Barry Fugatt: Top picks for perfect container grown shrubs | Home & Garden

Barry Fugatt Garden World

Like most gardeners, I’m all about growing flowering annuals in hanging baskets and decorative pots. In recent years, however, I’ve grown increasingly fond of container gardening with colorful shrubs.

The right shrub in the right container will shine as brightly in the garden as virtually any potted annual. Plus, there are container grown shrubs that provide garden beauty year after year. Three of my all-time favorites are: Loropetalum, Sunshine Ligustrum, and Encore Azalea.

The key to growing shrubs in a container boils down to matching the right shrub with the right container. If I’m planting a relatively mature nursery grown shrub (a two-to-five-gallon shrub, for instance) I match it with a large decorative pot that is fifteen to eighteen inches wide and deep. If, however, I’m starting with a smaller one-gallon plant, I use a smaller twelve-inch diameter pot and move it up to a larger pot when the plant becomes root-bound. As a rule, putting a small plant in an extra-large pot may complicate watering and lead to root rot.

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Selecting the best potting soil is also a critical component when growing container plants, especially shrubs. Over my long horticulture career, I’ve tried dozens of commercial potting soils. I’ve been most impressed with a potting mix made and sold at Tulsa’s Southwood Nursery and Garden Center. It’s a long-lasting, roughly ground bark mix that contains a slow-release fertilizer, plus other key ingredients. It does an excellent job of holding and slowly releasing water and nutrients.

The following shrubs, when properly potted, watered and fertilized, provide years of garden enjoyment:


If you have gardened for years, you are no doubt familiar with the “botanical alley cat” known as Privet. It’s invasive, its flowers stink and it’s ugly. Technically, Sunshine Ligustrum is also Privet. But this new cultivar is no ordinary Privet. It is sterile, non-invasive and its yellow-gold foliage is gorgeous. It’s also cold hardy, insect and disease resistant and it thrives for years in a container. It’s a stunning container plant for a sunny deck or patio. I also enjoy setting a pot of Sunshine Ligustrum out in the garden and moving it around as desired for the best seasonal effect. A light shearing in early spring (March) will keep Sunshine in good shape and color.


Loropetalum is my favorite go-to shrub for introducing bright reddish-purple foliage into a garden. All Lorapetalum cultivars look great in containers, but I’m particularly fond of the small weeping cultivar: Loropetalum Purple Pixie. Match it with a white, tan, or gray container for maximum color contrast and impact. And for a truly explosive color impact, place Purple Pixie next to Sunshine Ligustrum. The yellow and purple foliage combination is beyond gorgeous!

There was a time, not too long ago, when azaleas bloomed only once each year in the spring. That all changed when Encore Azalea cultivars arrived on the scene. Encore Azaleas bloom spring, mid-summer and late fall. Several potted Encore azaleas in my garden were in heavy bloom Thanksgiving week! Show me an annual that can match the shear beauty of the Encore pictured with this column.

A word to the wise. When winter temperatures drop below twenty degrees, pull container grown Encore and Loropetalum cultivars into the garage and leave them there until the extreme weather passes.

Barry Fugatt is a landscape horticulturist and may be reached by email:

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