7 Best Types of Shrubs For Planting in Containers

A small space garden doesn't mean you're limited to small plants. Make a big impact on your landscape by using fuss-free shrubs in movable planters.

Instead of filling large pots with a variety of flowers, try letting easy-care shrubs go solo in a sturdy container. These plants often offer just as much color as annual flowers, but with less fuss. There's a shrub that will work for every taste and situation, whether you struggle with deer, shade, or don't have room to plant a row of large conifers but still want the privacy dense shrubs can provide. Plus, this method lets you grow your favorite shrubs in a small space, such as a sunny balcony or patio. Here are seven types of shrubs to consider planting in containers for instant impact.

shrubs in containers next to chair
Laurie Black

1. Fragrant Shrubs

Perfect partners for a sunny spot, Lo & Behold 'Blue Chip Jr.' butterfly bush and 'Lil Miss Sunshine' bluebeard offer fragrance from spring until fall. The felted foliage of the dwarf, sterile butterfly bush is silvery-green, providing an excellent foil for the scented purple flowers that bloom for many months. In contrast, the golden leaves of the bluebeard emit an herbal smell when crushed (plus this plant is covered with sky blue flowers in late summer). As a bonus, both shrubs are deer-resistant.

shrubs in containers on deck
Laurie Black

2. Sunny-Spot Shrubs

The 'Double Play Blue Kazoo' spirea is truly a five-star shrub for the soft blue foliage alone, especially with the burgundy flush on the new growth and intense red color in fall. Clusters of fuzzy white flowers in spring attract bees and butterflies, but deer mercifully leave it alone. A splendid companion plant, the ruffled pink flowers of this Sugar Tip rose of Sharon are reminiscent of a party dress. Set against the soft green and creamy white variegated leaves, the effect is magical. This can be trained as a small tree or kept smaller by pruning.

Hydrangea quercifolia 'Little Honey' in container
Laurie Black

3. Shrubs for Shade

Add sunshine to the shade with the bold foliage of 'Little Honey' hydrangea. Large white flowers are a bonus; this plant is all about the leaves, which transition from yellow to rich burgundy in autumn. This oakleaf variety has huge chartreuse leaves that stand out in a shady spot.

containers in shrubs on steps
Laurie Black

4. Shrubs with Multi-Season Color

Cluster these three shrubs and you have it all: flowers, berries, and a blaze of color in fall. Brandywine viburnum provides glossy green leaves that belie the intense red fall color to come. It also boasts white spring flowers that are followed by multicolor berries. Matching it for size but exceeding in flower power is 'Pinky Winky' hydrangea. Stout red stems echo the pink tones that flush the white blooms in fall. In contrast, 'Blues Festival' St. John's wort is much daintier, with soft blue-tone foliage that becomes almost hidden by flowers in summer and fall.

arrangement of shrubs and grasses
Laurie Black

5. Pollinator-Friendly Shrubs

Deep-purple wavy leaves on a wide-spreading shrub make 'Spilled Wine' weigela a dramatic addition to a container vignette. Hot-pink flowers in spring and early summer are also a big attraction for hummingbirds. This particular variety of weigela prefers full sun.

two varieties of shrubs in containers
Laurie Black

6. Deer-Resistant Shrubs

Tiers of feathery 'Lemony Lace' elderberry foliage are studded with clusters of white flowers in spring followed by red fall berries. In contrast, the 'Sunjoy Tangelo' barberry sports vibrant orange leaves that turn red in fall. These shrubs make a statement in solitude, but can also be placed together for a big statement.

shrubs in containers next to garden bench
Laurie Black

7. Shrubs for Small Spaces

These shrubs might be small in size but they're big on personality, especially when placed together. This new dwarf ninebark ('Tiny Wine') is compact, bushy, and mildew-resistant. Its bronze foliage sets off the constellation of delicate flowers in spring beautifully. The sculpted chartreuse foliage of 'Anna's Magic Ball' arborvitae is a standout year-round.

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