Best Plants for Container Gardening

Best plants for container gardening

By Mark Cullen

Know the sun exposure [or shade] of the location. That is, north-, east-, south-, or west-facing. Each direction will provide the area with different amounts and intensity of light. Exposure to wind is a consideration when choosing plants for containers also.

Choose plants accordingly and keep this list on hand when you do your shopping:

Northern Exposure

(the shady, windy side of the house)

This is the best area for annuals: tuberous and fibrous begonias, coleus, trailing lobelia, and browallia. Impatiens have been used for years but are susceptible to a form of downy mildew that may wreak havoc with them later in the season. Perennials that perform well in a container located in shade include heuchera, hosta, tiarella, ferns and lily of the valley.  

Eastern Exposure

(also called this 'cool sun')

This direction will provide about 6 hours of sun during the morning while sheltering them from the hot afternoon sun and the north/west wind. 

An excellent place for geraniums, petunias, dusty miller, double impatiens, lobelia, snapdragons, tuberous begonias, and salvia. Perennials that perform well in half a day of sun include all the aforementioned ‘shade’ plants plus monarda, daylilies, oriental lilies and Shasta daisies.  

Southern Exposure

(bright and hot)

These containers will need plenty of water and it is best to plant tough, heat-seeking annuals here. Best choices for a south-facing container include portulaca, zinnias, cleome, marigolds, four o'clock, geraniums, bacopa, and bidens. Perennials planted in a south-facing pot need to be very drought tolerant, generally. Look for Echinacea, hens and chicks, mint and all the Mediterranean herbs.

Western Exposure

(hotter and drier than southern exposure due to the wind)

Only the most sun-loving plants will thrive here where the sun hits during its maximum afternoon intensity.

Best choices for this kind of exposure include portulaca, zinnias, marigolds, hanging or 'balcony-type' geraniums, dusty miller, salvia, snapdragons, cleome, and petunias. Keep an eye on the water situation as the high heat and wind is likely to dry out everything a little quicker than you would expect. Perennials that will perform well here include all the sempervivums [hens and chicks], yarrow and roses [providing the container is large enough to accommodate the roots].

Assess your area carefully: nearby buildings and trees can cast shadows that affect plant growth. If you have a large tree that provides excess shade, choose more shade tolerant species. 

Colourful Displays

At one time, mixing annuals, herbs and perennials in the same container was taboo. It just didn't happen. Now it's commonplace and really makes it easy for all-season colour. Some of our favourite combinations include:


  • Perennial Gaura/Indian Feather with annual sweet potato vine
  • Perennial Scabiosa 'Butterfly Blue', perennial creeping Jenny, with annual geraniums and/or cape daisies


  • Perennial hosta with begonias and dusty miller 
  • Almost any kind of fern with coleus and viola


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