of the first things to consider is making sure to pair the right shrub with the right pot. A potted plant may create a long lasting even year-round focal point. Potted plants may be used as a garden focal point, as dividers, privacy points, screening and more. Grown on patios and balconies where all of the plants are potted shrubs offer diversity and scale, while also offering a natural backdrop for perennials and annuals. 

I now plant the majority of my new plantings in containers. Many of my containers are boxes, tubs, and such. They are things that I have on hand.  I have even used old shoes. A point here, always to make sure whatever you use is well drained.  I relocate my plants in and out of view depending on bloom time and how the plant shows. For instance, a plant may look great in the spring in full bloom, look pretty lousy through the summer but show nice fall leaf color. In a container I can take advantage of the different seasons of color. 

With container planting I can use many plants that are not hardy in our climate. Tropicals give great color all summer long but will not over winter outside in Central Virginia. I can bring them inside and cut them back and reuse them next summer. Some will last many years on this schedule. 

Pots offer many possibilities to expand the landscape. I mentioned food crops earlier, blueberries, peppers, tomatoes, cranberries and other food bearing plants do well in containers.  

If you have soil problems containers easily solve that problem. You can tailor the soil you use in your pot to the type soil suitable for a particular plant.  

When choosing a shrub for container growing make certain to select plants that mature at a size appropriate for the container you are using. If the plant outgrows the pot, you can later plant it in the ground. You can also restrict the plant size with root pruning. As a general rule you get more bloom and more fruit yield when the roots are somewhat constricted. Planting in too big of a pot is a mistake. 

A second factor to consider is the moisture requirements of the plant. A shrub in full leaf, sitting in the sun may require daily watering. The same plant sitting in the shade may only need to be watered once a week. Some soil mixes drain more readily than others. A sandy mix may drain in half the time of a soil containing a lot of organic matter. 

Consider the size and weight of the container and plant when determining where to locate the plant. I have dealt with container plants that weighed in the tons and had to be moved with large forklifts or cranes. Think before you plant or locate. 

Growing in containers can be fun and rewarding, but like most things it has its pros and cons. Decide what suits your situation best.