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Choosing Perennials for Containers

Choosing the right perennial for container gardens requires the same considerations as those planted in the ground. Do your perennials need sun or shade? How much water?

The following popular perennials qualify as good candidates for container gardening. Everything on the list blooms for a fairly long season and is relatively easy to grow. Most of these plants can work alone in containers or can be combined with annuals or other perennials with similar sun/shade and soil moisture requirements.

Hardy perennials for sun

The following plants prefer at least 6 hours of direct sun each day.

  • Aster: Cultivated asters usually reach about 18 inches tall. Most asters are hardy in zones 4 to 8 or 9 and thrive in areas with cool, moist summers.

  • Blanketflower (Gaillardia): These tough plants have a ruggedly handsome look with daisylike flowers in beautiful shades of yellow, orange, red, and burgundy. Blanketflower is hardy in zones 3 to 9.

  • Catmint (Nepeta): Vigorous, drought-tolerant, and hardy, catmints are ideal for containers. Catmint is hardy in zones 4 to 8.

  • Chrysanthemums: Choose compact varieties for containers. Combine with spring- and summer-flowering plants for a long season of color. Hardiness depends on variety.

  • Coreopsis: Coreopsis grandiflora grows to 2 feet high and 3 feet wide with 2- to 3-inch bright yellow flowers. Coreopsis verticillata has smaller flowers and delicate foliage. Coreopsis is hardy in zones 3 to 9.

  • Daylilies (Hemerocallis): Daylilies are hardy in zones 3 to 9. Make sure that you keep their soil moist during bloom time. To prolong the flowering season, snap off spent flowers.

  • Delphinium: Compact varieties — only 2 to 3 feet tall — work best in containers. Delphiniums grow in zones 3 to 7 (up to zone 9 where night temperatures are cool).

  • Echinacea: Flower colors include yellow, orange, salmon, deep rose-red, and even green. Echinacea is hardy in zones 3 to 8.

  • Hardy geranium: Hardy geraniums form low mounds of attractive, lobed leaves topped by delicate-looking, saucer-shaped flowers in shades of pink, blue, white, and purple. Geraniums are hardy in zones 5 to 8.

  • Lavender (Lavandula): Lavender is an outstanding container plant. Dwarf varieties — Compacta and others — work especially well in containers. Lavender is hardy in zones 5 to 8.

  • Penstemon, or beard tongue: Shrub-like penstemons grow 2 to 5 feet tall, with spikes of tubular flowers in shades of white to coral, pink to red, and purple. Hardiness depends on variety.

  • Pinks and carnations (Dianthus): This is a huge family, most of them carrying a familiar, wonderfully spicy fragrance. Plants grow 8 to 16 inches tall and are covered with a profusion of fragrant flowers in white to pink to magenta. Hardiness depends on variety.

  • Primroses: You can’t go wrong with English primrose (Primula polyantha); it’s easy to grow, and is one of the first plants to bloom in spring. English primroses are hardy in zones 3 to 7.

  • Rudbeckia: Commonly known as black-eyed Susans, rudbeckias, are durable plants that thrive in a wide range of conditions. Most Rudbeckia fulgida varieties are hardy in zones 3 to 9. R.

  • Sage (Salvia): Perennial salvias tend to be shrublike, ranging from 12 inches to 6 feet tall. Flowers grow on spikes, in shades of pink, red, white, coral, blue, and purple. Salvia nemorosa is hardy in zones 4 to 8 and also blooms from summer to fall.

  • Tall sedum: This succulent plant’s gray-green foliage provides a nice backdrop for spring- and summer-blooming plants. Sedum is hardy in zones 3 to 9.

  • Yarrow (Achillea): Yarrows produce feathery leaves and tall stalks topped with flat clusters of flowers in various shades of yellow, pink, white, lavender, and red. Yarrow is hardy in zones 3 to 8.

Hardy perennials for part shade and shade

The following plants thrive in part to full shade

  • Astilbe: Attractive mounds of glossy, fernlike foliage are topped with plumes of colorful flowers. Flower colors include pink, red, lavender, and white. Astilbe is hardy in zones 4 to 8.

  • Coral bells (Heuchera): Flower clusters on stems as tall as 3 feet feature drooping, bell-shaped blooms in shades of red, deep pink, coral, and white. Coral bells are hardy in zones 4 to 8.

  • Hellebore: Use in planters set near windows and walkways so you can enjoy the early spring flowers. Hellebores are hardy in zones 4 to 9.

  • Foxglove (Digitalis): Consider the compact varieties for containers: Foxy, Excelsior, and Gloxiniiflora are in the 2- to 3-foot range. Foxglove is hardy in zones 4 to 8.

  • Hosta, or plantain lily: This is a great plant for containers in the shade. Grow hosta for its big oval or heart-shaped leaves in deep green, chartreuse, and many other shades. Hostas are hardy in zones 3 to 8. They prefer rich, moist soil and dappled shade.

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