Can You Grow Flowering Shrubs in Containers? (Yes You Can, and Here’s How)


Whether or not you’re limited on space, growing shrubs in pots can be a game-changer. From saving precious space to providing accessibility for all, container gardening opens up a world of possibilities for gardeners of all kinds.

Keep reading for everything you need to know about container-grown shrubs, including how to choose the right pot for your plants, which plants to grow, and how to water and maintain your container garden.

Why grow shrubs in pots?

Shrubs might not be your first choice for growing in containers, but there are many benefits to growing larger plants in pots.

The main reason for growing anything in a container is to save space. As a rule, container gardens don’t take up as much space as other gardens, allowing you to grow a wider variety of plants in a smaller space. Some folks only have the option of container gardening, if they don’t have much land to grow on.

Container gardens are some of the most accessible gardens for folks with disabilities. Containers and raised beds can be elevated to a height that is comfortable for folks in wheelchairs to work in.

The fun perk of containers is that they are mobile, making them the perfect vessel if you anticipate moving your plants for any reason—whether that’s a big move or bringing your plants inside for the winter. (If you do intend to bring any large plants indoors for the winter, opt for a container that has wheels to make the task easier.)

Not only can you move containers indoors or out, depending on the season, but you can move containers to different areas of your garden to ensure that they’re getting the best light possible.

Four of the best shrubs for container gardening

You can technically grow any shrub in a container with the proper care and maintenance, but slower-growing shrubs will adapt better to pots than faster-growing plants that will need more frequent repotting and pruning.

1. Boxwood

Evergreens look lovely in decorative pots, and boxwoods are one of the best options for container-friendly shrubs. Widely adaptable and carefree, boxwoods thrive in hardiness zones 5-9 and tolerate both full and partial sun. Stack several boxwood bushes close together to make a privacy screen for your deck.

2. Azalea

Azaleas are also relatively happy in containers, as long as they receive partial sun and have acidic, well-draining soil. Choose between evergreen and deciduous varieties with varying bloom colors and pair them with decorative pots for eye-catching focal points.

3. Hydrangea

Hydrangeas add elegance to any space, particularly when grown in containers and paired with other flowers, like pansies. Hydrangeas aren’t too fussy about how much sun they receive or how acidic the soil is, so they’re an excellent option for your container garden.

4. Butterfly bush

Entice butterflies and other pollinators to your porch with a container-grown butterfly bush. Mature butterfly bushes reach between four and ten feet tall, so make sure to secure an appropriately sized pot, or stick to more compact varieties.

Picking the right pot

Of course, the most important factor to ensure success with growing shrubs in containers is to use the right pot for the job.

  • Size

A good rule of thumb is to plant shrubs in a pot half as deep as the above-ground height of the mature plant. Containers that are between 16 and 24 inches in diameter are a good size for most compact shrubs.

You can always plant a small shrub in a smaller pot and then transplant the shrub into a larger pot when it outgrows the former, or you can plant young plants in a pot big enough to accommodate their mature size.

  • Shape

Most of us think of the traditional round bottom-tapered pots, but that’s not your only option when it comes to plant containers! Square pots are among the most stable and least likely to tip over. You can also get creative with your container garden (and save money) by repurposing worn-out and household items like old sinks or buckets.

  • Material

Different materials have different benefits—terracotta is the most breathable container material, but terracotta pots are prone to cracking, especially in winter. Concrete pots handle winter weather much better, but the pots are very heavy. Both plastic and fiberglass pots are great for four-season container gardens, but the materials are not as breathable. Fabric posts can be an easy crack-free option but need to be watered more frequently than other pots, especially in the summer.

  • Drainage holes

Regardless of which kind of pot you choose for your shrubs, make sure that the containers have drainage holes. Rather than one large hole in the center of the pot, look for three to four smaller holes that allow water to drain but hold the soil in place. If your favorite pot doesn’t have holes, you can carefully drill your own holes with a power drill.

  • Soil

While picking out the right pot is incredibly important, filling it with soil is just as essential, if not more so. Soilless growing media (like potting soil) tends to be best for container-grown shrubs since the growing media is already aerated and sterile. 

Opt for a potting mix made specifically for shrubs and trees, which you should be able to find at your local garden store or plant nursery. All shrubs need to be planted in a well-draining growing medium to grow to their full potential.

Plant care in container gardens

Although most shrubs adapt well to pots, plant care looks a little different for container-grown plants than it does for shrubs that are grown in the ground. The main difference is that pots dry out much more quickly than the soil, so you’ll need to water containers more frequently than your garden.


The best way to give container-grown shrubs the water they need is to install a drip irrigation system and put it on an automated timer.

Different shrubs have different watering needs—small shrubs need between four and five gallons of water per week, while large shrubs need between seven and ten gallons. Either way, that’s a lot of water! 

If you do decide to water by hand, check the pots at least once daily. If the soil is visibly moist, you don’t need to water—but if the surface soil is dry, dig down an inch or two to investigate further. If the soil is still dry, it’s time to water.

Using a hose or watering can, completely fill one pot with water, then water the next pot while the first one drains. Then return to the first pot and water it one more time. Repeat the process until all of the containers are watered. 

Pay special attention to pots that are in the sun or exposed to wind, as these pots will dry out faster than pots that are in the shade.


Established shrubs grown in the ground only need to be fertilized every other year, but container-grown shrubs need more fertilization. Use fresh potting soil each time you bump up your shrubs to a bigger pot, and if the shrub stays in its pot, fertilize with a balanced fertilizer at least once per year (ideally in early spring).


Container-grown shrubs have the same lighting needs as in-ground gardens, but if anything these lighting needs are easier to meet with pots, since you can move the containers to sunnier or shadier locations depending on what each plant prefers. Watch for signs of too much sun exposure (bleached and cripsed leaves) as well as signs of too little sunlight (leggy stems and yellow leaves) and adjust accordingly. 


Any shrub can be grown in a container year-round, but the plant must be hardy to your area in order to survive winter, especially since container-grown plants are more vulnerable to cold damage.

Shrubs grown in the soil are more insulated against deep freezes than plants that are elevated above the ground in containers. To help keep your container-grown shrubs warmer, you can wrap them with bubble wrap or a heavy blanket and drape the plants with frost cloth to offer a little extra insulation.

Growing shrubs in pots is a great way to save space and provide more accessibility for gardeners with disabilities. It also allows for mobility and the ability to move plants indoors and out, depending on season and to get the best light possible. Boxwood, azalea, hydrangea, and butterfly bush are some of the easiest shrubs to grow in pots, but you can cultivate any shrub in a container with the proper care.

Shop our full collection of container-friendly shrubs here and put yourself that much closer to your garden goals. Happy growing!