8 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.

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

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.

  • 01 of 05

    Pansies and Violas (Viola spp.)

    A close up of pansies and violas in a box
    Kerry Michaels

    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.

    The key to designing successful containers with pansies and violas is to realize that they are low growers. Either use a wide, low bowl or container so they look proportional, or grow them as "filler/spiller" plants in a 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. They will grow in full sun or partial shade and like to be kept moist, though not wet. Don't let them dry out completely. 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.

    Pinching off spent flowers will help violas bloom continuously. Choose seedlings that are stocky and healthy, and avoid any that are wilted or dry. Pansies often will come in six packs, small pots or flats, and they may be rootbound. Make sure to break up the roots before you plant them. Pansies and violas are also rather easy to grow from seeds. You can start them indoors about 8 weeks before outdoor planting time.

    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.

  • 02 of 05

    Cineraria (Pericallis × hybrida)

    container gardening picture of Senetti Pericallis
    Senetti® Pericallis. Photograph © Kerry Michaels

    A member of the sunflower family, cineraria (also called florist's cineraria) is a herbaceous perennial that is grown as an annual, except in zones 9 to 11. 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. Pericallis 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 or sutera, works nicely with cineraria.

  • 03 of 05

    Spiral Sorrel (Oxalis spiralis subsp. vulcaicola)

    Full frame shot of Oxalis growing on a field
    Keisuke Aoki / EyeEm / Getty Images

    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 USDA hardiness zones 9 to 11, but it is grown as an annual elsewhere. The 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.

    Native to higher elevations along the volcanic mountains of Central and South America, this subspecies tolerates temperatures down to 20 degrees F. A number of named cultivars are available, with colors ranging from bright green to dark purple; tawny yellow to almost black. This plant prefers shade to part shade and has a lovely mounding shape. It looks great on its own, but can also be used as a filler plant in mixed containers.

    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.

  • 04 of 05

    Coral Bells (Heuchera) and x Heucherella

    A closeup of Red Heuchera leaves
    Photos by Sally Jane Photographic Art / Getty Images

    Both coral bells (Heuchera) 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 huge array of colors and leaf shapes, and it seems that more are offered every season. They even look great and seem to thrive in those late-season snowstorms that we're so often prone to in cold climates. Some varieties prefer shade and will color differently in the sun, so check the plant tag. 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. Avoid potting soils that have a heavy ratio of peat moss. 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.

    Continue to 5 of 5 below.
  • 05 of 05

    Parsley, Kale, etc.

    High angle view of parsley
    Kristin Oldenburg / EyeEm / Getty Images

    Cool-season herbs and leaf vegetables are perfect for spring containers. Kale and parsley, for example, scoff at the cold and are especially beautiful in pots, thanks to leaves with intricate textures. Both kale and parsley play well with others and can be a surprising addition to mixed containers.

    Oregano, thyme, sage, mint, lemon balm, and chives are also good herbs to include in your mixed containers. Along with kale, consider other spring greens, such as spinach and chard.