You’ve probably got some flowering shrubs planted in your yard, which is to be expected. (If you don’t have anything planted in your yard, we need to talk). What’s not so expected is flowering shrubs on your deck or patio. Annuals are nice, but maybe your planters could use something a little bigger, too. Or something evergreen, even. After all, many of us are outside on our decks year-round. By all of us, I mean my husband, who grills twelve months of the year. I think having some evergreens on the deck to keep him company while he grills my Valentine’s Day dinner is very thoughtful of me.

Here are a few things to keep in mind when adding woody ornamentals to your patio containers:

  1. Size matters. A compact plant will usually look better in a decorative pot; compact varieties typically look good at a smaller size whereas full sized ones may look gangly until they are older. Consider Lo & Behold® Buddleia vs. an old-fashioned butterfly bush. Those older varieties are rangy and not very attractive as young plants but a 1 gallon Lo & Behold® is a nice, full mound of fragrant flowers. 

  2. But size isn’t a deal breaker. Some plants, evergreens in particular, can be very attractive as young plants. It’s fine to plant one in a container to enjoy for a few years as long as you’re OK with discarding it when it outgrows the space. Or you can plant it in your yard after enjoying it on the deck for a while. If you don’t want to throw out a plant or don’t have space in your landscape to eventually plant it there, look for a dwarf variety like Anna’s Magic Ball® Thuja.

  3. Know your zone. A good rule of thumb is that you can winter a plant above ground in a container if it is one zone hardier than where you live. So if you live in USDA Zone 5, you should be able to overwinter patio plants if they are rated USDA Zone 4 or hardier. Good choices for most of North America are Hydrangea paniculata like Bobo® (USDA Zone 3) or Arctic Fire® Cornus stolonifera (USDA Zone 2).

  4. Plants need water year round. Dormant doesn’t mean dead. Cold might not be what’s killing your container plants; freeze drying will do it, too. If your containers aren’t getting some natural precipitation during winter, you will want to water them occasionally. While they don’t need nearly as much water as they do during the active growing season, they will need the soil to stay moist during dormancy. Just don’t overwater, especially your butterfly bush. 

  5. Look up. Tree form flowering shrubs like a Quick Fire® hydrangea tree allow you to enjoy the hydrangea flowers you love and leave plenty of room for smaller plants at the base.

Many garden centers will help you design a container and even plant it up for you with seasonal refreshes. This is a perfect way to add a few more garden favorites to your yard, even if you’ve run out of space in the landscape.