Shrubs can be grown in pots and used in many effective ways in the garden. Shrubs can be planted temporarily in containers to add height or foliage interest in a mixed seasonal container and then planted in a garden bed at the end of the season. Other shrubs make wonderful permanent container plantings to be used for a formal look at the front of a house or as screening for privacy around a deck or patio.
Planting Shrubs in Pots
Shrubs are ready to be planted in the garden early in the spring. Most plants purchased from nurseries are ready to be planted in the garden and do not need extra hardening off. Make sure all the plants you select for a mixed container have the same growing conditions. Sunny shrubs with sun-loving bulbs and annuals will not tolerate shaded porches long before they become leggy and require a brighter location. Ensure that the container has excellent drainage year-round and is weatherproof enough to stay outside in your climate.
Best Soil For Shrubs in Pots
Soil-based potting mixes work well for most shrubs. If the shrub is an acid lover like an azalea, rhododendron, or heather, make sure to use an ericaceous mix that will provide the correct micronutrients from the start. Perlite should either be included in the potting mix or be added separately. Perlite ensures the soil drains fast and remains lightweight, so the roots will have no trouble receiving necessary air circulation.
Caring For Shrubs in Planters
Whether the shrub is planted for one season or will remain in the container for many years, the container will need regular maintenance. Potted plants will require more frequent watering and feeding than those growing in the ground. Additionally, container plants are less cold hardy and may require extra winter protection. Read on to learn our best tips for caring for your potted shrub.
Watering Shrubs in Pots
Potted shrubs appreciate natural rainfall and should be placed where they will be watered during a rainstorm. Additional watering is almost always required for potted shrubs. As plants grow in containers, their roots get larger and require more water for adequate support. Check potted shrubs for moisture levels daily during hot, dry spells, especially if the plant is reaching maturity. Do not allow more than the top 3-4 inches of the potting mix to dry completely before irrigating. Drip irrigation is very beneficial and makes watering easier if you have a large container garden.
Fertilizing Shrubs in Pots
Shrubs in containers will require at least an annual feeding with a granular, slow-release food. Shrubs that flower heavily benefit from a fertilizer with higher P and K numbers than N, such as a formula for roses or tomatoes. For acid-loving plants, such as rhododendrons, camellias, and heathers, use an acidic formula for evergreens. Shrubs grown for foliage will benefit from a more balanced fertilizer with a slightly higher N number. All-purpose shrub fertilizer is fine for them. Apply to the soil surface in the early spring, and the slow-release fertilizer will slowly wash into the soil every time the planter is watered.
Winter Care For Shrubs in Pots
Pots left outside in the winter must be weatherproof and not likely to crack or flake from freezing and thawing. Terracotta or glazed ceramic pots will need extra protection in most climates. Resin and plastic planters are durable and best if the shrub is a permanent planting. If your container garden is in an exposed location, such as a roof garden or deck, select plants that are hardy to one or two zones colder than your garden. This ensures the plants will make it through the winter beautifully with little extra maintenance. Planters can also be wrapped in layers of horticultural fabric or burlap to insulate the soil and roots.
Growing Shrubs Indoors
Shrubs that are hardy for your climate will not need to be brought indoors for the winter. However, tropical shrubs that you grow outdoors in the warmer months should be brought indoors well before the nighttime temperatures reach 50 degrees F in the fall. These tropical plants can then be grown as houseplants. When bringing a plant indoors, the amount of light it receives is the most important factor for success. Plants outdoors, even shade lovers, receive far higher light levels than what can be supplied indoors. Some plants will adapt if you slowly acclimate them for a week or two to lower light levels. Scale back watering of potted shrubs while growing indoors. Allow the top 3-4 inches of soil to dry between waterings.