The Best Tall Plants for Containers

Cabbage palm (Cordyline australis)

Joshua McCullough / Getty Images


Tall, dramatic plants can turn ordinary planters into works of art. One arresting plant is all you need to fill a container and create visual interest. Virtually any plant can be grown in a container—provided that the container is large enough.

Even if you do not care for the formality of having one focal plant in your container, you will still need a little drama to balance out your mixed containers. Combining plants in containers takes a little finesse. A general formula for success are thrillers, spillers, and fillers. This involves combining a tall (thrilling) focal point plant with something that spills over the side of the container to soften the lines and finishing with shorter filler plants in between. Take a look at a few great choices for thriller plantings and some combinations.

  • 01 of 21


    Agave americana marginata
    Carol Sharp / Getty Images

    If you garden in a hardiness zone above 6 or 7, you cannot go wrong with a succulent plant as your focal point. It is dramatic and very forgiving if you are a little forgetful about watering. There are many to choose from and striking colors. Even if you live in a cooler climate, you can always grow a succulent as an annual.

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    Love Lies Bleeding (Amaranthus caudatus)
    Marie Iannotti

    A tall amaranth like "Love Lies Bleeding" (Amaranthus caudatus) or "Perfecta" (Amaranthus tricolor) adds color and drama. 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 that they allow you to experiment and be creative every year.

  • 03 of 21

    American Arborvitae

    Patio surrounded by arborvitae (Thuja), Louisville, KY, USA
    J. Paul Moore / Getty Images

    An evergreen as the centerpiece of a container is elegant, classic, and very low maintenance. Choose one that will hold its shape nicely without a lot of pruning. A good choice would be a conical Thuja occidentalis. Caution, they are deer candy.

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    Potted Bamboo
    Alexandre Petzold / Getty Images

    Bamboo can be a nightmare in the garden, traveling faster than you could possibly keep up. But in a container, bamboo is a conversation piece. Most are hardy enough to survive the winter in their pots.

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    Big Bluestem

    Big bluestem (Andropogon gerardii)
    Matt Lavin / Flickr / CC By 2.0

    Grasses may not be quite as invasive as some bamboo plants, but they do spread by runners. Big bluestem (Andropogon gerardii) is a lovely three-season plant made all the lovelier by confining it to a container. If you are mixing it with other plants, make sure it is a large container, or big bluestem will crowd out its neighbors.

  • 06 of 21


    Close-Up Of Pink Bougainvillea Flowers Blooming On Tree
    Merethe Svarstad Eeg / EyeEm / Getty Images

    Bougainvillea is only hardy in zone 9 and up, but you can either grow it as an annual or bring it indoors for the winter. These are actually vines, not tall plants, so you will need to provide some support for it to grow up and around. This will give you another opportunity to be creative.

  • 07 of 21


    Jennifer Lang / FOAP / Getty Images  

    Boxwood (Buxus sempervirens) can be formal or funky. The real fun of using boxwood is that you can trim it to be anything you want. If you would like to exercise your creative flair, try a boxwood topiary.

  • 08 of 21

    Cabbage Tree

    Cabbage palm (Cordyline australis)
    Joshua McCullough / Getty Images

    Cordyline indivisa really does look 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 as a houseplant for the winter

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  • 09 of 21


    Canna Plant
    John Burke / Getty Images

    Canna plants add an instant tropical flair, especially the new, colorful varieties. You can buy plants or start the tubers in late winter so that they will be ready to show off when the weather warms up. Store the tubers indoors for the next season.

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    Dracaena reflexa
    GeoStock / Getty Images

    Dracaena plants can grow upwards of 10 feet tall in containers and there are many to choose from. They are not hardy and would need to be moved indoors for winter. But outdoors they are carefree, even growing in partial shade.

  • 11 of 21

    Dwarf Alberta Spruce

    Dwarf Alberta spruce (Picea glauca)
    F.D. Richards / Flickr / CC By 2.0

    Dwarf Alberta spruce (Picea glauca) 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 first planting. The term "dwarf" simply means it is slow growing. With a lot of time, it will outgrow you.

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    Elephant Ear

    Elephant Ear Leaves
    Elizabeth Fernandez / Getty Images

    Elephant ear (Alocasia esculenta) manages to be both imposing and fun at the same time. There are several new colorful varieties available. However, like cannas, you will either need to buy a plant, which can be expensive, or start your tubers early in the season and then overwinter them indoors.

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  • 13 of 21

    Feather Reed Grass

    Feather reed grass (Calamagrostis x acutiflora) 'Overdam'
    Roger Smith / Getty Images

    This grass (Calamagrostis x acutiflora) 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 so many other grasses. They are perfect for the center of a container.

  • 14 of 21

    Fountain Grass

    Purple Fountain Grass - Pennisetum Setaceum 'rubrum'
    anand purohit / Getty Images

    Purple fountain grass (Pennisetum setaceum "Rubrum") 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 adding a rush of sound to your planting. Grasses in containers make wonderful screens, giving you privacy but still allowing you to see through them.

  • 15 of 21


    Beautiful pink and purple Fuchsia blossoms
    Knaupe / Getty Images

    For a container in a shady spot, you cannot do better than a fuchsia. These plants bloom all season long with no deadheading. Look for an upright variety, if you want it as a center focal point.

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    Hardy Hibiscus
    Bill Brennan / Getty Images

    Hibiscus look tropical, but most varieties are hardy. It is a multi-branched shrub, but can easily be trained into a tree or standard. Even as a tree, it will be covered in flowers for weeks on end.

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  • 17 of 21

    New Zealand Flax

    New Zealand Flax (Phormium tenax and hybrids)
    Marie Iannotti

    Phormiums (Phormium tenax) are spiky carefree plants that add a casual look to containers. The leaves will gracefully bend downward, but not enough to cover plants positioned under it. You will have a wide variety of colors to choose from, too.

  • 18 of 21

    Palm Lily

    David Q. Cavagnaro / Getty Images

    Similar to the cabbage tree, the palm lily Cordyline is a bit more refined and makes an elegant focal point in a container. you can overwinter it indoors and roll it back out in the spring.

  • 19 of 21

    Princess Flower

    Purple glory tree flowers
    Wagner Campelo / Getty Images

    If you love the tropical look, princess flower (Tibouchina urvilleana) is a lovely evergreen shrub with stunning purple flowers all season. You will also find it called the purple glory flower. It is only hardy to zone 9, but once again, it makes a nice houseplant.

  • 20 of 21

    Sweet Bay

    Standard bay tree (Laurus nobilis) in terracotta planter, Summer
    Craig Roberts / Getty Images

    Bay trees (Laurus nobilis) are not just beautiful, they are functional; you can pluck fresh bay leaves right from your container. Bay is slow growing in containers. It will take several years to reach tree size. You can prune it into a topiary or leave it in its natural shrubby shape. It is not hardy but overwinters well indoors.

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    Close-up of leaves of yucca at city street of Las Vegas, Nevada state, USA
    Feifei Cui-Paoluzzo / Getty Images

    Yucca plants are about as hardy as you can get and the newer varieties are pretty enough to be the focal point of your container. They get quite wide, so start with a good-sized container. They do not always bloom in containers, but many people choose to cut the flower stalk off anyway and just focus on the spiky foliage.