Spring is one of my favorite container garden seasons. After the long winter, I can't wait to get out and play in the dirt and see things grow. There are lots and lots of great plants for spring containers and this list covers just the tip of the exciting possibilities. Depending on where you live, the choices will be different, but the following suggestions are all plants that are easily found in nurseries or online. I've chosen plants that are cool tolerant, and many can even withstand a frost.
I haven't included bulbs, which are ridiculously fun to grow in spring, but because you have to start them in the fall, they are a whole different topic.
Ok, pansies and violas may seem like an obvious spring choice, but here's the thing. To me, it's not spring without them. My mother always gave me a flat of Johnny Jump-Ups for my May birthday so I have an emotional as well as aesthetic attachment to them.
The key to designing successful containers with pansies and violas is to realize that they are low growers, so either pick a low and wide bowl or container, so they look proportional, or grow them as a "filler plant," in a mixed container with larger plants.
Pansies and their smaller cousin, violas, are cool weather lovers and will fade and become leggy when it gets too warm. They will grow in full sun or partial shade and like to be kept moist, not wet. If possible, don't let them dry out completely. Fertilize lightly during the growing season--too much will cause them to get leggy and too little they won't flower as well.
Pinching off spent flowers will help them to continuously bloom. Choose plants that are stocky and healthy. As with most plants, don't buy them if they are wilted or dry. Pansies often will come in six packs, small pots or flats, and are often root or pot bound. Make sure to break up the roots before you plant them.
You can plant pansies and violas together or with other spring annuals. You can also pair them with perennials, like heuchera and creeping Jenny, simply replacing them with different plants later in the summer as they fade.
Pansy and viola planter ideas
This plant is a great cool weather, flowering, mid-sized plant which is great for containers. It can flower for up to 5 months, if kept cool enough. Pericallis requires good drainage and can sustain full sun (if it's not too hot) to partial shade.
Keep moist, not wet, and make sure not to let the plant dry out completely, which may be difficult unless put into a large pot, with plenty of good quality potting soil. Fertilize regularly.
This mounding plant plays well with others, or looks great on its own. A spiller, like creeping Jenny or sutera, will set the pericallis off nicely
I love oxalis (Oxalis vulcanicola) from spring through fall. It is a tough plant (be careful, because in some southern climates, some varieties of oxalis are considered to be invasive) and laughs at cold temperatures--hearty to 15 °F. It's a cheerful plant and evocative of early spring and St. Patrick's day.
Oxalis comes in several wonderful colors, from bright green to dark purple--tawny yellow to almost black. It prefers shade to part shade and has a lovely mounding shape. It looks great on its own, but can also be used as a filler plant in a mixed container.
To keep oxalis happy, fertilize regularly and keep moist, not wet. If your plant starts getting leggy, cut it all the way back. No deadheading necessary.
For more info on oxalis:
To be honest, I'm a huge fan of heucheras, also known as coral bells, and heucherellas (a cross between heucheras and tiarellas) at any time of year. However, they both are so cold tolerant, and unfussy that they are particularly suited to the vagaries of spring temperature fluctuations. Both come in a huge array of colors and leaf shapes and, it seems like there are more to choose from every season. They even look great and seems to thrive in those late season snow storms that we're so often prone to.
Spring is a particularly good time for heucheras because, though they are usually known for their foliage, in spring when they bloom, the flowers can be pretty spectacular and last for quite awhile.
Some varieties prefer shade to sun, but check the plant tag.
I'm a big fan of using edibles wherever possible and spring is a great time to start. Both Kale and parsley scoff at the cold and are particularly beautiful as well. They play well with others and can be a surprising addition to otherwise decorative containers.
Curly parsley is particularly pretty and the more you use (of course within reason)the bushier and prettier your plants will be. Oregano, thyme, sage, mint, lemon balm and chives are also good spring plants to include in your mixed containers