5 Fabulous Plants for Spring Container Gardens

Viola on garden-table in flowerpot
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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.

  • 01 of 05

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

    Multii colored viola in a basket
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    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
  • 02 of 05

    Cineraria (Pericallis × hybrida)

    Image of pink and purple cineraria flowers / daisy plants, flowering cinerarias daisies in garden plastic terracotta flower pots
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    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
  • 03 of 05

    Spiral Sorrel (Oxalis spiralis subsp. vulcaicola)

    Full frame shot of Oxalis growing on a field
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    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
  • 04 of 05

    Coral Bells (Heuchera spp., x Heucherella)

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

    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
    Continue to 5 of 5 below.
  • 05 of 05

    Cool-Season Herbs and Vegetables (Parsley, Kale, etc.)

    High angle view of parsley
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    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.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 2 to 11; normally grown as annuals
    • Color Varieties: Not grown for flowers
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade
    • Soil Needs: Medium moisture, general-purpose potting mix