Growing Plants in Containers in Full Sun, part I- Shrubs and Trees

tree containers
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As mentioned in previous posts on how extensively container gardening is, from container selection to containers’ arrangements. It is now time to think about the plants that can go into the containers and their suitability. In this article, the selection of shrubs and trees that can be grown in full sun (more than 6 hours per day of sunlight), will be discussed. This is part of a three-part series of growing plants in containers in full sun.

tree containers
Trees look attractive in containers

The choice of what shrubs and trees that can be used are quite extensive, as it will give a dramatic, sculptural focal point. The container needs to be large enough for the shrub and tree to not only survive but flourish. If you supply enough fertilizer and meet their water requirements, then many shrubs (not all) can survive, but this is so dependent on the shrubs’ size, and the time it takes to reach this size. As if the shrub gets too big, then container may not be suitable for the specimen in question.

It is also a good idea for the busy gardener to select varieties that can take some neglect. Shrubs and trees need a container that is the right size, but bigger than those suitable for growing perennials.

BIGGER PLANTS MEANS BIGGER POTS

This will allow the shrubs and tree to grow housed in big pots, holding enough compost to meet the plants’ needs. Bigger pots mean the shrubs and trees will hold more compost, more fertilizers, and more water, so in theory, less looking after. A good rule of thumb for trees is that for every centrimetre of tree width, add an extra 30cm for the height and width of the container. For example, a 2cm in diameter trunk would require the container to have a width of 60cm and a height of 60cm. This is quite a large container but is necessary in order for a tree in particularly to survive.

What follows is a selected number of shrubs and trees that can be grown in full sun in containers:

ABUTILON (Flowering Maple) ‘Nabob’

Abutilion Nabob
Abutilon ‘Nabob’

This large evergreen shrub produces maple-like leaves, with bowl-shaped, deep crimson flowers.  Abutilon grows up to 3m high and best grown in soil based compost, with bamboo cane supports, it needs protection from frosts.

ACER PALMATUM ‘Bloodgood’

Acer 'Bloodgood'
Acer ‘Bloodgood’

This tree has dark reddish- purple, maple-like leaves that turn bright red in autumn. This tree, therefore, has an interest in spring to autumn. It flowers in spring, where small, purple blooms are followed by red fruits.

As it is a tree it will need a very large container of soil-based compost. As with all trees in containers, it requires plenty of water, especially in its first growing year. Acer will grow up to 5m tall.

ARGYRANTHEMUM FOENICULACEUM(Marguerite)

Argyranthemum Marguerite
Argyranthemum ‘Marguerite’

This small subshrub evergreen has ferny, silvery-grey foliage and white flower with yellow centres, from summer to early autumn. It will need a large container of multipurpose compost. It is not hardy and so will need some protection from the Frost. The subshrub can grow up to 80cm tall.

BUXUS SEMPERVIRENS (BOX) ‘Suffruticosa’

Box suffruticosa
Buxus ‘Suffruticosa’

This small evergreen shrub favoured by many topiarists forms a dense mass of oval green leaves. It will thrive if it planted in a large container full of multipurpose compost. It can be shaped once the shrub has established.  This box is quite a large shrub and can grow up to a 1m high.

CESTRUM ELEGANS

Cestrum
Cestrum elegans

This large tender shrub that has large, spear-shaped light green leaves. During summer, it produces dense clusters of scented, tubular pink/red flowers. Cestrum can grow up to 3m in height and best grown in large containers. As it is a tender plant it will require protection from severe frosts.

CHOISYA TERNATA (Mexican Orange Blossom)

Choisya
Choisya ternata

This large evergreen shrub can grow up to 2.5m tall and tends to grow in a round form. The oval-shaped leaves are aromatic, glossy and bright green when old, but light golden when young shoots emerge. Choisya can produce two sets of fragrant, white flowers, in late spring and early autumn.

CORDYLINE AUSTRALIS (Cabbage Palm)

Cordyline
Cordyline australis

This small evergreen tree has a fountain of spiky, purple leaves, and this stands out from the usual specimens found in container gardens. The tree will benefit by being grown in a tall container, full of soils based compost. For a tree it is unusually short, standing at 3m high when fully grown. Cabbage palm is not fully hardy and so will benefit from some frost protection.

FELICIA AMELLOIDES (Blue Marguerite)

Blue marguerite
Blue marguerite

This blue counterpart of the Marguerite is usually grown as an annual, but it is, in fact, a subshrub grown for its dark leaves and masses of yellow centred blue flowers. They flower from summer to autumn. Felicia only grows to 25cm high and so can be grown in pots, window boxes, and hanging baskets.

FATSIA JAPONICA (Castor Oil Plant)

Fatsia Japonica
Fatsia Japonica

This 2m high evergreen shrub with large dark green, glossy, hand-shaped leaves, and small white spherical flowers in autumn. This is followed by black berry-like fruits. As they produce a display in winter then it will add interest during that time frame. Fatsia needs to be grown in a large container full of soil-based compost.

FUCHSIA ‘Mrs Popple’

Mrs Popple
Fuchsia ‘Mrs Popple’

This small shrub with its deciduous, dark green leaves and single, red and purple flowers in summers. It does make a great statement in a large container of soil-based compost. This fuchsia grows to around 1m high but does require some shelter in winter.

HEBE ‘Ruby Edge’

Red Ruby
Hebe ‘Red Edge’

Another small evergreen shrub that has oval bluish- green leaves with red margins. In summer, they produce a pale white/mauve flowers. The shrub grows to 45cm tall and prefers a soil based compost. Hebe should be placed in a position that will shelter it from strong winds and frosts. To keep it compact, trim after flowering.

LAVANDULA STOECHAS (French Lavender)

French lavender
French lavender

This popular evergreen shrub of grey-green aromatic foliage. It flowers from late spring to summer of scented, blue or white flowers. Lavender only grows to 45m tall and would prefer a free-flowing multipurpose compost, mixed with sand.

MAHOLIA AQUILFOLIUM (Oregon Grape)

Mahonia
Mahonia aquifolium

This sweet smelling small evergreen shrub with dark green, spiky, foliage. In spring, it produces clusters of tiny yellow, sweet-smelling flowers, followed by bluish-black berries. The plant is very attractive to look at all year round, but be aware as the leaves are very sharp! Maholia plant grows to 1m tall and would appreciate being grown in a large pot full of soils based compost.

PICEA ABIES ‘Ohlendorffii’

Picea abies
Picea abies

This is a small, bushy conifer, with tightly spaced, short green needles. It grows slowly and tends to grow to around shape as it matures. The final height of this conifer is 1m high when planted in a large container filled with soil-based compost. Picea does not appreciate being dry at the roots at any time, so may need frequent watering.

PIERIS JAPONICA (Lily of the Valley Bush)

Pieris japonica
Pieris japonica

This medium-sized shrub, with leathery, elongated leaves. The young leaves tend to be red in colour in spring, soon turning green later on the growing season. They flower in spring, where they produce clusters of lily of the valley type flowers, which are either white, pink or red.  Pieris need to be grown in a large pot of ericaceous compost, where it will grow up to 2m tall.

PINUS MUGO (Dwarf Mountain Pine) ‘Mops’

Pinus mugo
Pinus mugo

This compact evergreen conifer forms a real dense mound of needle-like, green leaves. It, therefore, provides a point of interest throughout the year. Prefers to be grown in a large container of soil based compost, where it will grow to 1m high.

RHODODENDRON YAKUSHIMANUM

Rhododendron yakushimanum
Rhododendron yakushimanum

Of all rhododendrons that can be grown, this is the most suitable to grow in containers. It is dome-shaped, evergreen, with dark green leaves. It flowers in late spring where funnel-shaped, pink to white blooms are produced. Needs to be grown in ericaceous compost, where it will grow up to 2m tall.

CONCLUSIONS

In this article, growing plants in containers in full sun has been discussed, in particular what variety of trees and shrubs are suitable in these growing conditions.

A variety of shrubs and trees of different leaf colours has been shown. Some shrubs look beautiful, and some have the extra added bonus of being highly scented. All these plants highlighted should bring a point of interest throughout the year. There is a shrub or tree for you.

As ever, if you have any questions or comments, please feel free to use the comment box below.

Thank you


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12 thoughts on “Growing Plants in Containers in Full Sun, part I- Shrubs and Trees”

  1. Hello there,

    I am thankful I found your post about growing plants in containers in full sun. The shrubs and trees you talked about looked great, but I was considering growing some herbs like oregano and rosemary.

    After reading your post I am more inspired than ever to get this project started, now is the perfect time. I will also be showing my friends your post so they can get some useful tips too.Thanks for the article.

    take care

    Son

    1. Hi Son

      Thank you for the interest in my article,  I am glad you are thinking about growing herbs in containers, as I have written an article about it, which you can find here.

      Kind Regards

      Antonio

  2. Your article was very timely. We have a drought resistant garden and want to plant flowering plants in pots. Hence In read your descriptions of the various flowering plants with great interest. The two that really interested me were the Fuchsia and the Mexican Orange Blossom. But the others were also interesting to read about. How you explained the relationship between plant and pot size was very helpful. 

    Sounds like you live in England. Do you get plenty pf rain where your garden is located? We don’t. So watering on a regular basis would be necessary. Hence we would look for drought resistant plants. 

    Thanks for providing details on presenting how it is possible to use pots for flowering plants.

    1. Hi Edwin

      Your selection of shrubs to grow  are very delightful, and will reward you with colour through the growing season,

      Yes, I live in England, but in general pot based plants need watering more often than those in the ground.  There is a solution for you, as you can use watering spikes, which is very useful for people who live in hot areas.

      Thank you

      Antonio

  3. Hi, Antonio good information and tips on how to plant shrubs, me and my wife we love gardening so much especially when it comes to planting shrubs in containers. It’s really great to be surrounded by small trees and shrubs all over the house, besides they look beautiful they also help to purify the atmosphere, especially during the summer hot season. But the only problem I have is, sometimes I feel lazy to watering them lol

    1. Hi abdft

      Thank you very much for those kind words, as they are very much appreciated.  You are right a container shrubs add an extra dimension to a container garden.  In the future, I will be talking about houseplants as this seems to be in at the moment.  

      Concerning your watering problems, there is a solution as you can use watering spikes, which I have written a review on.

      Kind Regards

      Antonio

  4. What a timely article for me this is. We just moved from one villa to another here in Dubai, and the outside area is set up quite differently from the old one. We now have less space and it is covered with bricks, nice for spending time outdoors, but not so nice when it comes to shrubbery that we want to place – we will have to use pots.

    We know that growing the plants is possible, we have some that we brought with us, but now we are looking for additional options and the pots that we need to purchase as we get this new outdoor area set up to enjoy. For the record, here in Dubai, we have the hot sun daily, and lots of it and over 8 hours a day in our outside area.

    This limits us for many shrubs and plants that will survive such a beating of heat and direct sunlight, so I read with interest all of your recommendations. Of the ones that you have included in this article, I will likely go with the  Fatsia Japonica and the Pieris Japonica varieties…

    Others that I am considering and ones we have had luck with include the Bougainvillea and the Frangipani  Plumeria bush, so with the two from your recommendations along with these, we will have a good start on our new garden. It is always fun putting together a new project, and this is one that we can enjoy for years to come. 

    Thanks for some good advice you have included in this article, and I would be interested in any other suggestions you might have for the Dubai area we might incorporate into our outdoor areas. We are always open to new ideas…

    1. Hi Dave

      Thank you very much.  You live in such a beautiful and hot place, so I would recommend a water irrigation system for your containers, so watering will become less of a burden.  As this is part 1 of the series, parts 2 and 3 will go into the perennial and annuals that can be used in containers. I did not want to overburden the reader with too much information.   I recommend you come back to read these articles as they will be published very soon. I have a review of watering spikesthat may help you

      You choice of plants are good ones, but the rest are beautiful shrubs and trees that will do well in full sun.  I wish you luck with your new gardening project.

      Kind Regards

      Antonio

  5. Thanks a lot for sharing this article about growing plants in containers.

    I really enjoyed reading your post since I love gardening in my free times. But, the main issue is I live in apartment which make it difficult for me to grow any plants.

    The details explanation about all the plants above are very clear and easy to understand.

    Thanks for taking your time and put all these together. I truly appreciate all the work you put in this article.

    Cheers,
    Samm

    1. Hi Samm

      Thank you very much for those kind words.  in a future article I will be talking about houseplants, as houseplants are in containers by nature. So look out for this.

      Kind Regards

      Antonio

  6. Hi, I have read your article very carefully. I am very excited to read your article because I learn many important tips about  how to Growing plants in containers. Thanks for sharing this wonderful review about container gardening. With the right equipment, growing fresh herbs and flavorful vegetables in containers is easy. I like this post very much.Do herbs grow well in hanging baskets? . I am also very limited on tabletop space. I was considering planting in hanging baskets but did not know how well herbs would grow in them.Thank you very much for the post. 

    1. Hi Jannatul

      Thank you for those kind words, which is very much appreciated,     To answer your question is really no, herbs do not do well in hanging baskets as they need some room to grow. Saying that you can grow a number of herbs in pots, such as basil, chives, and parsley.  Look to my article of growing herbs in containers.

      Kind Regards

      Antonio

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