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Checklist for Choosing Great Container Plants

There's more to picking the right plants for containers than meets the eye. Choose reliable varieties that stand up to whatever you throw their way, whether it's drought, cold weather, bright sun or shade. There are container plants to suit every taste. They run the gamut from flowering annuals that provide short bursts of color to long-lived evergreen trees and shrubs. Combine plants that not only look attractive together, but prefer similar growing conditions. For example, don't plant thirsty gerbera daisies along with desert-dwelling succulents, since you can't please both; either the gerberas will be underwatered or the succulents will be overwatered.

Drought Tolerant Plants

Container gardens aren't much fun if you constantly have to water them. Choose plants that tolerate long periods without water. Drought-tolerant plants like yuccas, sedums, junipers and ornamental grasses handle missed waterings with ease. Houseplants like ficus, dracaenas, succulents and cast-iron plant can miss waterings without complaint too.

Winter Hardy Plants

Grow tough winter-hardy plants for a reliable display all year. Use small evergreens like boxwoods and junipers for greenery through winter, or deciduous ones like redtwig dogwood to add form and drama. Incorporate perennials like heucheras (also called coral bells) and sedums and you'll have a container garden that looks fabulous even in the dead of winter.

Sun Loving Plants

Annuals and perennials make fun and creative container combos, and are available in a dazzling array of colors and forms. Flowering annuals may have a bit of downtime between blooms, but they're easy to swap out when they're past their prime. Annuals are usually inexpensive and add an instant burst of color, while perennials return the next year (or even for many years).

Shade Loving Plants

Brighten a dimly lit courtyard with the bright and cheery flowers and foliage of shade-tolerant plants. Add colorful highlights with the blooms of fuchsias, begonias and violas. If the shade is too deep even for flowering plants, put the reliable and vivid foliage of coleus and crotons to use for a big impact.

An extra perk of container gardening is the ability to grow plants from warmer climates by bringing them indoors for winter. Orchids, houseplants, citrus and palms can grow indoors in winter, and spend the summer in a shady part of the garden after your area's last frost. Just one or two unusual and dramatic plants make a bold statement.

It's better to have healthy and durable plants than to design a container combo that looks good one day but is gone the next. Choose plants that enjoy the same conditions and your container garden will thrive beautifully and be easy to maintain.