Growing plants in pots not only creates growing space when there’s no soil available, it also means your plants are portable. You can take them with you when you move home or move them from one part of the garden to another.

Restricting plants to a life in a container can also keep them garden friendly. Invasive plants such as bamboo are best kept in check in a container.

Most plants are grown in pots at some stage of their lives but not all plants continue to grow well in pots. The world’s oldest potted plant is a cycad that’s been grown in a container for 240 years. The plant, Encephalartos altensteinii, is housed at the Palm House in the Royal Botanical Gardens Kew and has grown in a pot since it was transported from South Africa to the UK in 1775.

Cycads are extremely slow-growing plants and so are ideal candidates for life in a container. One of the most attractive cycads for a pot is the cardboard palm (Zamia furfuracea), which has palm-like leaves. Grass trees (Xanthorrhoea spp.) can also be grown successful in containers for many years.

Small selections

To overcome the issue of a plant growing too large to be containerised, many are now bred or selected for their naturally compact growth. Naturally compact plants are well suited to growing in containers. Compact forms of previously large plants include bougainvillea (Bambino Series), dwarf crepe myrtle and patio roses.

Even vegetables from carrots to tomatoes are now bred to be small making them ideal for container growing or for raised vegetable beds. Look for varieties marketed as mini, baby or patio as the best choice for a productive containerised vegie patch.

Dwarf grafted plants

An alternative to developing a naturally small plant is to graft a variety on to dwarfing rootstock so it stays small. The availability of dwarf rootstock has made all sorts of productive plants available for container growing including many that would not have been considered suited to growing in pots even a few years ago. With the availability of dwarf avocado, mango, citrus (especially lemons, limes and oranges), peach, nectarine and apple along with compact varieties of blueberry it is now possible to have a miniature, potted orchard.

It isn’t only productive trees that are kept smaller or more manageable with grafting. Weeping and standard ornamental plants that are grafted, such as grevilleas, make handsome potted plants.


As well as selecting plants for pots based on their size, also consider their need for nutrients and water. Succulents of all sorts are good choices to grow in containers as they have low water needs. Even frangipanis with their succulent stems and large thick leaves can be grown and flowered in a container.

Potted growing tips

As plants grow, repot them into a slightly larger container. Use fresh potting mix in the new container. Regularly check that the plant hasn’t blocked the pot’s drainage holes (it may need repotting or root pruning if it has).

Potted plants need more frequent watering than the same plant growing in the ground and may need watering even after rain if they are located in a sheltered spot or are completely filling the container.

Some favourites

Some popular ornamental plants that grow well in outdoor containers are: azalea, box, camellia, clivia, coprosma, cumquat, daphne, fuchsia, gardenia, geranium, hydrangea, weeping Japanese maple, lavender, rhapis palm, Wollemi pine.