20 Best Large Container Plants

Tall Plants That Love Full Sun or Shade

tall plant in an outdoor container

The Spruce / Christopher Lee Foto

Tall potted plants can turn ordinary container gardens into works of art. They add height, variety, and drama to mixed containers. But grouping plants in containers takes a little finesse. The general design concept for containers 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 rounded, mounding filler plants in between to make the container look full.

Virtually any plant is good for a large pot under the right conditions. And some plants can even survive the winter in a container if they are hardy to your growing zone. It's recommended that you do not put rocks at the bottom of a planter, as this can impede drainage. If you need to fill up a large planter space because your plants don't require soil stretching the planter's full depth, you can use plastic bottles, crushed aluminum cans, Styrofoam blocks, and even smaller plastic pots turned upside down. Always make sure water is still able to drain from the container. 

Here are 20 of the best tall plants to grow in a container garden.

Tip

Make sure the container is heavy enough to anchor the plant and prevent it from toppling over in windy conditions. But at the same time, you might want to position the container on a plant caddy before filling it, so you can still move it easily once it becomes heavy.

  • 01 of 20

    Agave (Agave)

    Agave succulent with wide blue-green leaves

    The Spruce / Kara Riley

    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 in a wide range of sizes and appearances. 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 Hardiness 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)

    The Spruce / 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 2 to 4 feet. Choose a container with adequate drainage holes because amaranth likes to be moist but does not like to 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 Hardiness 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)

    Arborvitae evergreen trees lining side of blue and white building and next to pathway

    The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

    Using 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 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 Hardiness 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)

    Bamboo plants with tall branches and thin wispy leaves in sunlight

    The Spruce / Gyscha Rendy

    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. Just make sure you use a container with adequate drainage holes, as soggy soil can inhibit the plant's growth.

    • USDA Hardiness 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 combining 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. Make sure you don’t overwater or add too much fertilizer to big bluestem, as this can cause it to flop. Likewise, too much shade can result in poor growth, so place the container where it will receive at least six to eight hours of direct sunlight per day.

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

    Bougainvillea (Bougainvillea)

    Bougainvillea shrub with fuchsia and red flowers in branches

    The Spruce / Leticia Almeida

    Bougainvillea is only hardy in USDA hardiness zone 9 and higher, 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 Hardiness 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)

    Boxwood plant pruned in an orb shape in orange pot outside

    The Spruce / Cara Cormack

    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 unpruned, it can reach heights of about 5 to 15 feet. Choose a pot with good drainage because boxwoods can suffer from root rot. Also, a little shade during the hottest part of the afternoon is preferable.

    • USDA Hardiness 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 lily with bright orange flowers and buds in center closeup

    The Spruce / K. Dave

    With their large, showy flowers, canna plants can add an 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 Hardiness Zones: 8 to 11
    • Color Varieties: Yellow, orange, red, white, 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 plant with grass-shaped leaves in white pot on bookshelf ledge

    The Spruce / Krystal Slagle

    Dracaena plants can grow upwards 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 gardeners choose to grow them solely as houseplants. When grown outdoors, they are fairly low-maintenance and can handle somewhat shady conditions that many other plants can't tolerate.

    • USDA Hardiness 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 in teal pot with small pine branches surrounded by pine cones and moss

    The Spruce / Adrienne Legault

    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 eventually reach 12 feet or taller. On the plus side, it can take 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: Partial sun to partial shade
    • Soil Needs: Sandy, loamy, or clay; moist; well-draining
  • 11 of 20

    Elephant Ear (Colocasia esculenta)

    Elephant ear plant with large heart-shaped leaves

    The Spruce / Adrienne Legault

    Elephant ear manages to be both imposing and fun at the same time. The plant produces large, arrow- or heart-shaped leaves that some say resemble an elephant's ear, 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 because it likes a moist environment.

    • USDA Hardiness 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 with tan feathery flower spikes and grass blades closeup

    The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

    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 but not floppy or weepy like many other types of grass. 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 Hardiness 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')

    Fountain grass plant with burgundy leaves and arcing purple-tinged feathery plumes

    The Spruce / David Beaulieu

    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 lines. 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. Bring it back outdoors once the danger of the last frost has passed.

    • USDA Hardiness 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)

    Fuchsia plant with bright pink and purple flowers and blooms in pot

    The Spruce / Kara Riley

    For a container in a shady spot, you can't do better than a fuchsia plant. These plants bloom throughout the entire growing season with no deadheading (removing spent blooms) necessary. Look for an upright variety, such as 'Baby Blue Eyes', 'Cardinal Farges', or 'Beacon', if you want it as a focal point. Fuchsia is susceptible to root rot, so be sure you select a container with adequate drainage holes, and use a fast-draining potting soil. 

    • USDA Hardiness 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 with bright orange petals closeup

    The Spruce / Phoebe Cheong

    Hibiscus plants look tropical, but many varieties are hardy in cooler climates. 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 reach 12 feet.

    • USDA Hardiness 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 lower than USDA hardiness zone 9, but you can bring it indoors for the winter. Just be sure to keep the plant warm, and give it lots of sunlight. 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 Hardiness 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 plant with long green and red leaf blades in gray pot near windows

    The Spruce / Cara Cormack

    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 4 feet tall when grown in a container. Choose a rich, organic potting mix over regular potting soil for your container, and water the plant regularly. Bring it indoors to a sunny spot before the first frost if you live outside of its hardiness zones.

    • USDA Hardiness 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)

    Princess flower with light purple petals next to leaves and stems with buds

    The Spruce / Leticia Almeida

    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 indoors before the first frost. Also, place the container in a location that has some shelter from strong winds. Under ideal conditions, it can grow to about 6 to 8 feet.

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

    Sweet Bay (Laurus nobilis)

    Sweet bay trees with deep-green leaves in orange pot

    The Spruce / Almar Creative

    Bay trees are beautiful and functional: You can pluck fresh bay leaves right from your container. Bay trees grow 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. The plant typically grows slowly in a container and doesn’t mind being a little cramped. However, make sure you use a pot that’s sturdy enough not to tip over. Sweet bay is not hardy but overwinters well indoors.

    • USDA Hardiness 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)

    Yucca plant with spiky leaves and flower stalk buds in garden

    The Spruce / Leticia Almeida

    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 gardeners choose to cut off the flower stalks anyway and focus on the spiky foliage. Make sure you use a container with good drainage and avoid overwatering to keep the soil on the drier side.

    • USDA Hardiness 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
Article Sources
The Spruce uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Fuchsia-Root Rot.” Pacific Northwest Pest Management Handbooks, 11 Sept. 2015, http://pnwhandbooks.stage.extension.oregonstate.edu/plantdisease/host-disease/fuchsia-root-rot