Bigger is Not Always Better in the Flower Garden

 After getting a few growing seasons under the belt, most flower gardeners have a sense of what thrives in their landscapes. So when it comes to container gardens, why not grow what you know? Many flowering favorites have dwarf cultivars that shine in hanging baskets, patio planters, and window boxes. And, these flowers usually have the same butterfly appeal, disease resistance, and floral abundance as their full-sized cousins. 

  • 01 of 10

    Zinnia 'Profusion'

    Zinnia Profusion
    National Garden Bureau

    The popularity of annual zinnias has endured for decades, but the powdery mildew many plants suffer is not on trend for busy gardeners. However, zinnias in the 'Profusion' series not only resist mildew but are also drought tolerant, which is a bonus for containers that quickly dry out. 

    The summer bloomers top out at 12 to 18 inches, and come in orange, red, gold, and white shades. If the sun in your area is especially strong, you may have some color bleaching issues, but 'Profusion Double Hot Cherry' was recognized by All America Selections for its superior color retention. 

    Like other zinnias, 'Profusion' plants are easy to start from seed. Plant them directly in your patio containers after the last frost date, and you may see germination in as little as three days. Two months later, the blooms begin and continue until frost without the need for deadheading. 

  • 02 of 10

    Peruvian Lily 'Adonis'

    Peruvian Lily
    Neil Holmes/Oxford Scientific/Getty Images

     As one of the longest-lasting cut flowers, the Peruvian lily is a mainstay of bouquets, but you can grace your container garden with the dwarf variety of this exotic flower as well. Also known as Alstroemeria and lily of the Incas, the standard variety of the plant grows about two feet tall. 'Adonis' remains a petite eight inches, and blooms repeatedly from spring until fall.

    You can start Peruvian lilies from seed, but growing plants from tubers ​is faster. Plant them in partial shade, and provide plenty of moisture throughout the growing season. The hot pink blooms of 'Adonis' Peruvian lilies will attract hummingbirds, butterflies, and bees to your container garden. 

  • 03 of 10

    Sunflower 'Elf'

    Dwarf Sunflower
    David Q. Cavagnaro/Photolibrary/Getty Images

    Of all the dwarf sunflowers available, 'Elf' is among the shortest. The 16-inch height works well for all but the smallest containers, and its small stature means you won't have to wait as long to see blooms as you would on a standardly sized sunflower plant. 

    Chunky sunflower seeds are easy for little fingers to handle, so invite the kids to plant and care for a sunflower container garden this season. Press the seeds lightly into the soil, so that they're just covered. Proper spacing is key; follow packet instructions and don't let the kids dump the whole packet into one spot. Keep moist until germination. 

  • 04 of 10

    Godetia 'Dwarf Jewel'

    Brian Carter/Photolibrary/Getty Images

    Not familiar with godetia flowers? Also known as satin flower and farewell-to-spring, this plant is native to the west part of North America. 

    The plants of 'Dwarf Jewel' godetia will grow about eight inches tall​ and thrive in a light potting mix. Plant the seeds early in the spring, as hot summer temperatures reduce germination. Godetia pairs well with other old-fashioned flowers, like bachelor buttons, amaranth, and rose balsam.  

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  • 05 of 10

    Dahlia 'Moonfire'

    Dahlia Moonfire
    Neil Holmes/Oxford Scientific/Getty Images

    Dinner-plate-sized dahlias are a fun achievement in the flower garden, but when you grow the smaller varieties you can enjoy more blossoms without the need for the disbudding necessary to grow large blooms. Dahlia 'Moonfire' is a designer's dream, featuring brilliant gold flowers that contrast with moody dark foliage. 

    Like all dahlias, 'Moonfire' loves warm weather, rich soil, and lots of sunshine and moisture. Provide the tubers with these basics, and watch for blooms on two-foot plants late in summer, when most other flowers have passed their peak. 

  • 06 of 10

    Cosmos 'Sonata Dwarf'

    Cosmos Sonata Dwarf
    L. Alfonse/Photolibrary/Getty Images

    Many a vegetable gardener has included cosmos flowers in the plot, as a pollinator draw and to add a touch of pretty to an otherwise functional garden. Carry this theme into your container vegetable garden with a few pots of cosmos 'Sonata Dwarf.'

    Plants are only a foot tall, with the same cheery daisy-like blooms in shades of pink and white. Leave some to self-sow in the fall, and watch as your pots plant themselves next spring. 

  • 07 of 10

    Nicotiana 'Saratoga Mix'

    Nicotiana Saratoga Mix
    National Garden Bureau

    'Saratoga' flowering tobacco plants have the distinction of being both the shortest and earliest to flower among nicotiana varieties. Start seeds indoors a month before ​the last frost, or plant them outside when temperatures reach the 70's for best germination.

    Nicotiana seeds need light to germinate, so press them lightly into the soil, but do not cover them up. You can keep the surface of the soil moist by misting to prevent seeds from washing away. Once the seedlings reach transplant size and have at least two sets of true leaves, feed the plants with a balanced flower fertilizer for rapid growth. Nicotiana 'Saratoga' plants need long days to stimulate flowering; at least 10 hours of daylight, but they will grow in full sun or partial shade. 

    Nicotiana plants are a welcome addition to the moon garden, as they emit a light fragrance at night that attracts showy hummingbird moths. Pair them with other flowers that have an evening fragrance, like petunias

  • 08 of 10

    Butterfly Bush 'Buzz'

    Butterfly Bush Buzz
    Thompson & Morgan

    The breeders at Thompson & Morgan introduced this Buddleja that sports the same full-sized six-inch flowers as larger varieties on a plant that stays compact. The 48-inch plants begin blooming in June and continue well into fall. You can choose from three vibrant hues, including the 'Velvet' shown here, the deep blue 'Indigo,' or cheerful 'Candy Pink.' 

    Like other butterfly bushes, 'Buzz' blooms on new wood, so cutting it back in the spring will help to keep the plant tidy and compact. Keep your clippers handy after blooms begin, as deadheading the plant promotes further flowering, as well as keeps the plant looking attractive for close-up viewing. 

    Help the butterflies that will flock to this nectar-rich plant by including caterpillar-friendly companion plants that will complete their life cycle. You can find bronze fennel plants sold alongside other herbs in well-stocked nurseries, and these will draw swallowtail butterflies in droves. A few milkweed specimens will delight migrating monarch butterflies. 

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  • 09 of 10

    Iris 'Little Dream'

    Dwarf Bearded Iris
    Photos Lamontagne/Photolibrary/Getty Images

    In 1970, Schreiner's Gardens introduced the 14-inch standard dwarf bearded iris 'Little Dream' to the market, and it's still in demand today. This very early blooming iris has lavender blooms with a pale beard that shine in the spring garden. 

    Plant your 'Little Dream' rhizomes in the fall, when the plants are dormant. If you have a friend with these in the garden, they may be looking to get rid of some extra divisions. Keep the pot in a protected area for the winter, and place in a sunny spot in the spring. Water occasionally, and wait.

  • 10 of 10

    Canna 'Picasso'

    Canna Picasso
    Neil Holmes/Photographer's Choice/Getty Images

    At only two feet tall, canna 'Picasso' will draw many admirers with its unusual red speckles on a bright gold background.  The plants may seem expensive compared to other bedding annuals, but the rhizomes are very easy to store over the winter, even for beginners. 

    Like other cannas, 'Picasso' looks most lush when watered and fed heavily. In fact, cannas can grow in boggy conditions, so if you have a large pot without a drainage hole 'Picasso' might be your solution. 'Picasso' cannas seem to appreciate some afternoon shade, and exhibit more flowers with better coloring than those that grow in full sun all day. 

    Grow 'Picasso' cannas alongside other tropical plants with bold flowers and foliage for best effect. Bromeliads, mandevilla vines, and hibiscus are a few that won't shrink into the background when paired with showy 'Picasso' plants.