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5 Fabulous Plants for Spring Container Gardens

Container gardening is a perfect way to say goodbye to winter and hello to spring. At a time when ground soil is still far too cold to grow much of anything, the potting soil in above-ground pots can absorb plenty of sun for growing plants. And there are a number of plants that thrive in the cool temps of early spring—many will even tolerate a light frost or light snowfall. And with potted plants, it is very easy to throw a protective cover over the on those nights when a harder frost is possible.

These plants can also make great specimens for fall containers, for use after the heat of summer has waned. They will thrive right up into the first snowfalls of late fall and early winter.

Many spring container gardens use spring bulbs, which are ridiculously fun to grow. Our selection, however, focuses on five less common plants you can set out in pots on doorsteps, patios, and decks in early spring.

Pansies and Violas (Viola × wittrockiana, Viola spp.)

Different species of annual viola are ideal choices for pots both in early spring and in fall—whenever cool temps or light frost is likely. These plants love cool temperatures, so much so that they’ll need to be swapped out with warm-season plants once the cool weather of spring gives way to early summer. These are low-growing plants, so they will look best if either planted in a wide, low bowl, or used as a “fuller/spiller” plant in mixed containers with larger specimens.

Pansies and their smaller cousin, violas, are cool weather lovers and will fade and become leggy when it gets too warm. Fertilize lightly during the growing season—too much fertilizer will cause them to get leggy, but if they don’t get a bit of feeding, they won’t flower.

You can plant pansies and violas together or with other spring annuals. You can also pair them with perennials, such as coral bells (heuchera) and creeping Jenny. In a mixed container, you can simply replace them with different plants later in the summer as they fade.

  • USDA Growing Zones: 6 to 10; normally planted as annuals
  • Color Varieties: Blue, purple, red, rose, yellow, apricot, maroon, white and bicolors
  • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade
  • Soil Needs: Moist, general-purpose potting mix

Cineraria (Pericallis × hybrida)

A member of the sunflower family, cineraria (also called florist’s cineraria) is a herbaceous perennial that is grown as an annual in many climates. Available in many colors, this cool-weather, mid-sized plant is great for spring containers. It can flower for up to 5 months if conditions are cool enough. Cineraria requires good drainage; it prefers full sun (if kept cool enough), but also does fine in partial shade.

Keep cineraria moist, not wet, and never let the plant dry out completely. Large pots with plenty of good, moisture-retaining potting soil will increase your odds of success. Like most heavy-flowering plants, cineraria should be fertilized regularly.

This mounding plant plays well with others or looks great on its own. A spiller plant, like creeping Jenny works nicely with cineraria.

  • USDA Growing Zones: 9 to 11; normally grown as annuals
  • Color Varieties: Many colors, including bicolors
  • Sun Exposure: Part shade
  • Soil Needs: Moist, general-purpose potting mix

Spiral Sorrel (Oxalis spiralis subsp. vulcaicola)

The oxalis genus includes a wide variety of plants collectively known as wood sorrels. A favorite species for spring containers is Oxalis spiralis subsp. vulcnaicola, also known as spiral sorrel or volcanic sorrel, is an evergreen perennial in warmer regions but is grown as an annual in other climates. This native subspecies is a sprawling plant that grows about 8 inches high with a spread of 2 feet or more. The cultivated, named varieties are mounding plants that make ideal “filler” plants in containers. Flowers are normally yellow, but the named cultivars can have foliage ranging from bright green to dark purple.

To keep oxalis happy, fertilize regularly and keep them moist, not wet. If your plant starts getting leggy, cut it all the way back to rejuvenate it. No deadheading is necessary.

  • USDA Growing Zones: 9 to 11; grown as annuals elsewhere
  • Color Varieties: Yellow
  • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade
  • Soil Needs: Medium moisture, general-purpose potting mix

Coral Bells (Heuchera spp., x Heucherella)

Both the species form of coral bells and a hybrid cross (known as x Heucherella, a cross between Heuchera and Tiarello) are perennial plants that grow well in shade throughout the year. However, they both are so cold-tolerant and unfussy that they are particularly well suited to spring temperature fluctuations. Both come in a wide array of leaf colors and shapes, and it more are offered every season. Spring is a particularly good time for heucheras. Although known mostly for their foliage, the spring flowers can be quite spectacular and last for quite a while.

These plants react badly to having “wet feet,” so make sure to use a well-draining potting soil that is somewhat on the dry side. Mixing in a slow-release fertilizer will improve leaf color and blooming. They can be planted by themselves as specimens in large containers, or with other annuals as “spillers” around the edges of a pot.

When grown in pots, these perennials can be moved in late fall to a dry, protected location for overwintering, then set out again the following spring.

  • USDA Growing Zones: 4 to 8
  • Color Varieties: Red, white, coral, pink
  • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade (depends on variety)
  • Soil Needs: Dry to medium-moisture potting soil

These spring plants make lovely options for container gardens. Learn about the various attributes that make them so good for containers.

10 spring container ideas

Check out these cheery spring container ideas – perfect for small spaces.

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With fresh growth and new flowers, there are lots of plants that can be used to create beautiful spring containers.

Some of the best plants for spring pots and containers are spring-flowering bulbs like daffodils, hyacinths and tulips. Try combining them with small evergreens and bedding plants to boost the structure, colour and interest.

For full instructions on planting up the containers shown, just click on the link provided within each section.

Need more inspiration? Feast your eyes on some of our favourite plant combinations for spring colour.

Discover 10 of the best spring container ideas, below.

With fresh growth and new flowers, there are lots of plants that can be used to create ravishing spring containers.

Daffodils and violas

This daffodil display is incredibly easy to create. Just plant the bulbs in autumn, then finish off with smaller bedding plants in spring. Here are full instructions on creating this daffodil spring pot display.

Hyacinth and heuchera pot

This spring display is bursting with colour and fragrance from the hyacinths and early dianthus. Find out how to plant up this heuchera and hyacinth container.

Acer and bleeding heart container

For a more permanent container display, try planting up a large Belfast sink, or other large container. We used a Japanese maple, bleeding heart, ivy and tiarellas. Follow our steps to plant this acer and bleeding heart container.

Bergenia and saxifrage

Both the bergenia and saxifrage used in this display are tough perennials that can be planted out in the garden once past their best. Discover how to pot up this bergenia and saxifrage display.

Primulas, sage and peony

This purple-themed pot contains plants with purple foliage and flowers, including purple sage and drumstick primulas. Check out how to plant up this primula and anemone pot.

Spring pot for shade

This container is planted with snake’s head fritillaries and Japanese tassel ferns – perfect for a damp, shady corner. Here’s how to plant up this fern and fritillary pot.

Stipa and muscari window box

For windowsills, window boxes are ideal. Bees will love the nectar-rich grape hyacinths planted in this stipa and muscari window box.

Snowdrop pots

This silvery pot display is at its best as soon as the snowdrops emerge in February, and will into March. Plant up this snowdrop container, or have a go at smaller snowdrop pots.

Heather, daffodils and daisies

Plant up this container for a cheery display of daffodils, heather, primulas and daisies. All the plants can go in the ground once the display is past its best.

Tulip container display

The huge variety of tulips to choose from means there are lots of different colour combinations to try out. Check out these easy steps on planting tulip bulbs in a pot.

Don’t forget foliage plants

Try to avoid relying solely on flowers to provide interest in your containers. Airy grasses and lush foliage plants can be just as beautiful in their own right.

Discover 10 gorgeous spring container ideas, including window boxes, small pots, and large dramatic displays – with help from BBC Gardeners’ World Magazine.