Big Shrubs in Big Pots

  • Difficulty Rating: Beginner


shrubs in pots-boxwoods

Large flowerpots are terrific: they have an authoritative presence wherever they’re placed — marking the entrance to a garden, directing traffic along a path, or standing sentry on either side of a front door.

To match their scale and grandeur, big pots should be filled with substantial plants. Shrubs are a great choice. Shrubs of all kinds look handsome in large pots as soon as they are planted, and since there is plenty of room for their roots to grow, they can remain in a pot for years. Medium-sized shrubs work well: the great British garden designer Gertrude Jekyll favored mop-head hydrangeas. Their big blooms put on a spectacular, long-lasting show, and the plants flourish without pampering. Spireas of all kinds, butterfly bushes, nandinas, and abelias also look great in pots. Evergreens are especially striking; bushy boxwoods and bristling junipers or pines have a sculptural quality in pots, and evergreens give even a brand-new patio or deck a feeling of history and permanence.

shrubs in pots-roof garden


Just about any shrub you can plant in the ground will do well in a container. Starting small calls for a little patience, but big container-grown specimens are always available at garden shops. If the pot and plant will be outdoors all year round, choose a heavy pot that can withstand freezes and a plant hardy enough to weather winter conditions in your climate.


shrubs in pots-roots


Container-grown plants from garden shops are sometimes quite root bound. You may need to wrestle with the rootball before planting, loosening roots winding around the pot and teasing dense knots of roots apart. You’ll need a sturdy planting knife or a trowel with a serrated edge. Don’t worry, you’re not likely to damage the plant’s roots — you want to encourage them to spread out, so they can tap the moisture deep in the pot.

A big pot full of soil will be heavy, so position the pot before you plant it. When I plant shrubs in pots, I always add some compost to the potting mix; it provides a little extra weight, to reduce the chance of a pot blowing over, and adds nutrition. You’ll still need to fertilize from time to time.


shrubs in pots-evergreens


If the shrub you choose doesn’t quite fill its pot, plant a trailing ivy or a blooming annual flower to dress up the edges of the container while the shrub settles in and grows up. You can decide later whether you want to continue to accent the shrub with a spot of annual color, or let it sparkle on its own.