Horticulture Magazine

12 Container Plants That Are Low Maintenance

woman potting plants into plastic garden containers

Do you have green fingers but a forgetful memory? These low-maintenance potted plants are perfect for gardeners who prefer a hands-off approach.

There are many advantages to including potted plants in your outdoor display. Not only do many species actually perform better within the confines of a container, but they offer unrivalled versatility in comparison to those rooted in terra firma.

You can rearrange displays effortlessly, adjusting heights, colours and styles as you see fit, while ailing plants can easily be moved into sunnier or shadier parts of your yard when necessary.

What’s more, potted plants are also great for maximising the space available to you. Not everyone has the luxury of extensive acreage attached to their home, but with a potted display, you don’t even need a garden at all.

Simply decorate your balcony, terrace, windowsill or stoop with a collection of containers and you can enhance the greenery around your property with the minimum of fuss. They’re also ideal for those renting, since they can be easily transported if you up sticks.

Last but not least, potted plants generally lend themselves well to hands-off horticulturalists. Although not always the case, it’s usually true that growing in a container is easier than in the ground, especially when you take the time to select plants that are particularly hardy and low-maintenance.

To save you some of the legwork, we’ve done exactly that for you by compiling the following list of stress-free florae that will look great in your garden, all requiring little in the way of care and attention.

1. Box

multiple topiary box shrubs growing in containers
Think inside the box.

Box plants must be among the most desirable for the forgetful gardener. Its slow-growing nature means it only requires trimming once a year, with irrigation the only other aspect of its growth to consider.

On the other hand, it does lend itself very well to topiary for those who wish to take a more active role in its cultivation.

Just beware that these plants are often on the more expensive side and some parts of the country are particularly susceptible to box caterpillar and box blight, so check if you’re affected before splashing out – yews and bays make perfectly adequate alternatives.

2. Camellia

lush pink camellia plant growing in a small container
Bold and beautiful, all year round.

The lush evergreen foliage of camellias makes them a perfect potted shrub for adding year-round intrigue to your outdoor display.

Having said that, it’s during summertime when they’ll really come into their own, as their attractive floral blossoms are a sight for sore eyes indeed.

They work particularly well when placed in a minimalist garden alongside bonsais and other exotic species to create a Japanese aesthetic.

Other than positioning them in a sheltered location and choosing ericaceous compost, they aren’t too fussy about their growing conditions, either.

3. Dwarf buddleja

purple dwarf buddleja blooms
Smaller size, same impact.

Otherwise known as butterfly bushes, buddlejas are often associated with sprawling border plants that don’t have any concept of personal space when it comes to encroaching on the territory of their neighbours.

However, opting for a dwarf variety can allow you to enjoy the same aesthetic and biodiversity-encouraging advantages of its larger relative in a more compact setting.

Specifically designed to be reared in pots, dwarf buddleja will still bring in bees and butterflies in their droves but won’t tax you too much in the way of tender loving care.

4. Heuchera

heuchera in many different colours and shades growing in terracotta pots
Foliage can be just as eye-catching as flowers.

While brilliant blooms are undoubtedly an attractive addition to any garden, there’s something to be said for flamboyant foliage, too.

Heucheras are near the top of any list of leafy lovelies, with varieties available in all sorts of colours from deep claret to rusty scarlet and golden bronze to fluorescent lime.

They can serve as great backing for flowering plants in a staggered border, but equally work well when grouped together in a range of different hues as in the picture above.

5. Hosta

hosta plant growing in a ceramic planter
Take a leaf out of the hosta book.

Hostas are another plant that is favoured for the impressiveness of their leaves alone.

There are a wide variety of cultivars available, many of which offer an attractive variegated pattern to their leaves with contrasting colours on the periphery and centre.

Some of them even come in quite jaw-dropping tones, such as shocking blues and brilliant whites!

As a low-maintenance option, they’re ideal for container growing, especially since it will be easier to control the hordes of slugs and snails that love to feast upon them when they’re not rooted directly in the ground.

6. Lavender

lavender growing in a wicker basket
Aromatic on the nostrils, attractive on the eyes.

The quintessential cottage plant, lavender works equally well in a minimalist, modern setting, too.

Just make sure to select a hardy English variety and its easy-going nature will mean you don’t have to worry about it too much – leaving you free to enjoy pleasing floral blooms and an intoxicating scent throughout summer.

The only real bugbear is that it doesn’t enjoy getting its ‘feet’ wet, so take care to place it in a container with good drainage and avoid overwatering.

7. Nigella

deep blue nigella flower in focus
About as low-maintenance as it gets.

Don’t be fooled by the stunning blossoms of Nigella plants – they require virtually next-to-no maintenance to bring them to bloom. Simply scatter the seeds atop the soil of your container and let them work their magic!

The pictured variety above – known as ‘love-in-a-mist’ – is a particularly stunning specimen that’s guaranteed to turn heads during its summer run.

The only downside of this plant is that it doesn’t live for too long, but its propensity to spread its seeds around means you may well find that Nigella propagates in parts of the garden you hadn’t expected to see it without even lifting a finger. 

8. Ornamental grass

ornamental grass in a stone planter on a misty morning
Grasses are great for movement and intrigue.

Ornamental grasses are the unsung heroes of horticulture. With their long, waving stems and textured bobbing heads, they can bring so much to a garden display.

Use them as impromptu screens, backdrops for flowering varieties or standalone centrepieces, as in the image above.

They work well in pots and can be moved around the garden at will to adjust height and texture levels, while they’re also superb at enhancing aesthetic appeal right through the calendar year.

Many varieties are evergreen, but even those which die away can still look impressive in their austerity during the winter months.

9. Pansy

purple, lilac and yellow pansies in a white outdoor container
As unfussy as they are visually appealing.

There are few flowers more delightful on the eyes than a blossoming bunch of pansies. They’re the ideal choice for the lackadaisical gardener, since they will grow pretty much anywhere and in any conditions.

Some varieties will even flower through the winter months, meaning they can add some much-needed cheer to your outdoor display when everything else is dying off or hibernating.

Violas – a relative of the pansy – are another attractive option that offers smaller blossoms and leaves, but a greater concentration of flowers in bloom.

10. Petunia

red petunias hanging in a basket from a tree branch
Petunias have blooms as prolific as they are pretty.

Petunias are perhaps one of the most favourite plants to be grown in pots in gardens up and down the UK – and it’s not hard to see why.

They’re ridiculously easy to grow and will perform just as well in hanging baskets as they will in terrestrial containers, while they’re among the most prolific flowering plants out there.

They’ll produce plentiful blooms even when left to their own devices, but those gardeners who take the time to deadhead them regularly will be rewarded with blossom after blossom after blossom.

And with a wide range of colours to choose from, you can tailor your selection to your existing display.

11. Sunflower

sunflower heads growing from plastic pots
A cheerful choice which lends itself well to a child-friendly project.

Although sunflowers are normally associated with towering six-foot plants, there are smaller varieties available that will positively thrive in containers.

Their iconic appearance and ease of cultivation make them an ideal choice for involving younger members of the family, who can take charge of their own potted sunflower and bring it to fruition.

What’s more, they’re also an important source of food for insects and birds, which means they’ll encourage biodiversity in your garden. What’s not to like?

12. Succulents

succulents and cacti in multiple forms in terracotta plant pots
The ultimate in set-and-forget horticulture.

Although succulents might be more traditionally regarded as indoor plants, many varieties work equally well in an alfresco display, too.

Jade plants, ghost plants and sedums are all excellent choices that can add an unusual appearance to your outdoor display, and none of them requires too much effort in the way of cultivation.

Just make sure that the pots you place them in offer good drainage – since they’ll drown in saturated soil – and you’ll barely have to expend any energy on them at all.

They look sensational when arranged in a multi-species display (as above), but also catch the eye when potted in isolation against gravel backdrops.

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