Best shrubs for pots

Contents

Check out 44 Best Shrubs for Containers. You might know some plants and some may surprise you but one thing is sure– You’ll like to have some of these shrubs right away in your container garden.

Whether you have a small patio garden, a rooftop garden, a balcony garden, or a big backyard garden this list of best shrubs for containers will provide you so many options to choose from.

Best Shrubs for Containers

1. Abutilon (Flowering Maple)

USDA Zones— 8 – 11

Climate— A subtropical shrub that can also be grown in cold climates, keep it indoors in winter.

It is also called “Indian Mallow” or “Flowering Maple”. Abutilon is a beautiful shrub that grows around 1 m tall when grown in containers and have beautiful hibiscus and hollyhock-like flowers.

2. Andromeda

USDA Zones— 5 to 9

Climate— It grows in temperate to subtropical climates. Growing requirements are similar to Azalea, which means it requires acidic soil to grow.

“Pieris Japonica” or “Lily of the valley shrub” is an excellent bush for container gardens. With some attention and care, it can grow up to 2 m tall.

3. Anisodontea

USDA Zones— 9 – 11

Climate— Beautiful shrub, suitable for both warm tropical climate and temperates. In colder regions, you can grow it from summer to fall (autumn).

This charming South African shrub grows in full sun and requires dry soil to thrive. A balcony, terrace (roof) or patio facing south or West is perfect for this shrub. It pleases the eyes with its almost continuous flowering.

4. Aster

USDA Zones— 3 – 8

Climate— Suitable for cool temperate zones with mild summers but can be grown in tropics in winter

Aster comes in a variety of colors and blooms prolifically. It is an easy to grow plant that blooms in summer and fall. Both annual and perennial varieties are available.

5. Aucuba Japonica

USDA Zones— 7 – 10

Climate— Subtropical and mildly temperate. In colder zones, grow it indoors.

Also called “Gold Dust” due to its speckled foliage, it is one of the best shrubs for containers. You can grow it for its beautiful foliage as its flowers are not as aesthetic. It is a low maintenance perennial plant that can grow up to 2 m (8-10 f) tall.

Also Read: Shrubs that Bloom All Year

6. Azalea

USDA Zones— 4 – 9

Climate— Climate with adequate rainfall and moist summer.

Azalea is one of the most profusely blooming flowering plants. It requires moist soil, partial sun, and acidic soil to thrive.

7. Bougainvillea

USDA Zones— 9 – 12

Climate— Tropics, subtropics, grow it as a houseplant in colder regions.

This beautiful ever-blooming perennial shrub is so vibrant and colorful and almost require no care in tropical and subtropical areas. It needs full sun and dry soil to thrive, and it is not susceptible to many pests and diseases.

8. Brugmansia

USDA Zones— 9 – 11

Climate— Brugmansia is a tropical evergreen shrub, but it is also easy to grow in cold climates. To overwinter it, keep it indoors when the temperature starts to dip down below 50 F (10 C).

Brugmansia flowers smell well in the night and attract pollinators. Growing Brugmansia in a pot is easy. It is also called “Angel’s Trumpet”, and it is often confused with datura.

9. Buddleia (Butterfly Bush)

USDA Zones— 5 – 11

Climate— Butterfly bush can be grown in both temperate and tropical zones, wooly butterfly bush grows well in tropics.

More commonly known as the “Butterfly Bush”, buddleia offers abundant flowering panicles with white to red through pink to purple or blue colors. Grow a dwarf variety in a large and deep pot. Remember that due to its rapid growth, it requires regular pruning and fertilization.

10. Boxwood

USDA Zones— 5 – 11

Climate— Boxwood is the most versatile shrub, it grows almost everywhere in all the continents.

The most adaptable and easy to grow shrub, boxwood is landscapers’ favorite and without a doubt one of the best shrubs for the containers.

11. Calamansi

USDA Zones— 9 – 11

Climate— Like all citruses, calamansi is a tropical fruit tree. You can also grow it in colder zones in containers and keep it indoors in winters.

It has a bushy growth rather and doesn’t exceed a height of 2 m. Thus, a suitable shrub for container gardening.

Also Read: How to Grow Calamansi

12. Callistemon (Bottlebrush)

USDA Zones— 8 – 11

Climate— Bottlebrush grows in climates with mild winters, easily in tropics. You can grow bottle brush in colder zones in the pot, but it requires care in winter.

A Beautiful shrub that attracts pollinators and looks exquisite in its bright red blooms, it also comes in other colors like purplish pink, lemon yellow or white.

13. Camellia

USDA Zones— 6 – 10a

Climate— Camellia grows best in the climates with mild summer in temperates to subtropical zones.

It is a beautiful flowering shrub, but when grown in pots, it becomes demanding. Camellia requires humus-rich acidic soil and regular maintenance. You can read a helpful article on growing camellias in pots here.

Continue to the second page here >>

As ever the summer bedding has hung on a little longer than intended. Or maybe you just didn’t get around to emptying those pots and replanting with winter bedding or spring flowering bulbs? This twice a year ritual can be rather tedious, and for those of us that have suffered a long, cool, wet summer and autumn the motivation to make outdoor pots beautiful can be sadly lacking!

All is not lost. How about planting with shrubs that, with a little care, will look good year after year? The initial outlay may be greater, but in the long run shrubs in pots offer far better value because they last! Of course the ideal scenario is to have the best of both worlds: some pots planted with shrubs, and some that you replant with seasonal subjects such as summer and autumn bedding, and spring and summer flowering bulbs. That way you create a changing picture, but with the benefit of permanent structure. But what works? If you read the labels many shrubs seem to grow too large for pots on the patio? What happens when you need to re-pot them? What soil do you use?

These concerns put many gardeners off planting shrubs in pots, and they stick to safe bets like fuchsias and geraniums for summer, and pansies and primroses for autumn, winter and spring. In reality you can grow just about anything in a pot providing you use a generously sized container and a good quality specially formulated growing medium. If in doubt just remember the art of bonsai; potentially huge forest trees are tamed and restricted in pots and grow in small volumes of soil for many years. That isn’t to say you will be restricting the development of your plants by growing them in pots. If you choose plants and pots wisely you can grow smaller shrubs to their true potential in pots.

So here are my Top Ten Shrubs for pots that will look good throughout the year; even in winter.

1. Pieris ‘Katsura’ A fabulous variety with long lily-of-the-valley-like sprays of pink flowers in early spring, followed by mahogany red new growth on the tips of all the shoots. In a pot it will make a bushy plant up to 80cm (2.5ft) in height in a few seasons. Grown in lime-free compost Pieris do very well in containers in shade or semi-shade.

2. Rhododendron ‘Nancy Evans’ A compact hybrid rhododendron with neat, dark green foliage, orange-red buds and creamy, waxy waved flowers. Dwarf and compact rhododendrons and evergreen azaleas are excellent in pots in semi-shade, again if you grow them in lime-free ericaceous compost.

3. Leucothoe ‘Lovita’ A low-growing evergreen with shining, pointed, emerald-green leaves that colour deep scarlet in winter. Again it needs lime-free compost and will tolerate shade, although the colour is more intense where it gets some direct sunlight

4. Euonymus japonicus ‘Microphyllus Pulchellus’ This shrub couldn’t be easier to grow. It is a compact evergreen with upright stems carrying deep green small leaves suffused with gold. It is a drought tolerant plant; good in sun or shade and a great choice for coastal gardens as it doesn’t mind salt-laden air.

5. Camellia japonica ‘Jury’s Yellow’ A good choice for those craving flowers from a shrub in a pot. The gorgeous blooms of this variety are the colour of clotted cream, and are filled with delicately waved petals. ‘Jury’s Yellow’ is a compact, upright variety with dark green glossy foliage that is suitable for a small garden or courtyard. Pot in lime free compost.

6. Buxus sempervirens ‘Elegantissima’ Box is a good subject for pots, and is tolerant of shade and dry soil. The plain green-leaved varieties do have a tendency to go bronze in containers, especially when starved. ‘Elegantissima’ is a slow growing shrub with delightful cream and green variegated leaves. It is less susceptible to discolouration and is an excellent long-term subject for a pot in sun or shade.

7.Chamaecyparis pisifera ‘Boulevard’ I’m sneaking this one in; yes I know it’s a conifer but that counts as a dwarf shrub. This one has steely blue-grey, curly foliage and a gently waved waved habit. It offers a contrasting foliage form, and can look really stunning in a grey-green glazed pot. Few shrubs look more striking in the winter.

8. Photinia ‘Little Red Robin’ This is not the large growing evergreen shrub with bright red new growth that we are all so familiar with. This is the dwarf form that grows to 90cm (3ft). It has smaller, darker green leaves than its big brother, and deep scarlet new growth. The more it is snipped, the more new growth it produces, so the more colourful it is! It retains the red new growth right through winter.

9. Pittosporum ‘Tom Thumb’ Another dwarf form of a large growing shrub; this one has deep purple-black foliage that is particularly striking in winter. As the days get shorter and colder the colour intensifies. It is a broad, stocky plant in stature, so choose a nice big container.

10. Skimmia x confusa ‘Kew Green’ This is the best of the skimmias in my opinion. A domed shaped shrub with emerald green foliage and pale yellow-green buds that open to creamy yellow flowers in spring. The fragrance is simply delicious: pure lily-of-the-valley. Lovely for cutting too which can keep the shrub in shape.

For general planting I always recommend using a loam-based compost for permanent planting in pots. Remember to use a lime-free formula for ericaceous, lime-hating subjects such as rhododendrons and camellias. Always choose a nice large, good-quality pot at the outset; that way repotting should not be necessary for a few years. All you need to remember each spring is to scrape off the top two or three centimetres of compost, add a handful of controlled release fertiliser and top up with fresh compost.

When choosing your container, a traditional flowerpot shape, in other words wider at the top than the bottom and without an incurved rim is the best bet. A pot which narrows at the neck makes it difficult to extract an established plant when you do have to repot.

So what are your top recommendations for shrubs for pots? I would love to know what’s done well for you, and so would other readers.

Plants For Pots In The Sun

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Best Shrubs For Containers

Try letting your shrubs go solo in a container instead of filling large pots with a variety of flowers. This method is a great way to grow your favorite shrubs in small space. There is a shrub that will work for every taste and situation, whether you struggle with deer, shade, or lack space for a large conifer but want that evergreen presence in your garden.

Fragrant Shrubs

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Perfect partners for a sunny spot, Lo & Behold ‘Blue Chip Jr.’ butterfly bush and Lil Miss Sunshine bluebeard offer fragrance from spring until fall. The felted foliage of the dwarf, sterile butterfly bush is a silvery-green—an excellent foil for the scented purple flowers that bloom for many months. In contrast, it is the golden leaves of the bluebeard that emit an herbal smell when crushed, although it is covered with sky blue flowers in late summer. As a bonus, both shrubs are deer-resistant.

Plan a fragrant garden with these plant varieties.

Sunny-Spot Shrubs

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The ‘Double Play Blue Kazoo’ spirea is truly a five-star shrub for the softblue foliage alone, especially with the burgundy flush on the new growth and intense red color in fall. Clusters of fuzzy white flowers in spring attract bees and butterflies, but deer mercifully leave it alone. A splendid companion plant, the ruffled pink flowers of this Sugar Tip rose of Sharon are reminiscent of a party dress. Set against the soft green and creamy white variegated leaves, the effect is magical. This can be trained as a small tree or kept smaller by pruning.

Shrubs For Shade

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Add sunshine to the shade with the bold foliage of ‘Little Honey’ hydrangea. Large white flowers are a bonus; this plant is all about the leaves, which transition from yellow to rich burgundy in autumn. This oakleaf variety has huge chartreuse leaves that won’t blend away in a shady spot.

Check out our top trees and shrubs for fall color here.

Shrubs With Multi-Season Color

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Cluster these three shrubs and you have it all—flowers, berries, and a blaze of color in fall. Brandywine viburnum provides glossy green leaves that belie the intense red fall color to come. It also boasts white spring flowers that are followed by multicolor berries. Matching it for size but exceeding in flower power is ‘Pinky Winky’ hydrangea. Stout red stems echo the pink tones that flush the white blooms in fall. In contrast, ‘Blues Festival’ St. John’s wort is much daintier, with soft blue-tone foliage that becomes almost hidden by flowers in summer and fall.

Explore more colorful shrub options for your garden here.

Pollinator-Friendly Shrubs

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Deep-purple wavy leaves on a wide-spreading shrub make ‘Spilled Wine’ weigela a dramatic addition to a container vignette. Hot-pink flowers in spring and early summer are also a big attraction for hummingbirds. This particular variety of weigela prefers full sun.

Deer-Resistant Shrubs

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Tiers of feathery ‘Lemony Lace’ elderberry foliage are studded with clusters of white flowers in spring followed by red fall berries. In contrast, the ‘Sunjoy Tangelo’ barberry sports vibrant orange leaves that turn red in fall. These shrubs make a statement in solitude, but can also be placed together for a big statement.

Use these tips for choosing shrubs for your yard.

Shrubs For Small Spaces

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These shrubs might be small in size but they are big on personality, especially when placed together. This new dwarf ninebark (‘Tiny Wine’) is compact, bushy, and mildew-resistant. Its bronze foliage sets off the constellation of delicate flowers in spring beautifully. The sculpted chartreuse foliage of ‘Anna’s Magic Ball’ arborvitae is a standout year-round.

Learn how to care for potted shrubs in winter here.

  • By Karen Chapman; Photos by Laurie Black

Five shrubs to grow in containers

There are plenty of attractive shrubs that can be grow in pots or containers.

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This is good news if you don’t have space in your borders, or don’t have a garden at all. Plus, growing shrubs in containers will save you having to refresh your displays every spring or autumn.

The secret to success lies in getting the initial planting right, followed by a timely care and maintenance regime.

More on shrubs and container gardening:

  • How to refresh compost in pots
  • How to create a year-round container display
  • Shrubs that look good in October

Follow our guide to the best shrubs to grow in permanent containers, with tips on keeping them in peak condition.

Skimmia japonica subsp. reevesiana

Skimmia japonica ‘Tansley Gem’

This cheery, easy-care shrub will bring warmth and colour to the frostiest winter doorstep. Hardy, with striking scarlet berries, Skimmia japonica subsp. reevesiana offers year-round interest. In spring it’s dotted with fragrant, creamy-white flowers and will grow to form a rounded dome. Give it a general-purpose liquid feed monthly from spring to autumn.

Height x spread: 90cm x 90cm.

Viburnum tinus ‘Spring Bouquet’

Viburnum tinus ‘Spring Bouquet’

Viburnum is a classic garden shrub that will grow happily in a container. The glossy evergreen leaves of this Viburnum tinus ‘Spring Bouquet’ look beautiful year-round, while the delicate pink buds and white flowers, followed by dark, shiny berries, give interest throughout winter.

H x S: 1.5m x 1.5m.

Rosa ‘Little White Pet’

Rosa ‘Little White Pet’

Roses work beautifully in pots, which is great news if you’re short on space. Choose patio or bush varieties, as these will be more compact, with less chance of toppling over during windy weather. Prune back hard annually in spring, and feed with rose fertiliser as per pack instructions. Potted here is Rosa ‘Little White Pet’.

H x S: 60cm x 60cm.

Hydrangea ‘Blue Danube’

Hydrangea macrophylla ‘Blue Danube’

Many hydrangeas, such as this ‘Blue Danube’, produce pink, mauve or blue flowers, depending on the soil type. For blue flowers, they need acidic soil, so use soil-based ericaceous compost. Leave the old flowerheads in place over winter, then prune the stems back to a bud in spring.

H x S: 1.25m x 1.25m.

Camellia sasanqua ‘Kenkyo’

Camellia sasanqua ‘Kenkyo’

Camellias light up the garden when they flower between early autumn and late spring with elegant blooms in white, pink or rich red. Their glossy leaves also provide year-round appeal. Give them ericaceous compost and water well with rainwater when the flower buds are forming, around nine months before the flowers open. Position the pot in a sheltered spot. Here, we’ve planted Camellia sasanqua ‘Kenkyo’.

H x S: 2.5m x 2m.

More tips on growing shrubs in containers

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  • The minimum size of pot for small shrubs is 45cm in diameter. Bigger is better as it gives the plant a cooler root-run and will be less liable to drying out. Go for frost-proof terracotta, reconstituted stone, resin or ‘fibre-cast’ material with at least one large drainage hole in the base.
  • Loam-based compost is best for permanent plantings, as it maintains good aeration and drainage over time. John Innes No.3 is ideal, but you can also use a mix of bagged ‘screened loam’ and multi-purpose compost in the bottom half to save money.
  • Shrubs establish more quickly when mycorrhizal fungi are applied at planting time. They connect to the plant’s roots and help to deliver water and nutrients. To feed, apply Vitax Q4 or a similar general-purpose fertiliser at planting time, then twice in each growing season. Top-dress annually by scraping off the top 5cm of compost in winter or early spring and replace with fresh compost.
  • All plants in pots rely on the gardener for much of their water, even if there are spells of heavy rain. Give each large pot a full can of water once a week or twice in hot, dry weather. Don’t add water-retaining granules to permanently planted containers, as they can become waterlogged and stagnant during winter.
  • Over time, the shrub will use up the nutrients in the compost and its roots will become crowded in the pot. So every four or five years, during the dormant season, knock the shrub from its pot and brush the compost from its roots. Trim off any damaged roots. Re-plant in the same container, using fresh John Innes No.3, firming it around the roots, then water thoroughly.

How to grow shrubs in pots

Plants for containers

Many flowering and foliage shrubs including hollies, Japanese maples and camellias will thrive in containers with a little care and will be a focal point in your garden. So whatever the size of your plot, you can include a shrub in a tub.

Growing shrubs in containers is also a good opportunity to try plants that you might not be able to grow elsewhere in your garden as you can create bespoke planting conditions. For example, if you want to experiment with acid-loving shrubs and you don’t have the right soil, it’s ideal.

What to do

Choosing pots

  • There’s a bewildering amount of containers available in all sorts of shapes, colours and sizes, and made from many materials including metal, stone, plastic and wood. Pick a container that suits the style of your garden and is large enough for the roots of your plant to grow and heavy enough to balance the top-heavy growth.
  • Make sure it has drainage holes and if you go for terracotta, buy good quality, frost-proof pots.

Soil preparation

  • Use John Innes no 2 compost. It has more nutrients and drains better than general purpose compost. The compost is also heavier, which will prevent plants from being blown over in the wind.
  • Plants like rhododendrons, azaleas and camellias need special ericaceous compost, ideal for acid-loving plants.

How to plant

  • Put a layer of broken terracotta pot or even chunks of polystyrene at the bottom of pots. This will prevent drainage holes from becoming clogged up with compost and soil from falling out. Good drainage stops roots from being damaged by water logging and prevents damage over winter, where frozen water can expand and cause the container to crack.
  • Standing the container on pot feet or even bricks will also help it to drain more effectively.
  • Fill pots with John Innes 2 compost or ericaceous compost for acid-loving plants.
  • Mix in a handful of controlled release fertiliser granules. Depending on the formulation, this will feed the plant for several months. Shrubs grown in ericaceous compost can be given a special fertiliser for acid-loving plants.

Aftercare

  • Containers need regular watering, even after heavy rain, as shrubs have large root systems that take up a lot of water. In hot or dry weather they may need watering once or twice a day.
  • After the initial feed has run out, give plants a boost with liquid feed added to a watering can.
  • If your shrub appears to lack vigour or is too large for its pot, repot into a slightly larger container. Remove from old pot, teasing out the roots gently if they’re congested.
  • If your plant doesn’t need repotting, perk it up annually by removing the top 5-10cm (2in-4in) of compost in the spring, taking care not to damage the roots. Replace with fresh compost that has been mixed with a few controlled release fertiliser granules.
  • Container-grown plants are more at risk from damage than plants growing in the border. Protect plants with fleshy roots, such as camellias and hollies, by wrapping the pots with bubble wrap. Move tender plants into a sheltered place, such as a porch or cold greenhouse, to help get them through the worst of the winter weather.

Five shrubs to try

  • Acer palmatum var dissectum, Japanese maple
  • Camellia japonica, Camellia
  • Rhododendron ‘Olive’, Rhododendron
  • Skimmia japonica ‘Rubella’, Skimmia
  • Ilex aquifolium ‘Silver Queen’, Holly

Can I Grow Shrubs in Containers?


Little Quick Fire® Hydrangea paniculata

There are two ways to approach it:

Happy Jack® Purple Clematis

TEMPORARY PLANTING

In this case, you would plant a shrub in a container to enjoy for a few weeks to several months. For example, you might find a nice Show Off® Sugar Baby miniature forsythia at your garden center and plant it in a container surrounded by pansies, daffodils,
and tulips. Or perhaps you want to use the bold, variegated foliage of ‘Summer Skies’ butterfly bush as the backbone of a riotous,
tropical-looking container, surrounding it with colorful petunias, geraniums, and angelonia. At the end of the season, you can plant the shrub into your landscape where it will live for several years. This approach gives you all the enjoyment of a showy seasonal container plant but saves you money, since you add the shrub to your
landscape instead of throwing it away.

PERMANENT PLANTING

In this type of planting, you plant a shrub and maintain it in the same container for several seasons, serving as a year-round accent on your deck, patio, or porch. You can grow any shrub like this, provided that it is hardy where you live. This is because the shrub MUST spend winter outdoors. It may seem like bringing it indoors to protect it from cold would be good, but in fact, the plant needs the fresh air and strong light of the outdoors in order to grow properly. If the area where you want to keep it is exposed to exceptionally harsh weather, such as on a rooftop garden or a high balcony, it’s a good idea to select plants that are one or even two zones hardier than where you live.

THE CONTAINER

For permanent shrub plantings, the container you chose must be weatherproof; that is, it must be made of a material that will not break, crack, or flake when left outdoors over winter. This usually means that clay, terra cotta, and ceramic containers are off-limits. Most other materials are fine. The container also must be large enough to accommodate the plant with room to grow into. Typically, this means containers that are 16″-24″ (40-60 cm) diameter and proportionally deep. Small containers dry out quickly and become very difficult to maintain. In temporary plantings, you can use any type of container, since you will remove the plant before winter comes. Container size isn’t that important, either. It needs only be large enough to hold all of the plants you want in your design.

SOIL AND FERTILIZER

For both temporary and permanent plantings, use standard bagged potting soil. Potting soil is lightweight, drains quickly, and fosters healthy, vigorous root growth. Permanent plantings will use up the fertilizer in potting soils after the first season, so plan to apply a granular fertilizer formulated for flowering shrubs (like a rose fertilizer) in early spring, when the soil thaws.

WATER

Water is important in both types of plantings, but is especially important in permanent plantings. As the plant grows, its water needs will increase. Containers can dry out quickly in hot, sunny weather, too. You may want to consider a drip irrigation system or use self-watering containers. Hand-watering can be sufficient, but you’ll need to schedule time to check your container daily and water it thoroughly.

MAINTENANCE

For temporary plantings, carefully remove the shrub and plant it in your landscape at least six weeks before the ground freezes. Permanent plantings benefit from a layer of shredded bark mulch over the root zone year round, but especially in winter. When spring arrives, wait until the buds begin to appear on the stems, then carefully remove any wood that does not show signs of life. Permanent plantings will last, on average, 3-5 seasons, depending on the variety, the pot size, and your climate. Stunted growth and flowering indicate that it’s time to transplant into the landscape or into a larger container.

WINTER CONSIDERATIONS

As long as your shrub is hardy in your area and your container is weatherproof, you don’t need to do all that much more to get your planting winter-ready. A 2-3” (5-7.6 cm) thick layer of shredded bark mulch will help regulate soil moisture. Alternatively, you can place cut branches from evergreens, like spruces, pines, and arborvitae, into the soil all around the base of the plant for protection. In areas where the soil does not freeze, you should check the soil every two weeks or so: it should be neither bone-dry nor soggy. Cold climate gardeners should check soil moisture if warm weather causes the soil to thaw before spring. When spring finally returns, it presents the perfect opportunity for you to assess your plant’s health and appearance and decide if it can spend another season in the same container, or if it should be planted into the ground or a larger pot.

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