Container Gardens for the Midwest
A long planter chock-full of flowers and foliage substitutes for a window box on a porch railing. ‘Goldilocks’ creeping Jenny, ‘Burlesque’ pigeon berry, Madagascar dragon tree, calibrochoa and coleus create a lush mix of upright and trailing plants.
A colorful miniature cottage garden in a container will thrive throughout the summer. See our step-by-step instructions for creating this container.
Containers are ideal hosts for specimens that you normally wouldn’t plant in a Midwest garden, such as this tropical blood banana paired with trailing geraniums and scaevola.
Containers with ornamental grasses provide easy-care drama. For greater impact, combine different textures, heights, colors and plumes. These tough plants will still look great at the end of the season. In containers such as this one, the flowers hide the base of the grass and can be switched out as blooms fade.
A granite remnant elevates and unifies a collection of pots on this side table. (Stone suppliers often discount the small pieces left over from cutting countertops.) Choose one large plant—in this case, the swooping spruce—as a focal point, then surround it with smaller plants that also have intriguing silhouettes. From left: Japanese holly, aloe, ‘Skylands’ oriental spruce and agave.
Follow this three-part plan for lush containers. Begin with a “thriller,” an upright star player such as this calla lily. Next, add in one or two complementary “fillers,” which can include foliage or flowering plants like lantana and geraniums. Finish with a “spiller”—in this case livingstone daisy ‘Mezoo Trailing Red’—that cascades over the edge.
Basic geometric forms become affordable building blocks to a stylish landscape. Here, concrete and granite orbs (and even bowling balls) echo rounded plants such as ornamental kales and coleus topiaries. Big-leaf tropical plants like elephant’s ear cut a striking figure in a large, bright ceramic pot. The homeowner didn't want to close off the property with a traditional privacy fence, so he assembled planks and posts into a few rectangular screens and strategically placed them by his side yard and back dining area.
Gardeners often overlook vertical space. Use freestanding or hanging containers to give your garden three-dimensional color. In this container: 'Ramblin' Violet' Wave petunia, strawflower (Bracteantha bracteata), and 'Cuzco Yellow' creeping zinnia (Sanvitalia procumbens).
Ten manhole risers from a local concrete pipe company create an unusual twist to the typical raised bed. The homeowner rolled the 2x36-inch rings into place and stacked them five-high (no mortar required). The beds hold tomatoes, kale, peppers, sorrel, basil and parsley. In winter, you can fill the bare spots with castaway Christmas trees.
Made for shade
Give shady areas of your yard bursts of color and texture. This shady container may not need watering as often as your sun pots. Feel the soil or use a monitor before you water so you don't drown the roots. Water should not stand inside the container. Our pot uses:
-- Boston fern (Nephrolepis exaltata 'Bostoniensis')
-- Begonia 'NonStop Pink'
-- Fuchsia spp.
-- Caladium bicolor
-- Slipper orchid (Paphiopedilum callosum)
-- Bleeding heart (Dicentra spp.)
-- Maidenhair fern (Adiantum pedatum)
-- Elephant's ears (Bergenia spp.)
-- Labrador violet (Viola labradorica)
-- Bird's-foot violet (Viola pedata)
Four containers make a bold welcome in front of an Ohio home. Plants include Canna 'Australis', reddish orange New Guinea impatiens, purple petunia, Ipomea, angelonia, cleome, colus, Scaevola, lantana, kangaroo paws, Algerian ivy and croton.
A teal container at an Ohio home showcases bird of paradise, lantana, angelonia, Euphorbia corolatta, coleus, Mexican flame flower, pink salvia, heliotrope and Phygelius.
Ohio garden designer Kevin Reiner likes to plant some containers with single species, such as warm green honeysuckle, to help them stand out. But he also teams his go-to pink impatiens with green trailers for contrast. Kevin likes the visual impact of large, ornate and unusually shaped containers.
Add drama to your yard with plants that happily bask in the sun. Give these plants at least six hours of sunlight every day. Use curly willow twigs or a small, decorative trellis to support the mandevilla. Plant list:
-- Vinca vine (Vinca spp.)
-- Water hyssop (Bacopa caroliniana)
-- Annual phlox (Phlox drummondii '21st Century White')
-- Daisy (Leucanthemum spp.)
-- New Guinea impatiens (Impatiens 'Pure Beauty Purple')
-- Bellflower (Campanula 'Birch Hybrid')
-- White monkey flower (Mimulus spp.)
-- Lobelia erinus 'Rosamund'
-- Phlox (Phlox spp.)
-- Gerbera daisy
-- Mandevilla spp. vine (one pink and one white)
-- Delphinium elatum 'Magic Fountain'
-- Dusty miller (Centaurea cineraria 'Silver Dust')
-- Salvia x sylvestris 'Blue Queen'
-- Morning glory vine (Convolvulus spp.)
A Chinese fan palm spreads above 'Alligator tears' coleus, 'Marguerite' sweet potato vine, angel-wing begonia and orange New Guinea impatiens.
Bright shade-loving annuals
This container garden features a bold palette of red and chartreuse — “thrillers, fillers and spillers."
• ‘Garden Meister’ fuchsia (thriller)
• Fancy-leaf coleus (filler)
• ‘Marguerite’ sweet potato vine, yellow calibrachoa and variegated potato vine (spillers)
Goat’s beard, sweet potato vine ‘Sweetheart Purple’ and Superbells ‘Lemon’ combine for a pretty grouping in a vintage container.
Texture and color combine to create a forget-about-flowers mix that thrives in full sun. Contrast the fine ‘Sky Rocket’ fountaingrass with the bold, burgundy leaves of Big Red Judy coleus. Trailing over the edge are velvety ‘Atomic Snowflake’ scented geranium (left) and creeping thyme (right).
Balance zingy chartreuse or lime-green foliage with pink, orange or purple blooms. Magenta Petchoa SuperCal ‘Neon Rose’ and coral/orange Petchoa SuperCal ‘Terra Cotta’ pop against the chartreuse leaves of Wasabi coleus. This full-sun mix will look good all summer long.
All in a row
Unify your landscaping by repeating color and shape with similar or identical containers. This technique is especially effective along a path or on a long wall such as the one at left. The containers hold a purple-leaf coleus and creeping Jenny (Lysimachia 'Goldilocks').
An Iowa homeowner alternately stacked two sizes of circular pavers to create a sculptural plant stand for a cheerful yellow container. “By bringing the pot closer to eye level,” he explains, “you can better appreciate the succulents’ details.”
Vines so fine
Vines can give your container garden height, shape and visual interest. Here, a Spanish flag twines upward to add the finishing touch in a colorful planting:
-- Zinnia haageana 'Persian Carpet'
-- Petunia 'Ultra Blue'
-- Coleus (Solenostemon 'Alabama Sunrise')
-- Spanish flag (Ipomoea lobata)
-- Vinca 'Illumination'
Splashes of color
This bright and fresh combo exudes charm. Echeveria 'Perle Von Nurnberg' pops in its surrounding of the lime-green Plectranthus 'Limelight'. And purple petunias and pink blossoms crown the arrangement with a touch of sweetness.
Container designs should have plants with the same sun, soil and water requirements. Good companions include a variety of sedums and other succulents. The larger container at left features 'Bon Bon' (Sedum reflexum) for height with 'Angelina' (Sedum rupestre) and hens and chicks (Sempervivum) to fill. More 'Angelina' is in a companion pot.
Contain aggressive spreaders like creeping Jenny in pots and hanging baskets where the foliage adds lushness but is kept in bounds.
Build drama into your garden scene by elevating container gardens on pedestals. This elevated urn contains Fuchsia 'Gardenmeister Bonstedt', Euphorbia corollata and golden creeping Jenny.
Contrasting colors create eye-catching appeal. Here, Tiger Eyes staghorn sumac stands alone in a pot of contrasting color.
Sometimes one plant is all you need for a striking container garden. Aeonium arboreum 'Zwartkop' carries off solo style with ease.
Metal orbs give air plants (bromeliads) an unexpected lift.
Different textures of plants—fluffy, smooth, shiny, ruffled—add interest to your container garden. This container features white mandevilla, coleus, lantana, white penta, angelonia and variegated ivy.
For extra drama in a pot, use plants of varying heights. The spiky, red leaves of Cordyline ‘Crimson Star’ rise above the star-shape flowers of ‘Graffiti Violet’ geranium. Supertunia Watermelon Charm gracefully spills over the edge. This arrangement does well in full sun.
Garden on wheels
Plant a rainbow of annuals in a wagon for a portable garden. Be sure to drill a hole in the bottom of the wagon to provides drainage.
We used these annuals for a bright color mix: Horned violet (Viola cornuta 'Sorbet Plum Velvet'), French dwarf marigold (Tagetes 'Bonanza Orange'), Lobelia erinus 'Riviera Midnight Blue', variegated Swedish ivy (Plectranthus coleoides 'Variegatus'), sunflower (Helianthus annuus 'Big Smile'), floss flower (Ageratum houstonianum 'Blue Danube') and Petunia milliflora 'Fantasy Red'.
Informal summer planting
Trailing vines, willow branches, creeping myrtle and fountaingrass give a relaxed, flowing feel to this container garden, created in a 24-inch galvanized-metal tub. For a more formal summer planting, see the next slide.
Here's what we used:
-- Three 8-inch pots of fountaingrass (Miscanthus sinensis 'Autumn Light')
-- Two 8-inch pots of sweet potato vine (lpomoea batatas)
-- 12 willow (Salix spp.) branches
-- Three 6-inch pots of marigolds (Tagetes spp.)
-- One 8-inch pot of creeping myrtle (Vinca minor 'Variegata')
Succulents are a snap to grow and need almost no care. Most succulents prefer full sun, well-drained soil and good air circulation. Use a potting mix designed specifically for succulents or cacti. Water potted succulents regularly during the growing season, but don't overwater. Always water the plants at their base instead of overhead. Feed succulents monthly with a balanced plant food.
Both containers in the photo hold Echeveria spp.; the one in the front also has cobweb houseleek (Sempervivum arachnoideum) trailing over the side.
Stylish dark plants add drama to container gardens. This container combines Canna 'Australis', verbena, sweet potato vine, 'Midnight Lace', angelonia and Scaevola.
Update the relaxed, cheerful look of a vintage container with rambling plants in a pretty pink, ivory and green palette:
-- Verbena Aztec Light Pink
-- Transvaal daisy (Gerbera jamesonii)
-- Geranium (Pelargonium hybrids)
-- Periwinkle (Vinca major 'Wojo's Gem')
-- Mini petunia (Supertunia Lemon Plume)
This succulent planting combines Echeveria spp. with various types of hens-and-chicks (Sempervivum spp.) in a sleek black metal container. You can choose from more than 40 species of hens-and-chicks to vary your look. A few smooth stones between plants give this combination a rocky, organic effect.
Pair a tropical bulb--large-leaf imperial taro (Colocasia esculenta 'Illustris')--with scarlet plume (Euphorbia fulgens) in a 30-inch container. The result: An amazing addition to your landscape, so big it could even be used to divide sections of an outdoor room.
Formal beauty in an urn
For a formal summer look, we created a planting in a 36-inch-diameter iron urn:
-- One 8-inch pot of maidengrass (Miscanthus sinensis 'Gracillimus')
-- Two 4-inch pots of miniature roses (Rosa spp.)
-- Three 4-inch pots of Ficus nitida
-- 24 pussy willow (Salix discolor) branches
-- Two 6-inch pots of aluminum plant (Pilea cadierei)
Short on space? Planters hung from rafters, arbors, eaves or even trees draw eyes up and inject color to your landscape. Here, baskets filled with impatiens hang from a spreading tree.
When you've got a small plant, using it in a tabletop container lets you bring it to eye level where it can be better appreciated. Here, hyacinths take the spotlight. Placing them up close means you can appreciate their fragrance better, too.
More on container gardens
Click the links below for more container garden inspirations.