Potting Up the Pretty Perennials

Potted-HybiscusWhen you think of container gardening, the first thing most focus on is using only annuals. You know those common plants that are crammed into the containers by the dozens. But what if the common plants were used differently?


Using perennials in containers has become increasingly popular over the years. Many of our annuals are perennials elsewhere in the world. We are just using them with no expectation of them returning next spring.


I never really thought to write about container perennials because I have been doing it for so long, it never dawned on me that it actually was an emerging trend. I even grow tender shrubs in containers and over-winter them indoors (greenhouse is better).

It is so easy when dividing perennials or digging up shrubs to re-use them in containers. Over-wintering tender perennials in containers is not quite as easy in our climate though, but can be done with some useful tips.

1. Use a large fiberglass or metal container, not a large ceramic pot which would crack in winter if you want them to remain outdoors year round. Very large fiberglass pots are winter-safe and plants weather well in them.

2. Another designer trick is use the ceramic decorator pot but use it with the pot-in-pot method. Plant your perennial in a plastic pot and insert that into the ceramic pot. Use wood chips between the pots to insulate and to keep your ceramic pot safe from cracking. Important to note, these type of containers are better left outdoors under the protection of a porch. These pots can be stored in an unheated garage if cover cannot be provided. The wood chips offer decent protection against freeze-thaw, but you may not chance it filling up with moisture that will freeze and expand. Sometimes the drainage hole on ceramic pots gets clogged and that allows in rain or melting snow. I did this one time and luckily the pot did not crack when I brought it in to thaw. Best on a porch if left outside. Clay, glazed and porcelain types of pots are susceptible to breaking in the winter so these would be likely choices for the pot-in-pot method. After the first couple of frosts, move them to the garage if not left on a porch.

3. Another useful tip for keeping plants over winter outside is to use plants two zones hardier than the zone where you live. I live in zone 6 so that means a Zone 4 plant would work well in a container here. I planted monarda, coreopsis, tall pholx, and goldenrod that made a great comeback after the long, cold winter of 2014. And don’t forget the bulbs. Great plants to see come Spring if handled so they don’t get water-logged in Spring.

4. Do not fertilize them over winter, but do keep them moist. If the soil goes completely dry, the plant can die of desiccation. Use a good quality soil-less potting mixture. Be careful with over-watering bulbs though.

5. In spring, cut the perennials back and move them outside if having wintered in the garage.

6. Fertilize them during the growing season. I use Scotts slow release,  Osmocote.

7. This pot-in pot, or fiberglass pot method works planted with bulbs also. Just make sure they do not get too wet come spring.

In Fall, you can always just transplant the perennial or bulbs back into the garden. When I divide plants in spring, I mix up perennials, bulbs, corms, and annuals for a potluck display. It is fun to combine plants and see what happens.


But what about bloom times?

The trick is to use perennials that have good leaf retention or color through the growing season. If they bloom for a long time or rebloom that is a real bonus. Some plants that stay attractive after flower are Heuchera, Hydrangea, Hosta, Agastache ‘Blue Fortune’ or ‘Bolaro’, Monarda didyma ‘Pardon My Pink’ and ‘Raspberry Wine’ and Phlox paniculata to name a few. A few are quite tall, but cutting back in late May controls and shortens their overall bloom height by mid-summer. I cut back Monarda and Goldenrod.


Perennials that bloom a long time and are nice in containers are Coreopsis, Caryopteris, Achillia, Asclepias, Leucanthemum, Symphyotrichum, geranium, among many others.

What you can do while waiting for the perennials to bloom – add some colorful annuals like, Salvia longispicata x farinacea, Salvia farinacea, or Salvia spendens. These taller annuals help support the taller perennials. If you want some spiller plants try Verbena Superbena or other trailing varieties. So many complimentary choices to name in annuals. Make sure to add those fast growing self-seeders too.


And don’t forget to use summer bulbs and tubers. I have gladioli and Turk’s Cap lilies paired with pretty annuals and miniature Monarda. By season’s end you should have some pretty containers. Yes, it does take time for the perennials to bloom.


I have a hydrangea paired with Hosta, Painted Fern and Torenia for shade. The hosta and fern should be a nice “ground cover” to the hydrangea. The Torenia adds season-long, low-growing, spilling color. It takes by mid-summer for these to bloom nicely, but the annuals help span that gap.


I always make sure the containers have something for wildlife too. Just about any plant can be potted up for summer. Herbs make great container companions and pollinators love, love, love herbs.

I highly recommend using trees, perennials, herbs, bulbs, shrubs, annuals, and plants for pollinators in containers.


I myself do not look for instant gratification and will wait until the plants reach their climax. Try mixing and matching from your garden. Just think of all the money saved when you can move your container plants into the garden instead of tossing them out season’s end.

About Garden Walk Garden Talk

I love to photograph, paint, draw, design, garden, travel the world, and pass on a few tips and ideas that I learned through experience as a Master Gardener and architect. I am highly trained in my field and enjoy my work each and every day. I garden in Niagara Falls, NY in zone 6-B. Find me at: http://gardenwalkgardentalk.com
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16 Responses to Potting Up the Pretty Perennials

  1. These are great ideas! Thanks for sharing.

  2. The flowers in the last photo really highlight the container. I have one of those—I should try it.

  3. Brilliant advice, Donna! I agree about not looking for ” instant gratification”. Also, I rarely throw away plants [unless it is evident they are dead] and I have been pleasantly surprised by plants I thought would never bloom again. Now, I have to go use your advice in my little balcony garden! 🙂

  4. alesiablogs says:

    I spend very little every year, but I will buy some flowers as a way to cheer me up. Thats really what is amazing to me about gardening. I think its a beautiful way to enjoy nature. I confess I dont do enough!

  5. susurrus says:

    I prefer perennials to annuals in the garden too. Gardening teaches us patience and helps us think in years or seasons rather than days.

  6. Susan Link says:

    Thanks for the great suggestions! Will have to try some of them. I never thought of using the hydrangeas in a pot.

  7. swo8 says:

    All those different pots full of plants and flowers look so pretty. I check around for some containers and start planning. Thanks Donna.

  8. I’ll try that this spring. Thanks.

  9. lulu says:

    I so enjoy and appreciate your helpful posts.

  10. KL says:

    Great post. I never throw away any plants. For annuals, I collect seeds or spread the seeds on soil and they naturalize. Beautiful arrangement of plants in pots you havee.

  11. Great post, very thought-provoking. I have thought about starting to use some perennials in my containers, you’ve given me lots of ideas.

  12. I use a mix of perennials and annuals in my containers, Donna. I plant the perennials back in the garden over the winter — I’ve never tried your method of keeping them in the pots. I’ve had most luck with Heuchera, Hosta, Agastache, Coreopsis, Veronica and Painted Fern. I’ll take your advice and try the summer blooming bulbs too this year. Excellent posting! P. x

  13. Indie says:

    Some beautiful containers! I like to put perennials in containers sometimes, too, as I feel like it saves money since they can either be overwintered or planted out in the garden for next year.

  14. I know–I need to do this. I was inspired by some of the potted perennial displays at the Fling last summer. I think what I might do is dig up plants that have “moved” to places I don’t want them and pot them up. My only issue is I’m getting to the place where I’m bringing in too many plants! 😉

  15. Helene says:

    Hi Donna, I haven’t been here for a while – between moving house and creating a new garden the last year there has been far too few hours in the day! Great topic you have chosen this time, I have always had lots of containers and over the years done my fair share of trial and errors. I am often surprised how well many plants grow in containers for years. I have a Garrya elliptica ‘James Roof’ that has been in the same container for 12 years, only with minimal compost change. It has beautiful catkins in the spring and is only about 5 ft tall including the container. I also use a mix of perennials and bedding plants in my containers to prolong interest.

  16. debsgarden says:

    Great ideas! I like to put newly rooted or young shrubs and trees in pots, often combining with perennials and/or annuals, then put them in the garden when they are a bit larger with better root systems.

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