By: Liz Baessler
Looking outside at your barren or snow-covered garden in the dead of winter can be disheartening. Luckily, evergreens grow very well in containers and are cold hardy in most environments. The placement of a few evergreens in containers on your patio will look good all year and give you a much welcomed boost of winter color. Keep reading to learn more about container grown evergreens.
Care for Evergreen Container Plants
When a plant is grown in a container, its roots are essentially surrounded by air, meaning it’s more susceptible to temperature change than if it were in the ground. Because of this, you should only try to overwinter container grown evergreens that are hardy to winters considerably colder than what your area experiences.
If you live in a particularly cold region, you can increase your evergreen’s chances of survival by piling mulch up over the container, wrapping the container in bubble wrap, or planting in an overlarge container.
Evergreen death can result not just from cold but from extreme temperature fluctuations. Because of this, it’s a good idea to keep your evergreen in at least partial shade where it won’t be warmed by the sun only to be shocked by plunging night temperatures.
Keeping a potted evergreen watered in winter is a delicate balance. If you live in an area that experiences a hard frost, keep watering until the root ball is completely frozen. You’ll have to water again during any warm spells and as soon as the ground begins to thaw in the spring to keep your plants roots from drying out.
Equally important is the soil for your evergreen container plants. Suitable soil will not only provide appropriate nutrient and water needs but also keep the evergreen from blowing over in windy conditions.
Best Evergreen Plants for Containers
So which evergreen for pots are best suited for this year-round environment? Here are a few evergreens that are especially good at growing in containers and overwintering.
- Boxwood – Boxwoods are hardy to USDA zone 5 and thrive in containers.
- Yew – Hicks yew is hardy to zone 4 and can reach heights of 20-30 feet (6-9 m.). It grows slowly in containers though, so it’s a good option if you want to plant it permanently in the ground after a few years.
- Juniper – Skyrocket juniper is also hardy to zone 4 and, while it can reach heights of 15 feet (4.5 m.), it never gets more than 2 feet (.5 m.) wide. Greenmound juniper is a traditional zone 4 hardy groundcover that can also be trained as a bonsai in a container.
- Pine – The Bosnian pine is another zone 4 hardy tree that grows slowly and produces attractive blue/purple cones.
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Read more about Container Gardens
Hardy Dwarf Evergreen Shrubs That Will Grow in Containers
Add year-round color to your outdoor space or quickly change the look of an existing design by planting dwarf evergreen shrubs in containers. Container gardens offer flexibility and a chance to add drama to any outdoor space, even a small one. Evergreen shrubs grow in several forms, including round, mounding, pyramidal or upright. Choose plants that fit your design based on growth habit, type of foliage and foliage color.
Evergreen trees in pots
Conifers make a surprisingly good plant for a pot. They are structural and have some wonderful shapes and shades of leaves.
The pot constricts the root growth so they won’t turn into monsters.
This dwarf Pinus mugo (left) has been in this pot for two years. I feed it in the summer and water it, but it’s very easy care. However I have been warned that if I ever want to take it out of this pot, its roots will have grown into the curve and it will be difficult to get out without a major root prune or breaking the pot. A vase-shaped pot wouldn’t have that problem.
The plant on the left is Juniper (Juniperus communis) and arrived as a tiny plug plant three years ago. It has been entirely happy in a pot since then and has grown to this size.
For the past few years, the ever-changing display of pots outside the front door at Great Dixter has always included several conifers.
Amaranth (Amaranthus)The Spruce / Marie Iannotti
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The Spruce / Marie Iannotti
A tall amaranth, such as love lies bleeding (Amaranthus caudatus) or Joseph's coat (Amaranthus tricolor), can add color and drama to a container garden, reaching heights of around 2 to 4 feet. Choose a container with adequate drainage holes, as amaranth likes to be moist but not sit in water. These are annual plants, so you will either need to start seed early or buy plants every year. But the nice thing about annuals is they allow you to experiment and be creative.
- USDA Growing Zones: 2 to 11
- Color Varieties: Foliage of greens, reds, purples, and yellows
- Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade
- Soil Needs: Average, moist, well-draining
Blue Star Creeper (Laurentia axillaris)
Laurentia forms a froth of finely cut foliage with dozens of lavender-blue, star-shaped flowers. It adapts to all kinds of growing conditions. Although it blooms repeatedly, you will get more flowers if you give it a shearing in mid-season. You can do this in stages so that you are never totally without flowers.
Caring for an Olive Tree Indoors
Olive trees are extremely hardy. They are one of the oldest cultivated trees, having been grown in the Mediterranean for at least 6,000 years. They tolerate poor soil and require very little water. In fact, overwatering is the biggest mistake to make when growing an olive tree.
In addition to the aesthetic value container-grown olive trees lends to any home décor, these trees are pet and child safe. Considered non-toxic, I need not worry about growing an olive tree inside my home. So many times, I’ve purchased a houseplant on impulse only to find it was extremely toxic.
While it’s not difficult keeping a poisonous plant out of reach of my dogs, cats pose a different problem. Their athletic prowess allows them to reach any heights and their proclivity to gnaw on plants makes anything remotely toxic too dangerous to grow. (I tossed my sago palm after I became weary of keeping it locked up in one of the bedrooms.)
44 Best Shrubs for Containers | Best Container Gardening Plants
Check out 44 Best Shrubs for Containers. You might know some plants and some may surprise you, but one thing is sure– You’ll like to have some of these shrubs right away in your container garden.
USDA Zones— 8 – 11
Climate— Cistus grows best in frost-free subtropical and tropical climates in sandy and rocky soil. This European shrub also grows in the Middle East. You can also try to grow it in more temperate regions.
Also called “Rockrose”, this evergreen Mediterranean shrub is tough and drought tolerant and thrives on neglect. There are so many cultivars to choose from, it is suitable for pots and thrives in a sunny location. You can also grow it in a rock garden
USDA Zones— 10 – 11
Climate— A tropical fruit tree that is not restricted to tropics. Lemons are planted in pots everywhere. If you don’t live in a warm climate plant, a lemon tree in a pot and keep it indoors in winter.
Choose the sunniest location that is sheltered from drafts. Read our guide on growing a lemon tree in a pot for more information.
USDA Zones— 5 – 8
Climate— A cold-hardy shrub, thus a cool temperate climate is perfect for this plant
Cotoneaster is a sprawling shrub that comes to a variety of height. It is usually grown as a ground cover or in hedges in the gardens, but it can also be grown as a container plant. Choose a large and wide container as this plant spreads a lot.
USDA Zones— 4 – 8
Climate— Areas with extreme winters and cool summers are most suitable for growing this fragrant shrub.
Keep the plant in part shade and water it well in the summer as it loves moist soil.
18. Elaeagnus (Silverberry)
USDA Zones— 2 – 11
Climate— There are about 50 species of silverberry plant, and these are hardy for almost all types of climates. From hot tropical weather to bone-chilling cold, it comes for every zone.
If you’re searching for a tough drought tolerant shrub that loves to grow without maintenance, it is Elaeagnus. It is also suitable for planting in coastal areas.
It is a large shrub with beautiful foliage and fragrant flowers that smell like a mix of gardenia and orange. When grown in pots it doesn’t rise above 2 m height. Here’s an interesting article you can read to get more information on growing Elaeagnus.
USDA Zones— 8 – 10
Climate— Escallonia grows in warm climates, and also thrives near seaside areas. If you’re growing it in colder zones, grow it in full sun.
Beautiful decorative and fragrant foliage and tube-shaped small flowers that come in white, pink or red colors. Growing escallonia is not difficult either when grown in pots it requires well-draining soil. Keep it in partial sun in warmer zones and in full sun in cooler zones.
USDA Zones— 4 – 9
Climate— Forsythias are suitable for temperate climates with mild summer.
Grow dwarf forsythia varieties in containers. They are not fussy about soil types but require well-draining soil. Keep this fragrant plant in a location that receives at least 6 hours of sun daily.
USDA Zones— 6 – 11
Climate— Fuchsia is a frost tender subtropical shrub that also grows in temperate climates.
From summer to fall, fuchsia decorates the gardens, patios, balconies, and interiors thanks to its beautiful bell-shaped flowers that come in vibrant colors. Moreover, it is easy to maintain and one of the most favorite plants of balcony gardeners. Grow its trailing varieties in hanging baskets.
USDA Zones— 3 – 8
Climate— Cool temperate regions with mild summers are suitable for growing wintergreen shrub.
Gaultheria procumbens, which is also called wintergreen, is low growing American shrub that spreads by runners. It grows in acidic soil in a location that is cool and moist. Its foliage releases mint-like fragrance when crushed. The plant blooms in summer, beautiful small white flowers turn into bright red berries that attract birds.
USDA Zones— 8 – 11
Climate— Warm subtropical and tropical climate
One of the most fragrant flowers. Growing gardenia requires regular maintenance. You can read our guide on growing gardenia tree in a pot here.
Container Gardening: Anchor Containers with Evergreens
With its bold foliage, Fatsia gives containers a tropical accent that's green year round.
With its bold foliage, Fatsia gives containers a tropical accent that's green year round.
It's time to talk containers and how you can make the focal point of your container gardens a permanent fixture.
One large plant such as an evergreen shrub or small tree will not only give your containers some much needed impact but also save you money – and a few backaches – in the long run. That’s because this plant will become an anchor that remains in place year round even as you change out smaller, companion plants around it seasonally.
And while deciduous plants, such as Japanese maples, no doubt make beautiful focal points, evergreens offer more lasting impact, regardless of the time of year. When choosing an anchor plant remember not to scrimp on the pot select the largest container you can find for giving root systems plenty of room to stretch. Also, note that in summer, the confined soil of a container retains much more heat than garden soil does, so the more space the better!
Here are a few anchor plants to consider, depending on your climate, sun exposure and container space:
Conifers: Japanese cedar, hinoki cypress, longleaf pines, thujas, arborvitae
Yuccas and agaves: Succulents have never been more popular and are extremely drought-tolerant (be careful not to combine them with annuals that require daily watering because that might make the soil too moist for the succulents).
Camellia and sasanquas: Their waxy green leaves aren't the only plus: they also flower from late fall until early spring.
Fatsia: This plant, with its large shiny leaves, lends a tropical look to containers, and the more you pinch off its lower leaves, the more it grows.
Euonymous: Its waxy green foliage makes for great texture. Consider the variegated variety 'Aureomarginatus'.
Grasses: Even if they are not evergreen in your area, the texture in winter can't be beat. Bamboos, especially the black ones, offer a dramatic accent as well.