20 Best Tall Plants for Container Gardens

closeup of cabbage palm (Cordyline australis)

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Tall potted plants can turn ordinary container gardens into works of art. They add height variety—and a little drama—to mixed containers. But grouping plants in containers takes a little finesse. The general formula is thrillers, spillers, and fillers. In other words, combine a tall (thrilling) focal point plant with something that spills over the side of the container to soften the lines. Finish with shorter filler plants in between.

Virtually any plant can succeed in a pot under the right conditions. Here are 20 of the best tall potted plants to grow in a container garden.

Tip

Choose a pot that is large enough for the plant’s root ball as it grows. Also, make sure the container is heavy enough to anchor the plant.

  • 01 of 20

    Agave (Agave)

    closeup of agave americana marginata

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    If you garden in a warmer hardiness zone, you can't go wrong with a large succulent as your focal point. And even if you live in a cooler climate, you can always grow a succulent as an annual or bring it inside for the winter. There are many agave species to choose from, ranging in size and appearance. Several commonly grown varieties reach a few feet in height and width. Agave can thrive in a relatively shallow, unglazed clay pot with excellent drainage. It prefers gritty soil, such as a cactus mix.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 5 to 11
    • Color Varieties: Foliage of greens, blues, and grays
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade
    • Soil Needs: Sandy, well-draining
  • 02 of 20

    Amaranth (Amaranthus)

    red flowers of love lies bleeding (Amaranthus caudatus)
    Marie Iannotti

    A tall amaranth, such as love lies bleeding (Amaranthus caudatus) or Joseph's coat (Amaranthus tricolor), can add color and drama to a container garden, reaching heights of about 2 to 4 feet. Choose a container with adequate drainage holes, as amaranth likes to be moist but not sit in water. These are annual plants, so you will either need to start seed early or buy plants every year. But the nice thing about annuals is they allow you to experiment and be creative.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 2 to 11
    • Color Varieties: Foliage of greens, reds, purples, and yellows
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade
    • Soil Needs: Average, moist, well-draining
  • 03 of 20

    Arborvitae (Thuja)

    brick patio surrounded by arborvitae

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    An evergreen as the centerpiece of a container garden is elegant, classic, and low maintenance. Choose one that will hold its shape nicely without a lot of pruning. A good option is 'Emerald Green' arborvitae, a semi-dwarf cultivar that grows in a narrow pyramid shape to about 7 to 15 feet tall. Plant it in a large pot with high-quality soil, and it should live in your container garden for many years.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 2 to 7
    • Color Varieties: Deep green
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade
    • Soil Needs: Loamy, moist, well-draining
  • 04 of 20

    Bamboo (Bambusoideae)

    potted bamboo surrounding a deck

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    Bamboo can be a nightmare in the garden, spreading faster than you can control. But in a container, bamboo is a conversation piece. Some types prefer more temperate climates while others like heat and humidity. It's the clumping varieties of bamboo, as well as the ones with smaller runners, that do best in containers. They might not grow to their fullest potential, but some still can reach heights of 10 to 20 feet.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 4 to 11
    • Color Varieties: Green, yellow-green
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade
    • Soil Needs: Loose, slightly acidic, well-draining
    Continue to 5 of 20 below.
  • 05 of 20

    Big Bluestem (Andropogon gerardii)

    field of big bluestem (Andropogon gerardii)

    Matt Lavin/Flickr/CC By 2.0

    Big bluestem is a lovely ornamental grass that can adapt to a container. If you are mixing it with other plants, use a large container, or big bluestem will crowd out its neighbors. This grass can grow about 4 to 6 feet tall with a spread of 2 to 3 feet.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 4 to 9
    • Color Varieties: Purplish flowers
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun
    • Soil Needs: Average, dry to medium moisture, well-draining
  • 06 of 20

    Bougainvillea (Bougainvillea)

    Pink bougainvillea flowers

    Merethe Svarstad Eeg/EyeEm/Getty Images

    Bougainvillea is only hardy in zone 9 and up, but you can opt to grow it as an annual or bring it indoors for the winter. It's technically a vine, not an upright plant, so you will need to provide some support for it to grow vertically. Still, it's a vigorous grower, and its blooms look stunning crawling up a wall or trellis.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 9 to 11
    • Color Varieties: Purple, red, orange, yellow, pink, or white blooms
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade
    • Soil Needs: Humusy, acidic, well-draining
  • 07 of 20

    Boxwood (Buxus sempervirens)

    Boxwoods in pots

    Jennifer Lang/FOAP/Getty Images  

    Boxwood shrubs can be formal or funky. The real fun of using this plant is you can trim it to be anything you want. If you would like to exercise your creative flair, try a boxwood topiary. When left to grow, it can reach heights of about 5 to 15 feet. Choose a pot with good drainage, as boxwoods can suffer from root rot. Also, a little shade during the hottest part of the afternoon is preferable.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 5 to 8
    • Color Varieties: Dark green to yellowish-green
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade
    • Soil Needs: Loamy, evenly moist, well-draining
  • 08 of 20

    Canna Lily (Canna × generalis)

    Canna plant

    John Burke/Getty Images

    With their large, showy flowers, canna plants can add instant tropical flair to a container garden. In most zones, this plant is an annual, but you can attempt to carry it through the winter indoors in a sunny spot. On the plus side, it will flower multiple times throughout the summer, and its cultivars grow from about 2 to 6 feet tall. Cannas need lots of water and actually prefer "wet feet," so be vigilant about keeping the container moist.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 8 to 11
    • Color Varieties: Yellow, orange, red, or pink flowers
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun
    • Soil Needs: Rich, slightly acidic to neutral, moist
    Continue to 9 of 20 below.
  • 09 of 20

    Dracaena (Dracaena)

    Dracaena reflexa

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    Dracaena plants can grow upward of 10 feet tall in containers, and there are many varieties to choose from. They are not hardy and need to be moved indoors for the winter. In fact, many people choose to grow them solely as houseplants. But outdoors they are fairly low maintenance and can live in shadier conditions that other plants can't tolerate.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 10 to 11
    • Color Varieties: Foliage of green, blue-green, burgundy, gold, or gray
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade
    • Soil Needs: Rich, moist, well-draining
  • 10 of 20

    Dwarf Alberta Spruce (Picea glauca)

    Dwarf Alberta spruce (Picea glauca) in a garden

    F.D. Richards/Flickr/CC By 2.0

    The dwarf Alberta spruce is a gorgeous conical evergreen with dense, bright green needles. It is a bit scratchy, so wear gloves when working around it. Choose a small tree when planting in a container. The term "dwarf" simply means it is slow growing, but the tree can reach 12 feet or taller. On the plus side, it can take around 25 years to mature. This plant requires a delicate balance of even moisture and good drainage when grown in a container. If you live in a dry climate, you might have to water frequently.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 3 to 8
    • Color Varieties: Green
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade
    • Soil Needs: Sandy, loamy, or clay; moist; well-draining
  • 11 of 20

    Elephant Ear (Colocasia esculenta)

    Elephant ear leaves

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    Elephant ear manages to be both imposing and fun at the same time. The plant sports large, arrow- or heart-shaped leaves that some say resemble an elephant's ears, hence its common name. It reaches about 3 to 6 feet tall but only grows as an annual in most hardiness zones. When grown in a container, be sure to water the plant regularly, as it likes a moist environment.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 8 to 10
    • Color Varieties: Foliage of green, yellow, chartreuse, or black
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade
    • Soil Needs: Rich, humusy, medium to wet
  • 12 of 20

    Feather Reed Grass (Calamagrostis x acutiflora)

    Feather reed grass (Calamagrostis x acutiflora)

    Roger Smith/Getty Images

    Feather reed grass is a cool season grass, which means it is an early riser in the spring and blooms early in the season. After flowering, it remains upright and tall, not floppy or weepy like many other grasses. It is perfect for the center of a container, growing from 3 to 5 feet. It prefers damp soil and can even tolerate poor drainage.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 5 to 9
    • Color Varieties: Green to yellow-green leaves; yellow, pink, red, or white flowers
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun
    • Soil Needs: Average, medium to wet
    Continue to 13 of 20 below.
  • 13 of 20

    Fountain Grass (Pennisetum setaceum 'Rubrum')

    Purple fountain grass

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    Fountain grass looks good all season, with its burgundy leaves, spiky purple flowers, and purple-tinged seed pods. It has a wonderful way of swaying in a breeze and adds a rush of sound to your container garden. It also can make a good screen at 3 to 5 feet tall, giving you some privacy but still allowing sight. If you live outside of its hardiness zones, you can overwinter the plant indoors. Place the container in a relatively cool room with sun exposure, and water it sparingly.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 9 to 10
    • Color Varieties: Shades of burgundy
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade
    • Soil Needs: Average, medium moisture, well-draining
  • 14 of 20

    Fuchsia (Fuchsia)

    Beautiful pink and purple fuchsia blossoms

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    For a container in a shady spot, you can't do better than a fuchsia plant. These plants bloom all season with no deadheading. Look for an upright variety, such as 'Baby Blue Eyes', 'Cardinal Farges', or 'Beacon', if you want it as a focal point.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 8 to 10
    • Color Varieties: Purple, pink, red, or white blooms
    • Sun Exposure: Part shade to full shade
    • Soil Needs: Fertile, moist, well-draining
  • 15 of 20

    Hibiscus (Hibiscus)

    Hibiscus flowers

    Bill Brennan/Getty Images

    Hibiscus plants look tropical, but most varieties are hardy. These multi-branched shrubs can easily be trained into flowering trees and grown in containers. Use a well-draining potting mix, and avoid a very deep container to prevent the plant from expending too much energy on developing roots. Chinese hibiscus (Hibiscus rosa-sinensis) can reach around 10 feet tall while rose of Sharon (Hibiscus syriacus) can push 12 feet.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 9 to 11 (tropical hibiscus)
    • Color Varieties: White, red, pink, orange, yellow, peach, or purple blooms
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade
    • Soil Needs: Loamy, moist, well-draining
  • 16 of 20

    Mountain Cabbage Tree (Cordyline indivisa)

    closeup of a mountain cabbage tree

    Joshua McCullough/Getty Images

    The mountain cabbage tree looks like a small palm tree and makes an intriguing focal point in a container. It is not hardy below zone 9, but you can bring it indoors for the winter. Just be sure to keep the plant warm, and give it lots of light. In a container, it will grow to about 3 to 6 feet tall with a high-quality, well-draining potting mix. Trim back leggy stems when necessary.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 9 to 11
    • Color Varieties: Greenish-white to purplish-brown blooms
    • Sun Exposure: Part shade
    • Soil Needs: Fertile, moist, well-draining
    Continue to 17 of 20 below.
  • 17 of 20

    New Zealand Flax (Phormium tenax)

    New Zealand flax (Phormium tenax and hybrids) in a pot
    Marie Iannotti

    New Zealand flax is a spiky plant that can add color and interest to a container garden. With its rigid, sword-shaped leaves, the plant can reach around 4 feet tall when grown in a container. Choose a rich, organic mix over a regular potting soil for your container, and water the plant regularly. It should be brought inside to a sunny spot before the first frost if you live outside its hardiness zones.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 9 to 11
    • Color Varieties: Green, bronze, purple, pink, red, or orange foliage
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade
    • Soil Needs: Average, evenly moist, well-draining
  • 18 of 20

    Princess Flower (Tibouchina urvilleana)

    Purple glory flowers

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    If you love a tropical look, princess flower—also known as purple glory flower—is a beautiful evergreen shrub with stunning purple flowers. The plant grows well in containers on sunny patios, though it should be brought inside before the first frost. Under ideal conditions, it can grow to about 6 to 8 feet.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 9 to 11
    • Color Varieties: Purple
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun
    • Soil Needs: Rich, acidic, well-draining
  • 19 of 20

    Sweet Bay (Laurus nobilis)

    Standard bay tree (Laurus nobilis) in a terra cotta planter

    Craig Roberts/Getty Images

    Bay trees are beautiful and functional: You can pluck fresh bay leaves right from your container. Bay grows slowly in a pot and can be pruned to maintain a manageable size of less than 10 feet. In its natural environment, however, the plant can grow as tall as 60 feet. You can trim it into a topiary or leave its natural shrubby shape. It is not hardy but overwinters well indoors.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 8 to 10
    • Color Varieties: Yellowish-green blooms, deep green foliage
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade
    • Soil Needs: Rich, moist, well-draining
  • 20 of 20

    Yucca (Yucca)

    Closeup of yucca leaves

    Feifei Cui-Paoluzzo/Getty Images

    Yucca plants are about as hardy as you can get, and the newer cultivars are pretty enough to be the focal point of a container garden. Even the smaller varieties still grow to roughly 2 to 4 feet in height and width, so select a good-sized container. They do not always bloom in containers, but many people choose to cut off the flower stalks anyway and focus on the spiky foliage.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 5 to 11 (depending on the variety)
    • Color Varieties: White, pink, purple, or green blooms
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun
    • Soil Needs: Dry to medium moisture, well-draining