Give your patio containers more height and variety by using shrubs. Shrubs add a subtle background behind colourful annuals, and perennial cultivars will brighten the landscape during winter. When selecting your shrub, look for a variety that grows slowly, is dwarf or smaller and hardy for your zone, recommends Jane Martin of Ohio State University.
Little Henry Dwarf Sweetspire
Little Henry dwarf sweetspire (Itea virginica 'Sprich') grows in low mounds only 2 feet tall and wide. Its leaves turn a reddish-purple in the fall, and it produces 6 inch long clusters of fragrant, white flowers in the spring. Sweetspire is fairly drought tolerant if well established during its first year, according to Karen Russ of Clemson University. This shrub grows in sun or shade, although it thrives in areas where it receives at least six hours of sun.
Goldmound spiraea (Spiraea japonica 'Gold Mound') is a deciduous, woody shrub with bright yellow-green leaves. The shrub blooms throughout summer with small clusters of pink flowers that attract butterflies. It grows 2 to 3 feet tall. This Spirea cultivar needs full sun for best foliage colour. Prune it in early spring, as the flowers come on new growth.
Heavenly bamboo (Nandina domestica) is a woody, evergreen shrub. Its small, white flowers in the spring turn into large clusters of bright red berries that last through the winter. The fine, lance-shaped leaflets turn red or pink. The 'Harbor Dwarf' selection grows 3 feet tall, and 'Woods Dwarf' turns into small, leafy spheres about 18 inches in diameter, according to Floridata. Heavenly bamboo prefers a rich soil and is drought tolerant once established. It grows in a range of sunlight, from full sun to almost full shade.
Glossy abelia (Abelia x grandiflora) is a rounded, evergreen shrub that flowers in the spring. It reaches 6 feet tall, but likely is smaller when kept in a container. It has glossy, dark-green leaves that turn bronze-red in the fall. Its tiny, white-pink flowers are abundant and grow in clusters at the end of the shrub's branches. The flowers last from May through the first frost, according to Danny Lauderdale of North Carolina State University. Glossy abelia prefers full sun but grows in light shade.