The Best Container Plants for a Garden in the Sun

Updated February 21, 2017

Container gardens are extremely versatile. You can use a wide variety of containers in different shapes, sizes and materials, you can rearrange the containers at will and you can change the plantings in each container from season to season. Container gardens are suitable for decks, patios, porches, walkways, balconies and yards. An almost unlimited variety of plant types and specimens is suitable for container gardens in the sun.

Annual Flowers

Annual flowers are a natural for sunny container gardens. Most annuals require full sun, so almost anything available at your local nursery or big box store in the spring and throughout the summer would work. As you are selecting plants, consider height, texture and colour and how the plants can be used together in a single container. An annual flowering plant at the base of a container shrub is a possibility, or consider using an annual flower, a trailing vine and a tall perennial in the same container. Some possibilities for annual flowering plants for a sunny container garden are pansies, petunias, snapdragons, marigolds, sweet alyssums, ageratums, salvias, rose mosses, sunflowers, zinnias, ivy geraniums and coleus, all of which are available in tens, if not hundreds, of cultivars.


Compact shrubs are a wonderful way to create a basic structure for the container garden. Select evergreen as well as deciduous shrubs. If you want to use shrubs that grow taller or wider than you want, most shrubs are happy to have frequent (and sometimes drastic) trims, so just prune them when they are too big. Some shrubs to try in a sunny container garden are Alba plena dwarf flowering almond (Prunus glandulosa alba plena), a deciduous shrub with white double flowers in the spring; Abbotswood bush cinquefoil (Potentilla fruticosa Abbotswood), a relatively slow grower hardy in the cooler USDA hardiness zones 2 through 6; African mallow (Anisodontea capensis), which grows to 3 feet high and has pink flowers; all summer beauty bigleaf hydrangea (Hydrangea macrophylla all summer beauty), a relatively fast grower with pink or blue flowers, depending on the acidity of the soil; Ambiance (James Walker) bougainvillea (Bougainvillea ambience (James Walker), hardy in warmer zones 9 through 11.


Perennials can be a staple of your sunny container garden, but keep in mind that a perennial that is hardy in zone 5 when planted in the ground may not be hardy in that zone when it is planted in a container. The container provides less insulation from the cold than does the ground. You may need to cover your container garden perennials (both flowers and shrubs) or put them in the garage or basement to overwinter. Some perennials to consider are hens and chicks (Sempervivium), alpine succulent evergreens including Sempervivium arachnoideum, Sempervivium arachnoideum cristate and Sempervivium arachnoideum Robin; these frost-resistant perennials are hardy in virtually all of the U.S. from zone 3 to Zone 11. Silver mound artemisia (Artemisia artemisia schmidtiana Nana) is hardy from zone 1 through 9. Hidcote giant lavender (Lavandula x intermedia) is an evergreen that grows to 2 feet and has lovely light purple flowers. Dianthus blooms can last from spring to fall. This plant is usually evergreen or semi-evergreen. Try Dianthus x hybrida Eastern Star or Dianthus x hybrida Neon Star.

Trailing Plants

Hanging containers with trailing plants help add vertical focal points to a sunny garden. Consider one of the 3,000 species and cultivars of fuschisa with their fanciful brightly coloured flowers. Morning glory is an annual vine that climbs up to 10 feet high. Morning glory blooms open in the morning and is finished by midafternoon. Some morning glories can produce hundreds of blooms a day. Creeping zinnia (Sanvitalia procumbens) trails about 1 foot with abundant flowers.

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About the Author

Tanya Lee is a professional writer with more than 30 years experience. She has published extensively in the field of education and as a journalist, the latter in such publications as "High Country News" and "News from Indian Country." Lee holds a M.Ed. from the Harvard Graduate School of Education.