Container Gardening


Exterior container

Container gardening is a great way to express your individuality and artistic ability. Plants in containers are easy to care for and they’re almost guaranteed to stay small and not creep into other gardens. They can be moved around for variety or out of the way when you need the space. Best of all, they can be kept close to where you can enjoy them. Use your imagination and you will have beautiful container plantings to enjoy through all the seasons!

What You Will Need

  • A Container With Drainage (see below)
  • Plants (see below)
  • Potting Soil – best to use soil mix that is specifically formulated for containers (water retentive)
  • Pottery Sealer to seal inside of pottery container
  • Gloves
  • Trowe


Almost anything that holds soil and lets water drain is suitable for containers. There are an amazing variety of nice looking and inexpensive glazed and plastic pots and large containers available at nurseries and even big-box stores. But you don’t need to buy one, for often perfectly serviceable used or discarded containers may be found around the home.

Small container near house

  • Terra cotta pipes
  • Watering cans
  • Shoes
  • Tins
  • Pottery containers
  • Wood containers (preferably cedar)

Container Plant Suggestions

Consider colors and shades that compliment each other, alternating bloom times to keep your garden fresh and interesting throughout the season, and plant textures that work well with each other.

  • Annuals – also can be used for fillers: sweet alyssum, sweet potato vine, lobelia, bacopa, petunia, geranium
  • Perennials – Heuchera, Campanula, Lavendar, Scabiosa, Rosemary, Verbena, Moss Roses
  • Evergreens – Hebe, Dwarf Boxwood, Spirea, yew, Camelia, Cotoneaster, Nandina, Mugo Pine
  • Grasses – Black Mondo, Sedge. Purple Fountain Grass, Blue Fescue
  • Vines – Clematis, Wysteria, Potato Vine, Trumpet Vine
  • Trees – any small tree, Pee Gee hydrangea, Harry lauder Walking Stick, Twisty Baby Black Locust

Container Water Feature

Small water feature

To make a container water feature use anything with an interesting shape that will hold water, such as:

  • An old birdbath
  • Ceramic container without drainage holes
  • Concrete bowl, etc.

Fill with any planting material that thrives in water or a marshy soil, such as Azola (fairy fern), Horse Tail Rush, Variegated 4 Leaf Water Clover, Water Lettuce. The simple water feature shown here contains Azola, which is a small leaved aquatic plant that thrives in morning sun.


The amount of sun, wind and amount of soil in your container will determine how often you will need to water. It is usually better to give good soaking with the soil dries out than little amounts of water very often. If your plants are not doing well in the location you have chosen, move the container so that it gets more or less light, more or less shelter, etc.

Year-Round Container Gardening

From a presentation by Linda Lewis, WSU Master Gardener.


Talavera pot

Start shopping or creating your own pots. For the most part, pots should be neutral so as not to compete with plant colors. However, in my opinion, once you learn the rules, they need to be bent in order to allow yourself to become more creative. If you see a pot, such as the Talavera pots, which has many colors, pick a color from that pot to be the main complementary highlight.

Tip: After Christmas, many nurseries offer 30% to 40% discounts on containers.

Glazed containers are usually a safer bet when it comes to the early or late frosts that we can get in Grays Harbor County. If they are unglazed clay pots, be safe and store them in the garage.


Sweet Pea

If there is one thing that will lift you out of the winter doldrums, it is the Northwest Flower and Garden Show in Seattle. Start planning your garden mentally, imaging how your empty space can be used. Join the annual Master Gardener Bus Tour to the Show and shop, shop, shop for new plants and ideas.

First to be planted are peas, edible and ornamental. They love the cold “set” of weather before spring begins. I don’t bother to water for, unless you are in dry country for the next two months, the seeds can rot. Spinach is another possibility.


Camellia japonica

If you didn’t find all that you need at the Northwest Flower and Garden Show, start to peruse your garden catalogs for at least one perennial or dwarf conifer. Then think about your color scheme and bloom times. In addition, think of additional plants that will bloom consecutively. Annuals can always be added later to keep your containers bright and cheerful. Sometimes you may find the perfect perennial right out in your garden, one that need to be divided or moved anyway.

Per Marianne Binetti, some plants can stay in pots indefinitely, especially if they are shallow-rooted like Japanese maples, azaleas, and camellias. Personally, I would stay with the dwarf varieties, especially rhododendrons that need plenty of water on a weekly basis.

In addition, think about the size of your pot. It should be at least 18″ deep to avoid freezing. Drainage is very important, so raise your pot on three bricks for this purpose. Doing so not only provides air for the roots, but helps eliminate sow bugs from gathering underneath the pot.


Check out plants that can be started from seed. Note the last frost date for your particular zone (which we know can change from year to year). Are these seeds for a shaded area or full sun, or a little of both? Check out the back of the seed packet. Think about the height of each plant you be selecting. Maybe you simply want to get the seeds started and then transplant them in your garden later.


Japanese Iris

That prized plant you just purchased and do not wish to lose tack of in the garden will be perfect in a pot, especially if the plant is a “specialty” plant or new hybrid that was expensive.

The new plants are beginning to fill up the nurseries around the country, so now is the time to buy what is available. We already have daffodils and crocus, tulips will be next, then iris. Think about a Japanese iris, then adding a dwarf bearded iris in gront or around the perimeter of a pot. Allow room in between for Veronica speedwell, which is only 6″ tall and wide, and will tolerate -40 degrees. Speedwell also attracts hummingbirds and like full sun.


Vinca minor

By June we could have a miniature climbing rose, a clematis, and a shorter dwarf azalea. Both the rose and the clematis could have more than one set of blooms. The clematis blooms spring through fall. Make sure your rose selection is a repeated bloomer. Lady Banksia is a lovely double yellow, but is once blooming. Vinca minor can be trailing over your container. In addition to the purple and blue periwinkle, there is a double pink with a variegated leaf.

Select a color, then select its opposite on the color scale, throw in a little white like babys breath, and you have an instant flower arrangement in your pot. A color example would be yellow, purple-pink, a warm purple, or a deep lavender. Be careful with reds; there are blue reds, pink reds, and coral reds.


Gardens are in full swing and it is time to plan ahead for August, September, and October. Many clematis, gladiolas, roses, and dahlias will carry color during this time and later. If you choose, many flower can be cut and hung in a cool, dry place out of the sun.


Loropetalum chinense

Most of you already know that flowering kale, fall-blooming mums, and fragrant cleatis armandi (evergreen) will bloom again by September. There is the Fringe plant (Loropetalum chinense), a deciduous plant with pink-tinged leaves followed by a fringe of pink flowers. There is also monkshood (Aconitium), which is similar to delphinium in stature but a deep violet-blue. Monkshood needs some shade, and is a wonderful addition to the back of your garden.


Time for planting bulbs and there are so many to choose from in your local nurseries. Perhaps you have ordered some through your catalogs or flower shows. Many of these can make a very showy display in a container (the bigger the container, the more you can plant). Plant the bulbs according to package directions, placing the smallest bulbs just beneath the surface. To foil the predators that like to dig up bulbs and eat them, you can place chicken wire (use a small gauge) or gridcloth on the container bottom and just under the top layer of soil. Try something different like Pineapple or Peruvian lily just for fun.


Except for the cleanup of your beds, and the last bulb planting, one could perhaps slack off a bit. Thanksgiving and company are coming.


Clematis 'Florida Seiboldii'

Now we are in the stores, and so are the poinsettias and Amarylis. Guess what I discovered blooming indoors alongside these holiday beauties? Clematis “Florida Seiboldii”, sometimes called “Choir Boy”. I couldn’t believe seeing one of my favorite plants. Obviously, since it was indoors, I figured it might be a tad tender. Since I couldn’t live without it, I brought it home and watched it bloom for several weeks. In early June I placed it outside, and it not only started blooming, but each flower was twice as big. Its showy display is worth having to bring it indoors later.



Did you know that there are winter blooming orchids? I have phalenopsis, or “Moth Orchid”, that blooms in February of each year. The next time you visit a nursery, look for orchids in bloom. Better yet, find a buddy who has one and is ready to replant and divide their treasure. One does not always need a greenhouse, but you do get many more blooms when a greenhouse is available.



Houseplants, Animals and Children,  Skagit County Master Gardeners