Melinda's Beginners Guide: Shrubs for Containers

Melinda's Beginners Guide: Shrubs for Containers

Low maintenance options...

As a longtime small space gardener in the city I grew a variety of trees, shrubs and perennials in containers. These included a Japanese maple, weeping lilac, chamaecyparis and Garden Glow dogwood along with an assortment of perennial vines and flowers.  Growing in containers expanded my plantable space, added seasonal and vertical interest to my landscape, provided screening and helped transform my patio into a beautiful oasis in the city.  These are just a few reasons you may decide to add a few shrub filled containers to your patio, deck or balcony.

As always it is important to match the plant you select to the growing conditions. This includes sunlight, moisture and seasonal temperature extremes if you plan to leave them outdoors year round. The ones listed here are all low maintenance and suited to our climate. 

When selecting a container, aesthetics is one concern. You want the style and material to complement your landscape design and home’s architecture. But you also need to select one made from a material that will tolerate our winter cold if left outdoors year round. Cement, fiberglass, wood and resin are a few weather tolerant materials.

Make sure the container you select has drainage holes. Even if you can water perfectly nature may “overwater” your plants. Consistently waterlogged soil leads to root rot and death. Extend the time between watering with self-watering containers. These have reservoirs for water and wicks or other means for water to move from the reservoir into the soil.

Use a quality container mix designed to hold moisture but provide adequate drainage. Many potting mixes contain some fertilizer. Check the label before adding more. One application of a slow release fertilizer is enough to provide your shrub with all the nutrients it needs this season. Stop fertilizing by early August when using a quick release fertilizer. A late season application of fertilizer stimulates late season growth that can be injured or killed over winter.

Here are a few low maintenance shrubs to consider:


Evergreens add year round greenery and provide screening and a nice backdrop for flowering plants

Arborvitaes make great screens and vertical accents. Smaller mounded varieties add dimension and texture even in small spaces.   They prefer full sun but will tolerate some shade.

Boxwoods are a favorite evergreen for the garden that also does well in containers. It’s a good choice for those shadier spots but will also thrive in full sun. Allow it to grow into its natural form or shear it into the desired size and shape.

False Cypress or Chaemacyparis adds welcome texture with its evergreen foliage. You’ll find a variety of sizes and shapes and one sure to complement your space. Grow them in full sun with moist soil and if left out for winter, sheltered from drying winter wind and sun.

Dwarf Alberta Spruces have long been grown in containers. The strong pyramidal form, fine texture and evergreen nature provide year round beauty. Grow in full sun to light shade and sheltered from winter wind and sun for best results.

Junipers are the perfect choice for hot dry locations. Look for the size and shape that best fits the available space.

Yews tolerate sun or shade and come in a variety of sizes and shapes. Upright varieties make great vertical accents and screens.


Deciduous Shrubs drop their leaves in winter. Many provide flowers, fruit and colorful foliage adding to your container garden display.

Dogwoods provide multiple seasons of beauty. Flowers, fruit, fall color and many have red or yellow stems for winter interest. Most prefer full sun to part shade and moist soil.

Hydrangeas expand your planting options. Annabelle types are shade tolerant and long blooming. Repeat blooming bigleaf hydrangea bloom best in full sun to part shade. Both like moist soil especially when growing in hot sunny locations. The smaller varieties of panicle hydrangeas are another great choice. They end the season with large flowers that transform in color from white or chartreuse to shades of pink or red then fade to beige.

Lilacs thrive in full sun, are drought tolerant and low maintenance. They add fragrance and beauty to any space. Bloomerang® lilacs flower in spring and again later in the season extending your enjoyment.

Ninebarks are another drought tolerant plant that thrives in full sun to part shade. You’ll find lots of varieties with colorful foliage adding to the seasonal interest.

Roses brighten any space with their flowers and colorful rose hips in winter. Newer more disease resistant low maintenance varieties make this a plant anyone can grow in sunny locations.

Weigela puts on a major floral display in late spring followed by sporadic blooms throughout the summer. Then watch for more blooms in fall. Variegated, green or bronze foliage adds to the colorful display. Perfect for those sunny spots on the patio, deck or balcony.

Written by gardening expert, Melinda Myers. Melinda Myers is a nationally recognized gardening expert with more than 30 years of horticulture experience. She is a wealth of knowledge and we are pleased to share Melinda’s Beginner's Guide to Gardening with you!  


We offer our customers another chance to watch Melinda's 'Spring Flowering Shrub' webinar from May 10, 2022... sponsored by Pasquesi. Click here to learn more about these low maintenance shrubs.