Best patio container plants: 8 expert-approved picks to brighten your space instantly

Elevate your seating area with these patio container plants, including beautiful blooms, compact trees, and fabulous ferns

composite image of patio container plants
(Image credit: (From left to right) C J Wheeler / Alamy Stock Photo – Pelargonium for Europe – Mark Longley / Alamy Stock Photo)

A selection of pretty patio container plants is essential to bring a seating area to life. If you're updating your space to get it summer-ready, now's a great time to consider your options. 

Many plants will thrive in pots, making it tricky to settle on a select few. So, we asked gardening experts for advice. Below, they share their top recommendations, including ornamental trees, colourful flowers, and evergreen shrubs. Whichever garden trends have caught your eye this year, there will be a planting pick to suit from this list.

8 patio container plants for beautifying your garden

These are some of the best plants to create a stunning patio display. Just remember to ensure your space gets enough sunshine and shelter for certain varieties – it's always worth checking tags before you buy.

1. Japanese maples

potted acer with red leaves

Compact varieties of Japanese maples are perfect for patios

(Image credit: ian west / Alamy Stock Photo)

Small trees make excellent privacy plants, and many do well in pots. Japanese maples are popular for growing this way, and their foliage offers a range of brilliant hues.

Patty Willems, a plant expert from sustainable plant pot manufacturer elho, says they make a beautiful and ornamental addition to the patio or balcony. "These deciduous trees are mostly slow growing, so are ideal for growing in well-suited pots," she says. "It is recommended to choose a pot that is about double the size of the root system, so that it has plenty of space to establish.

"They are simple to care for," she continues. "But, make sure the pot has sufficient drainage to avoid root damage, and that the soil does not dry out."

For a compact variety with variegated leaves, try Acer palmatum "Butterfly", available from Crocus. Acer palmatum "Beni-maiko", also available from Crocus, is gorgeous, too, with foliage that changes colour with the seasons.

headshot of Patty Willems
Patty Willems

Patty is an enthusiastic plant expert. Her passion spans further than plants and plant pots, though – her insights on sustainability and eco-friendly home and garden design ideas are what sets her apart from the rest. She strives to encourage more people to invite nature into their lives and to create their own green oasis – no matter how much space they have.

2. Pelargoniums

potted pelargonium on outdoor table

Create a colourful summer display with pelargoniums

(Image credit: Pelargonium for Europe)

Gardening expert Sarah Raven says pelargoniums are wonderful container plants that are perfect for creating a Mediterranean look. 

"They are tender perennials, which means it’s unlikely they’ll survive winter outside, but they can be brought indoors as winter houseplants, or moved to a conservatory or greenhouse," she adds.

Dr. Susanne Lux of Pelargonium for Europe says the more sunlight these plants get, the more abundantly they bloom. "To enjoy lots of flowers quickly, buy well-developed plants with plenty of buds and dense foliage," she advises.

Be sure to provide enough space when planting. "The distance between plants should be at least 20cm and the height of the pot should be no less than 18cm," Susanne notes.

If you're tempted to brighten your summer garden with these alluring plants, there is a wide range of pelargoniums available from the Sarah Raven shop, including scented-leaved varieties.

headshot of garden expert Sarah Raven holding flowers
Sarah Raven

Since the publication of her first book, The Cutting Garden, Sarah has led the way in introducing a new kind of productive gardening. Her aim is to create intense colour and beauty, combined with a practical and easy-to-achieve approach. Her popular gardening podcast Grow, Cook, Eat, Arrange has achieved 4.1 million downloads. She’s published 15 books and runs, which services over 600,000 customers.

3. Dicksonia antarctica

foliage of tree fern Dicksonia antarctica

Give your garden a tropical touch

(Image credit: Mark Longley / Alamy Stock Photo)

Garden designer Harriet Worsley says Dicksonia antarctica, a type of tree fern, is one of her favourite patio container plants. 

"I prefer the ones without a trunk, so a young plant with fronds but almost no height," she says. "They are fabulous for a shady corner in a city terrace garden, and immediately transform the space into something tropical and otherworldly. Mass them up and you‘ll feel like you’re in the rainforest and miles away from home."

Harriet protects these plants from frost in the winter by using horticultural fleece or straw packed around the top of the trunk.

Crocus have Dicksonia antarctica plants available to buy.

headshot of Harriet Worsley
Harriet Worsley

Garden designer Harriet Worsley set up Worsley Design & Consultancy after studying Garden Design and Planting Design and studying for her RHS Certificate of Horticulture. She worked as a landscape designer for a firm in Notting Hill and as a weekly volunteer at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, where she honed her plant knowledge. She has designed everything from small London roof terraces to large country gardens and enjoys combining minimalist landscaping using natural materials with swathes of relaxed loose planting.  

4. Cordyline australis "Charlie Boy"

'Charlie Boy' cordyline plant

This vibrant variety will brighten your space

(Image credit: BIOSPHOTO / Alamy Stock Photo)

Charles Carr, the head of wholesale nurseries at Hillier Garden Centres, recommends this vibrant type of cordyline. It is a tough evergreen shrub, he says – "particularly in comparison with other pink cordyline varieties."

Its vivid leaves give a bold, almost tropical look, and don't bleach or fade in the sun, Charles continues. "This is a perfect plant for a container, creating dramatic interest through the height and standout colour."

What's more, Charles points out that it's low-maintenance, having proven to be quite resistant to diseases such as leaf spot and winter weather conditions.

You can buy cordyline "Charlie Boy" from Hillier Garden Centres. For best results, plant yours in full sun in fertile soil with good drainage. 

headshot of Charles Carr from Hillier
Charles Carr

Charles has been a valued member of the Hillier team since January 2018 and has a wealth of experience and passion for the world of horticulture. After training as an apprentice at Hillier from 1987 to 1991, Charles now oversees site management and team coordination, plant purchasing, production scheduling, and developing Hillier’s range of plants.

5. Wallflowers

'winter orchid' wallflower blooms

"Winter Orchid" wallflowers have jewel-like hues

(Image credit: C J Wheeler / Alamy Stock Photo)

Wallflowers come in a range of sumptuous colours and are great plants for pollinators

Sarah particularly recommends the "Winter Orchid" wallflower variety, available at the Sarah Raven shop. She highlights how it is renowned for flowering from spring right through the summer and is often one of the first plants to come into full bloom. "You’ll find that the terrifically scented flowers emerge as a coppery orange, turning to purple as they age," she says. "I like picking these for spring bunches."

Lightly trim wallflowers after blooming to prevent them from becoming leggy, Sarah adds. Plenty of sun will help them flourish.

6. Coreopsis

Coreopsis 'Rum Punch' flowers

Coreopsis lanceolata "Rum Punch" is a cheerful choice for patios

(Image credit: Dorling Kindersley ltd / Alamy Stock Photo)

Coreopsis are colourful and fuss-free, with both annuals and perennials available. The shorter types make some of the best plants for patio containers. 

Sarah specifically recommends Coreopsis lanceolata "Mango Punch", available from the Sarah Raven shop. "Compact and hugely floriferous with a soft, peach-orange hue, this perennial will bloom all summer," she says. She suggests combining it with the "Totally Tangerine" dahlia. 

Coreopsis "Rum Punch" is another suitable choice, with bold reddish-pink blooms. Alternatively, try "Bloomsation Chameleon" coreopsis, from Crocus, for pink and white hues – a pretty option for a cottage garden.

Position these plants somewhere sunny, and remember to water them often, particularly in dry spells. Deadheading will encourage more flowers – a gardening tip that can be applied to many blooming plants.

7. Citrus trees

lemons on tree

Embrace a Mediterranean vibe with a citrus tree or two

(Image credit: _LeS_ / iStock / Getty Images Plus / Getty Images)

Patty says, "Citrus trees, including lemons and oranges, do exceptionally well in pots. 

"These Mediterranean species love the sun, so make sure they’re placed in a bright spot on the patio that receives at least six to eight hours of direct sunlight. In the summer, citrus trees need watering around once a week and good drainage is important.

"While a bit fussy, citrus plants will reward attentive owners with fragrant white flowers, glossy green leaves, and juicy, tangy fruits," she adds. As a bonus, you can use orange peel in your garden to help nurture other plants.

Note that they need to be brought indoors over the winter months, to protect them from the cold. A sunny conservatory is ideal.

We love the look of the "Garey's Eureka" lemon tree from Crocus, which is a self-fertile variety.

8. Pittosporum tobira

Japanese mock orange in flower

These shrubs have scented, creamy-yellow flowers

(Image credit: John Richmond / Alamy Stock Photo)

Also known as Japanese mock orange, Pittosporum tobira shrubs have sweetly scented blooms and can make excellent plants for year-round greenery in pots.

Harriet says, "My absolute favourite container plant is Pittosporum tobira ‘Nanum’." It is a bit tender for out of town, she adds, but fine for cities and enclosed gardens.

It is evergreen and has bright green new growth, and suits all garden styles – Mediterranean, romantic English, and tropical, she says.

"These pittosporum like sun but can tolerate part shade, so for city gardens with high walls, they are perfect," Harriet continues. "They don’t need much maintenance – just water, a liquid feed during the growing months, and a little trim in spring if needed."

You can shop for Pittosporum tobira "Nanum" from Crocus. We think they make a lovely addition to the quiet luxury garden trend.


How often should you water patio container plants?

Getting the watering right is a key factor in how to look after plants. With containers, a little more attention is required compared to plants in the ground, as pots tend to dry out quicker. Check the soil for moisture regularly, and water when needed. During hot summer months, this may be daily.

Do note that waterlogged soil can lead to unhealthy root systems, so drainage holes are a must.

Can you grow vegetables in containers?

Growing crops in patio pots is a fun approach to vegetable gardening for beginners. Well-favoured options include radishes, dwarf varieties of beans (such as "Hestia" from Thompson & Morgan), and lettuces. Aromatic herbs are also a good option for a seating area.

Plants can transform your outdoor living space into a botanical haven. But for the perfect finishing touch, our guide on how to clean your patio might come in handy, too. 

Holly Crossley
Garden writer

The garden was always a big part of Holly's life growing up, as was the surrounding New Forest where she lived. Her appreciation for the great outdoors has only grown since then; she's been an allotment keeper, a professional gardener, and a botanical illustrator. Over three years ago, Holly started writing about plants and outdoor living full-time, first for and now for popular lifestyle titles such as Homes & Gardens.