The best patio container gardens serve as eye-catching and vital additions to your outdoor space, no matter its size. They can revitalize shaded apartment patios or bring lush privacy to sunny backyards. The key to success is knowing what plants grow best in your region and which containers will not only be visually pleasing but supportive of your chosen plants. If you are ready to get started, read on as we reveal our favorite patio container garden ideas.
Choosing the Best Containers
While you might assume that the first step is to shop for the plants you want to feature on your patio, experts argue that your first purchase should be your containers. Flora Grubb, owner of Flora Grubb Gardens in San Francisco, believes that because the pots, trays, wine barrels, and raised gardens are an investment, it’s best to start there and then build your patio container garden around them. She confessed to Martha Stewart Living that she leans toward big pots; “Large pots make a statement, and most plants are happier in them in the long run.” Starting big means that it is unlikely that you will have to transplant your choices into bigger containers as they thrive, and plants typically need less watering when they are housed in larger pots.
However, Grubb does have one important warning before taking those large containers home. She recommended to the Magazine that people “[take] a photo of where [they] want to set containers and [bring] it to the nursery.” You’ll want a sense of scale so that you don’t completely overwhelm your patio space.
Next, get an idea of what your climate zone is before you take out your credit card. While you might love that gorgeous indigo ceramic planter or classic terracotta container to be an anchor for your patio garden, they may not last long in regions that experience long winters. Ceramic, clay, and terracotta can crack because the water inside the pots can freeze and expand. If you want to take the chance, be sure that the pot has ample drainage holes and is kept off the ground in winter. Of course, if you have the space, simply bringing them inside and keeping your plants thriving under grow lights is also an option until spring rolls around again.
Succulent Container Garden Ideas
Unless your patio is enclosed and climate-controlled, you will have to make some decisions about which plants to include in your container garden based on your region’s weather. For example, areas in the southwest can experience scorching summers and drought conditions. Succulents do exceedingly well, and the pros at Southern Living have their favorites. The Magazine is a fan of designing patio container gardens with at least one long-leaved blue agave standing on its own. As they explain, a “succulent garden is a perfect example of having individual plantings in single containers, allowing each to reflect its unique leaf shape and form complemented by the architecture of the container.”
Bring on the Herbs
Is your goal to create a container garden that is a match for your culinary skills? You can opt for single containers of various depths to grow the perfect herb container garden or choose a large planter and fill it with complementary plantings. While individual planters will allow you to grow herbs with significantly different water and sunlight needs, a single planter can be both dramatic and perfectly pragmatic. The trick to single planters is to choose herbs that don’t steal soil minerals from each other but rather work in harmony.
The editors at Southern Living applaud planting “fragrant rosemary, basil, and lemon grass, [which] accent soft blue plumbago in [a] tabletop setup.” The lemon grass takes center stage in this arrangement as it grows the tallest, with flowering plumbago added around it. Rosemary and basil take the outermost position, “alternating the two if you wish or placing them on opposite sides of the container.” This addition to your patio is ideal when placed on an outdoor dining table. Not only can you clip herbs for cooking, but your guests will get to enjoy a unique and fragrant centerpiece.
Real Simple also favors the idea of incorporating herbs into the best container gardens; “water-loving basil and curly parsley make good partners, whereas rosemary, sage, and oregano all prefer a slightly drier environment.” Just be sure that their containers have excellent drainage, and if they are exposed to intense sun and heat, as they would be in certain Southwestern or Southern states, be sure that they don’t dry out in their containers.
Grow Thriving Vegetable Gardens
Vegetables are also a terrific option for container gardens – you just have to adjust your planting schedule to a time that is best for your climate zone. For example, if you live in Southern California, and you want to grow vegetables from seeds in your container garden, vegetables like cauliflower, carrots, and sugar snap peas can be planted in September, but orange and red sweet peppers are best planted from December through March because the intense sun and heat in SoCal will burn the pepper plants before they have a chance to flower when grown on an outdoor patio. Martha Stewart Living recommends choosing vegetables that not only don’t sap each other’s nutrients but fit well in the same pots. As the Magazine explains: “Plants that hang over the side will leave room for plants that require more pot area, like leafy greens.”
Stage Your Fruiting Plants
You might be surprised to hear that there is a wide variety of fruiting plants, shrubs, and dwarf trees that can be grown in large pots on your balcony. These plants can serve as visual anchors when surrounded by smaller plants and often showcase fantastically colorful blooms before fruiting. Remember that half wine barrel planter that caught your eye? While it will require considerable planting mix, the half wine barrel could be an appealing planter for Meyer lemon trees, dwarf avocado trees, or blackberry bushes.
Tomatoes are a delight, but they do require room for their deep roots and additional support (such as a trellis), as well as access to bees to produce the maximum quantities of fruit. If you have your heart set on growing tomatoes, a raised garden planter is your best bet.
Add Vibrant Annuals
The best patio container gardens can offer you a colorful retreat. It is one of the reasons why Southern Living loves including vibrant annuals in its designs. Does your patio feature a trellis or pergola? Southern Living suggests dressing the base with containers of petunias. The Magazine’s advice: “If you choose white petunia, its fragrance will be intoxicating, while if surfinias enhance your garden, you’ll be amazed when they bloom all along their stems.”
Define Your Patio With Ornamental Grasses
If your patio isn’t already defined by a pergola or other framing architecture, you may want to consider creating definition with the addition of strategically placed containers. Real Simple enjoys the idea of separating your patio from your yard with a thriving container garden, whether you opt for rectangular planters or many individual pots. One of their favorite container garden ideas involves the planting of ornamental grass because no matter where it is employed, “matching pots planted with ornamental grass lend drama.”
Hang Baskets With Cascading Plants
Adding hanging baskets from patio columns or pergola beams can lend a sense of privacy and definition to your outdoor space. Hanging planters are among Martha Stewart Living’s favorite container garden ideas because of the variety of growing options they present. The Magazine recommends lining a basket with “with canna or hosta leaves” and then planting “sun-loving Calibrachoa, and [enjoying] the sight of them brimming out of a better-looking basket.”
Meanwhile, Southern Living embraces the idea that the best patio container gardens might be going modern with hanging fiberclay planters filled with succulents and purple fan flower. Why the fan flower? The Magazine explains that the “fan flower is unique because all its blossoms have their segments on one side.” The boldly colored flowers thrive in the more tropical climates in the South, where they can flourish throughout the year.