Now that your patio or deck is complete, adding an attractive woody shrub in a decorative container can add beauty and soften the hard lines of the outdoor space. Container-grown plants need to be more tolerant of extremes of temperature since air quickly affects the above-ground soil and roots in the container. Also realise that shrubs in pots may need more watering because of the good drainage and warmer soil in summer. Choose slow-growing or dwarf shrub varieties so they do not outgrow your container, requiring you to constantly prune or replace them.
A wide array of dwarf evergreen conifers exist and make exceptional potted plants in a container. Depending on species, they grow slowly and have a compact growing habit with a wide selection of needle leaf textures and colours. Generally speaking, dwarf conifers need a cold winter in order to survive, but too much cold and drying winds easily kills these plants even in a container on the patio. The Ohio State University Extension Service recommends buying plants that are rated one USDA hardiness zone colder than your usual zone when you plant in containers. Since the shrubs' root balls aren't in the ground, the air temperature in winter penetrates easily. Thus, a more cold hardy dwarf conifer is more likely to survive the winter in the container. Examples of dwarf conifers that are beautiful in containers include dwarf Colorado blue spruce (Picea pungens var. glauca 'Mrs. Cesarini'), dwarf Lawson's false cypress (Chamaecyparis lawsoniana 'Gnome'), dwarf yellow Hinoki cypress (Chamaecyparis obtusa 'Nana Aurea') and dwarf Alberta spruce (Picea glauca 'Conica'). The larger the container, the larger the mature size dwarf conifer you can effectively grow.
Plants with colourful, interestingly shaped, or seasonally pretty leaves make nice container plants. Rather than relying on only flowers to make the plant look attractive (flowers often only last a couple weeks), leaves linger much longer. Choose a dwarf shrub that will not grow out-of-bounds for the size container you own. Deciduous shrubs have leaves for three seasons, often turning a bright colour in fall before dropping away. Evergreen shrubs retain their leaves so that the plant looks lush and alive during the cold of winter. The choice is subjective. Dwarf deciduous shrubs worth considering is fothergilla (Fothergilla gardenii 'Mt. Airy'), dwarf winterberry (Ilex verticillata 'Red Sprite'), heavenly bamboo (Nandina domestica 'Firepower'), red osier dogwood (Cornus sericea 'Kelseyi') and variegated glossy abelia (Abelia x grandiflora 'Panache') are just a few possibilities. Talk with your local garden centre for small-sized plants suitable for your region and container size.
Everyone enjoys the seasonal display of pretty flowers, and many small-maturing shrubs fit this category. Keep in mind some species of shrubs produce flowers that may attract bees when in bloom, or emit a fragrance that not everyone may find as delicious as you do. Small varieties of azaleas (Rhododendron spp.), camellias, Scotch broom (Cytisus scoparius 'Lena'), Burkwood daphne (Daphne x burkwoodii), oakleaf hydrangea (Quercus quercifolia 'Pee Wee'), shrubby cinquefoil (Potentilla fruticosa), and dwarf fothergilla (Fothergilla gardenii). Keep in mind some dwarf flowering shrubs yield decorative displays of fruits in fall and winter, too.
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