12 Decorative Shrubs for Growing in Pots

A potted pink hydrangea covered with flower clusters growing on a deck.
My Garden Life
June 3, 2024
Table of Contents

Even if ground space is limited or your entire garden is restricted to a patio, you can still grow large featured plants. In the sections below, we’ll review the art of growing shrubs in containers and recommend a few beautiful shrubs for growing in pots.

Uses for Potted Shrubs

Many popular shrubs grow up to 10 feet (3 m) tall. Thus, shrubs are typically planted in the ground. However, sufficient ground space isn’t always available. For example, you may be restricted to gardening on a patio or porch. Or, perhaps your landlord or homeowner’s association restricts your gardening options. When these limitations make it impossible to plant a shrub in the ground, you may be able to use a container instead.

Ideal uses for potted shrubs include:

  • Creating portable privacy screens.
  • Gardening on a patio or porch.
  • Adding visual interest next to doorways, paths, or swimming pools.
  • Expanding a garden into corners, onto paved areas, and alongside fences.
  • Growing shrubs that will eventually be transported to a new location.
  • Growing shrubs that must be moved indoors during the winter.
  • Using in established flower borders to add height and interest.
Patio seating area with red-cushioned chairs and pots of small arborvitae and flowers.

Selecting a Container-Friendly Shrub Variety

Technically, any shrub can grow in a pot. However, many varieties will quickly outgrow their containers. Then, oversized potted plants may take up too much space and become difficult to prune. They also become rootbound, resulting in stress and poor health.

To select container-friendly shrubs, look for varieties with “compact” or “dwarf” in their names. These terms indicate that the shrub won’t grow as large as other varieties of the same species and should offer better sized shrubs for growing in pots. However, note that “dwarf” doesn’t necessarily mean “small.” Therefore, it’s also helpful to look for varieties that are described as slow-growing and suitable for containers. Look for shrubs that won’t grow taller than six feet (1.8 m) and make sure your growing area offers sufficient room for the plant’s eventual size.

Escallonia-Golden Carpet variety growing in a decorative ceramic pot on a deck surrounded by a flower garden.

Repotting a Shrub

A shrub purchased from a garden center should be repotted promptly if it’s in a cheap nursery container or if it’s already too big for its current pot. When repotting a shrub, use a new pot that’s 6–12 inches (15–30 cm) bigger than the old pot. Note that pot sizes usually indicate the diameter at the top of the pot, also referred to as the width.

A woman transplanting a purple rhododendron shrub into a large decorative pot.

To allow room for growth, most maturing shrubs should be potted in 16–24-inch (45–61 cm) pots. Or, in terms of volume, 10 to 25-gallon pots are appropriate for shrubs. If you aren’t ready to commit to a large high-quality pot, five-gallon paint buckets are useful as starter containers for shrubs.

Keep in mind that mature potted shrubs are heavy and difficult to move. If you want to reduce weight and save soil in a big pot, a clever hack is to put a layer of empty soda cans in the bottom of the container during repotting.

Caring for Potted Shrubs

Watering Potted Shrubs

Compared to shrubs planted in the ground, shrubs for growing in pots are less vulnerable to pests and weeds. However, potted plants often require more frequent watering because potting soil is faster draining than garden soil. While water needs vary among different shrubs, it’s generally best to water thoroughly (rather than lightly) and then allow the soil to dry out between waterings. If keeping your potted shrub sufficiently watered becomes a problem during the peak of summer, consider adding a layer of mulch to help retain moisture and keep roots cool.

Shrubs for growing in pots - a woman places a layer of bark mulch on the soil of a potted dwarf spruce.

Feeding Potted Shrubs

Potted shrubs may also require more fertilizer than in-ground shrubs. Whereas plants in the ground have access to a vast system of soil nutrients, potted plants draw from a limited supply. Thus, it’s important to add nutrients to the soil regularly. You can choose between the quick-uptake of liquid fertilizer or for convenience consider a slow-release granular fertilizer that will feed your shrub through the growing season. Fertilize in spring and fall, or follow species-specific recommendations.

Pruning Potted Shrubs

Prune potted shrubs like you would if they were in the ground. This typically involves minimal or no pruning during the first few years of growth, then annual pruning in late winter or early spring. Aggressive pruning may be helpful for keeping a potted shrub small and tidy. However, some shrubs are more tolerant than others of major pruning, so it’s important to follow recommendations for your particular shrub. 

12 Shrubs for Growing in Pots

Escallonia ‘Compacta’ (Escallonia hybrid)

Escallonia ‘Compacta’ (Escallonia hybrid)

The ‘Compacta’ variety is a dwarf shrub that stays naturally smaller in size than most other Escallonia. The dark green, shiny leaves remain handsome all year and the red-pink flowers provide an attractive display in summer. When this plant is grown in mild climates the flowers may bloom nearly all year. A great choice for foundation plantings or hedges, and growing in patio pots.
Eternal Fragrance Daphne ‘Blafra’ (Daphne x transatlantica)

Eternal Fragrance Daphne ‘Blafra’ (Daphne x transatlantica)

Beautiful, easy-care shrub produces a profusion of intensely fragrant, pinkish white blooms over a long period from spring to autumn. Compact, rounded form is a good choice for small-space gardens. The handsome, semi-glossy foliage is evergreen in regions with mild winters. U.S. Plant Patent #18,361, ‘Blafra’. Use near walkways, decks and patios where scent can be enjoyed.
Japanese Aucuba, Japanese Laurel ‘Variegata’ (Aucuba japonica)

Japanese Aucuba, Japanese Laurel ‘Variegata’ (Aucuba japonica)

This is sometimes called the Gold Dust Plant because the dark green leaves are handsomely flecked with yellow spots. Japanese Aucuba is a low maintenance shrub that does not require much pruning since it naturally keeps a tidy, rounded shape. Introduced to the United States from Japan in the 1780s, this is a classic choice for brightening shaded areas.
Small-leaf Arrowwood, Walter’s Viburnum ‘Reiflers Dwarf’ (Viburnum obovatum)

Small-leaf Arrowwood, Walter’s Viburnum ‘Reiflers Dwarf’ (Viburnum obovatum)

A lovely compact shrub with attractive glossy, deep green foliage and multi-season interest. Lightly fragrant white flowers are followed by red berries that mature to black. Birds and other animals eat the fruits. Evergreen in areas with mild winters. Prune if needed just after plants finish blooming.
Dwarf English Boxwood ‘Suffruticosa’ (Buxus sempervirens)

Dwarf English Boxwood ‘Suffruticosa’ (Buxus sempervirens)

English Boxwoods have been a gardening favorite for centuries. They were such an important element of a well-tended landscape, that the early colonists brought them along to North America. This is a compact, slow-growing shrub with dense, fragrant, evergreen foliage. An ideal selection for creating a hedge, topiary, or growing in a large patio planter.
Dwarf Japanese Euonymus ‘Microphyllus’ (Euonymus japonicus)

Dwarf Japanese Euonymus ‘Microphyllus’ (Euonymus japonicus)

Very dense, oval-shaped, evergreen shrub provides interest year ’round. Extremely hardy, versatile and low maintenance shrub. An excellent specimen, foundation, or border plant. Provides dramatic color and form to autumn and winter landscapes.
Patio Hydrangea (Hydrangea macrophylla)

Patio Hydrangea (Hydrangea macrophylla)

Potted Hydrangea’s are a great way to add color and a relaxed, natural feel to patio’s, decks and sunny balconies. The long-lasting blooms can be cut and saved for dried arrangements. May be transplanted into the garden or a larger pot as the plant gets larger. Perfect for adding instant color to any location! They may be used to liven porches and patios.
Dwarf Myrtle ‘Compacta’ (Myrtus communis)

Dwarf Myrtle ‘Compacta’ (Myrtus communis)

A dwarf version of the popular myrtle shrub. Myrtles have been grown for their ornamental appeal and herbal value for thousands of years. They were very common in the gardens of Greeks and Romans and are even mentioned in the Bible. Myrtle remains a favorite for its fragrant foliage and charming flowers. The berries are edible and best used for flavoring food and beverages. An excellent subject for topiary standards and containers.
Dwarf Globe Arborvitae (Thuja occidentalis)

Dwarf Globe Arborvitae (Thuja occidentalis)

There are multiple, named varieties of the occidentalis species that mature to be dwarf, globe-shaped shrubs. All have the feathery evergreen foliage common to the Thuja genus, but vary in color from dark green to golden. Be wary of planting where deer are likely to browse. Useful in small gardens where season long interest is needed.
Shrub Rose (Rosa hybrid)

Shrub Rose (Rosa hybrid)

Shrub roses can bring color, and often fragrance to any style of sunny garden. They work well as hedges or interplanted with other shrubs and with perennials. Their glossy foliage and upright growth habit lend beauty and structure even when blooms are not present. A multitude of bloom colors and sizes are available and the flowers may be solo or clustered depending on variety.
Butterfly Bush (Buddleia davidii)

Butterfly Bush (Buddleia davidii)

The butterfly bush gets its name from its highly fragrant flowers that are guaranteed to attract an assortment of butterflies to the garden! This is a must-have plant for a pollinator garden. Flowers are produced over a long season, starting in summer and continuing right into fall. Faded flower clusters may be removed to keep the plant looking tidy. Outstanding for planting near walkways, decks and patios where scent can be enjoyed.
Bog Rosemary, Marsh Andromeda (Andromeda polifolia)

Bog Rosemary, Marsh Andromeda (Andromeda polifolia)

White to soft pink, berry-like blooms display beautifully against a backdrop of glossy green foliage and bring a burst of light to shaded plantings. Leathery evergreen foliage resembles rosemary leaves gone dark green. A wonderful companion to broader-leaved shade plants. Beautiful in shady borders and woodland gardens.

Making the Most of Your Garden Space

Growing shrubs and other plants in containers is a great way to optimize space in a small garden. Potted plants stretch a growing area into corners, paved areas, and patios. They can also be rearranged whenever you redesign your garden, or brought inside for weather protection.

Looking for more ways to create a lively garden in tight quarters? Check out our guide to Small Space Gardening.

A cozy shaded balcony with a wooden chair and table and potted flowering plants.

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