The best shrubs for containers – 6 options that grow in pots to turn a bare backyard into a bushy oasis

Whether you want a row of tall shrubs to offer structure or some fragrant foliage for your front porch, these options have you covered

Backyard fairylights hanging from a tree over the garden path
(Image credit: Christian DuRocher. Design: Kate Anne Designs)

Is your bare-faced patio crying out for some greenery? Perhaps potted shrubs could be the answer. Container gardening is the simplest and most accessible way to introduce some lush foliage to a yard that's lacking, even in limited spaces, and leafy shrubs make a longer-lasting alternative to flowers. Knowing which are best suited to pots, however, isn't quite so simple. 

The big perk of shrubs over flowers is that many are evergreen, offering a low-maintenance landscaping idea for your backyard all year round. Whether you want a row of taller plants to offer some structure, some fragrant foliage for your front porch, or bushier varieties to form a barrier for added privacy, there's a shrub out there to have you covered. 

It's no surprise then that we're big fans of container gardening and the versatility it can offer. But, while the gardening method itself is the sort that even the less green-thumbed among us can get to grips with pretty easily, you need to know which plants are happy in the confines of a pot before you start. That's where we come in. With the help of some expert gardeners, we've rusted up a list of the six shrubs that are perfect for pots so you can turn your plain patio into a pretty oasis in next to no time. 

1. Boxwood 

A boxwood shrub in a pot on a front porch

(Image credit: Getty)

A popular shrub found in many a front yard is the boxwood. This wide-spreading plant has a mass of dense, evergreen foliage which makes it a favorite for topiary or for flanking a porch, and while it can also be used for hedging or grown as a small tree, it will also perform well in a pot, too. 

'Boxwood shrubs can be pruned into various shapes and forms, and they have a shallow root system that makes them ideal for container gardening,' explains Aditya Abhishek, plant expert and founder of Agriculture Review. 'They maintain their shape in pots and can tolerate pruning well, meaning they can be used to create formal hedges, topiaries, or geometric designs in a backyard.'  

2. Dwarf Japanese Maple

A dwarf Japanese Maple shrub with red leaves in a pot

(Image credit: Alamy)

If you want to add a splash of color to your outdoor space, the Japanese Maple is a great option. 'This stunning shrub showcases vibrant foliage in various hues, from fiery red to delicate green,' explains Tony O'Neill, professional gardener and blogger at Simplify Gardening. 'Combine different varieties to create visual interest and texture that complements your overall garden design.'

The Japanese Maple is also one of the best trees for small gardens that can be container-grown, but if you want to keep yours compact and shrub-like, choose a dwarf or weeping variety that won't grow tall woody stems. As Tony adds: 'Their compact size and slow growth make them ideal for containers and the cascading branches and delicate leaves create an elegant focal point in any garden.' 

3. Rosemary 

A rosemary plant in a concrete container on a doorstep

(Image credit: Alamy )

For fragrant foliage that will make your backyard smell divine, rosemary is the perfect potted shrub. The woody, aromatic herb has evergreen needle-like leaves which can be used when cooking and it also offers small blue flowers in the summer months. 

While this flavorsome herb prefers soil on the dry side, like any potted plant, it's important to water regularly as the plant won't be able to absorb moisture through the ground (a common container gardening mistake that beginners make). As Adita notes: 'The hardy shrub also thrives in well-draining soil when potted.'  

'Plant it in pots and place them near outdoor seating areas to enjoy its fragrance, or use it as a scented edging plant,' he adds. 

4. Hydrangea 

A hydrangea shrub with purple flowers in a terracotta pot

(Image credit: Getty)

Hydrangeas make a colorful addition to your landscaping ideas, and dwarf varieties are great options for container gardening. 'Dwarf hydrangeas have large, showy flowers that come in various colors, including blue, pink, and white,' says Aditya. 'You can grow them in medium to large-sized pots and place them on patios, decks, or near entrances to add a pop of color.'

When it comes to potted hydrangea care, according to Tony, this shrub is an excellent choice for shady gardens. 'This is because they prefer partial shade and moist soil, making them well-suited for patios or shaded areas where they can bring a burst of color to the surroundings,' he says. You can also alter your soil's pH to change the color of blooms that your plant produces. 

5. Lavender 

A lavender shrub in a terracotta pot

(Image credit: Getty)

For another sweet-smelling addition to your backyard, lavender is a great shrub that's suitable for containers. 'This fragrant shrub is known for its beautiful purple or blue flowers and aromatic foliage,' says Aditya. 'Plant it in pots along pathways or near seating areas to enjoy its soothing fragrance.' 

Similar to rosemary, lavender likes a sunny spot and well-draining soil. Its purple flowers make a bright contrast to a classic terracotta pot, and the tall stems can make quite the spectacle lined up against a wall. 'Place taller ones at the back of a container arrangement and shorter ones towards the front for a balanced look,' says Tony.

6. Japanese Pieris  

A Japanese Pieris shrub in a pot

(Image credit: Getty)

Finally, Japanese Pieris - also known as Pieris japonica or Japanese andromeda - is a beautiful flowering if you want a burst of bright color that changes with the seasons. The plant is native to Japan but grows well in USDA Hardiness Zones 5–8. 

'Japanese Pieris is an evergreen shrub with glossy, leathery leaves that turn red through the seasons,' says Aditya. 'It produces clusters of white or pink bell-shaped flowers and has a shallow root system, making it suitable for pots. Plant it in pots and arrange them in groups to create a layered effect.' 

It's important to note that Japanese Pieris is toxic to both animals and humans so place it out of reach of pets or children. As Tony reminds us: 'It's also important to pay attention to each shrub's sun and shade requirements, ensuring they receive optimal growing conditions.' This one prefers full sun to partial shade, so place it somewhere it will receive plenty of sunlight if you want it to look its best. 

Lilith Hudson
News Editor

Lilith Hudson is the News Editor at Livingetc, and an expert at decoding trends and reporting on them as they happen. Writing news, features, and explainers for our digital platform, she's the go-to person for all the latest micro-trends, interior hacks, and color inspiration you need in your home. Lilith discovered a love for lifestyle journalism during her BA in English and Philosophy at the University of Nottingham where she spent more time writing for her student magazine than she did studying. After graduating, she decided to take things a step further and now holds an MA in Magazine Journalism from City, University of London, with previous experience at the Saturday Times Magazine, Evening Standard, DJ Mag, and The Simple Things Magazine. At weekends you'll find her renovating a tiny one-up, one-down annex next to her Dad's holiday cottage in the Derbyshire dales where she applies all the latest design ideas she's picked up through the week.