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Container Gardening with Shrubs

By Natalie Carmolli, Proven Winners® ColorChoice® shrubs
Photographs courtesy of Proven Winners® ColorChoice® shrubs

It spring! And it’s the perfect time to start planning a container garden! While many people opt for an annuals-only approach, incorporating shrubs into your mix will add texture, structure, and year-round interest to your patio pots.

Here are some tips to help you create and maintain a captivating container garden with a little help from some delightfully durable Proven Winners® ColorChoice® shrubs.

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Tuff Stuff Ah-Ha hydrangea.

Shrubs That Pop Perfectly Into Pots

Dwarf cultivars are ideal for container planting. These hardworking hardies can create an instant focal point for mixed containers or stand alone as a stunning sentry.  

Popular small shrubs for container gardening include:

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Sprinter boxwood.

Boxwoods are popular for the year-round interest they provide. They are easy to maintain and can add a formal touch to plantings. At 2-4’ tall and wide, Sprinter® boxwood is the perfect choice for evergreen beauty in containers. In addition, it doesn’t have that notorious boxwood odor. Hardy in USDA Plant Hardiness Zones 5-9.

Boxwood blight got you down? Consider a substitute like the rounded 2-3’ Gem Box® inkberry holly (zones 5-9), or the pyramidal Sky Box® Japanese holly - 4-5’ tall, 2-3’ wide, zones 6-8.

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Let’s Dance Big Band® hydrangea.

Hydrangeas add a wow factor to any outdoor space. These days, you won’t have to look far to find smaller selections that fit neatly into planters and pots. Easy to grow and requiring little maintenance, the only hard part is choosing one! Here are my four faves:

Tiny Quick Fire® panicle hydrangea explodes with fluffy, white summer blooms. At just 1.5-3’ tall and 2-3’ wide, it’s easily tucked into pots and other tiny garden spaces. Hardy in zones 3-8.

Let’s Dance Big Band® bigleaf hydrangea’s pink-to-purple mophead flowers burst with deeply saturated color on a plant that survives winter better, and reblooms faster. A perfect fit for containers at 2.5’ tall and wide, and hardy in zones 5-9.

Tuff Stuff Ah-Ha® mountain hydrangea has massive lacecap blooms in light pink to a soft, sky blue, depending on soil conditions. Hardy in zones 5-9, its 2-3’ frame easily stands on its own as an impressive patio presence.

Invincibelle Wee White® smooth hydrangea’s petite, 1-2.5’ tall and wide frame is perfect for containers. Because it’s a native species, it is very easy to grow and is exceptionally hardy at zones 3-8.

Roses are a colorful choice for cozy, cottage-style plantings. The new line of Reminiscent® reblooming garden roses make a lovely addition to garden vessels. Inspired by old English and traditional French styles but as durable as any landscape rose, they provide classic rose beauty and exceptional fragrance. Compact and hardy in zones 4-9 – see all three at

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Choosing Containers

When selecting a container, choose one about 1.5 times larger than the pot the shrub came in. Be sure it has good drainage holes and is made of a material that can withstand the elements, as the planting must spend winter outdoors for optimum performance year after year. Investing in quality containers will give your plants their best life, and add enduring beauty to your designs.

After you have chosen the perfect pot, grab a high-quality potting mix that is rich in nutrients to fill in around your shrub. In the first year, the potting mix and the fertilizer that is already present in your shrub’s original container will be enough. In successive years, adding a slow-release fertilizer in early spring will ensure your shrubs receive the necessary nutrients to thrive.

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Crema Reminiscent rose.


Like other plants in containers, shrubs require regular maintenance to ensure they remain healthy and beautiful. Container-grown shrubs dry out faster, so they need more frequent watering than those planted in the ground. Water when the top inch of soil feels dry. Also, consider adding 2-3” of organic mulch to the top of your containers. This helps retain moisture and keeps your shrub’s roots cool and comfy.

Container gardening is a great way to add beauty and structure to your garden, no matter how small or large. When you add shrubs to the mix, they will pay you back in low-maintenance beauty for years to come. Learn more about the shrubs mentioned in this article at

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GardenSMART Featured Article

By Delilah Onofrey, Suntory Flowers
Photographs courtesy of Suntory Flowers

Now is the time to shop for annuals that will go the distance all summer. Suntory Flowers has a portfolio of gorgeous varieties that thrive in the heat. To learn more, click here for an interesting article.

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