10 easy care evergreen pots for year round impact

October 6th, 2019
Posted In: Container gardening

Evergreen pots will give you year-round structure and impact.

And they need very little care, compared to seasonal pots. They are also very long lasting.

I originally wrote this post five years ago. And I’m growing many of these evergreen plants in pots myself. All the plants I’ve recommended are still looking good. Most are even in the same pots!

11 top plants for evergreen pots

  1. Dwarf mountain pine (Pinus mugo ‘Pumilio’ group)
  2. Korean blue fir ( Abies koreana – check that it is a dwarf variety)
  3. Yucca (eg Yucca gloriosa Aureovariegata)
  4. Phormium (all kinds)
  5. Fatsia, especially variegated Fatsia japonica ‘Variegata’
  6. Hart’s Tongue Fern (any fern whose name begins with Asplenium will be evergreen)
  7. Ornamental grasses. Not all are evergreen but keep their shape in winter.
  8. Evergreen climbers to grow in pots include Star Jasmine (Trachelospermum jasminoides)
  9. Ivy (Hedera helix) A great trailing plant
  10. Barbed wire plant for an unusual texture (Calocephalus)
  11. Sempervivens, also called houseleeks or ‘hens and chicks’
Pots for winter interest

In the depths of winter, evergreen pots – spiral box topiary, box cones and grasses – create structure and interest in my garden. Frost-proof pots are essential – these are stoneware, not terracotta. This is a spiral box, which, in 2021, had been in my garden for six years. Sadly, however, box (Boxwood/Buxus) is now too threatened by box tree moth and box blight. I don’t recommend you plant box in your pots until these problems have been eradicated.

You can also buy very young, very small evergreen shrubs and perennials for pot displays. If you plant them in winter pots, they will hardly grow until the spring comes. And even then, they may not outgrow the pot for a year or two.

But when they do outgrow their planters, you’ll be able to plant them out in the garden instead of throwing them away. See this post for more about evergreens for a brilliant winter container display.

So for year round interest here are my 10 best evergreens for pots:

Evergreen trees in pots

The classic choices of evergreen trees for pots are bay and olive trees. Both can be slightly tender, so if you have harsh winters, plant them in a sheltered spot or close to the house wall. The walls of houses in winter often retain some heat and can be good places for protecting plants.

Bay tree in a pot

This bay tree is underplanted with pelargoniums. They aren’t hardy and are taken out over the winter.

All trees can be planted in pots. This will help keep them small as the roots are restricted. It’s a good way to grow larger tree varieties in smaller gardens. See this post for more about trees for smaller gardens.

Dwarf conifers in pots

Conifers make a surprisingly good plant for a pot. They are structural and have some wonderful shapes and shades of leaves.

The pot constricts the root growth so they won’t turn into monsters.

Dwarf pine conifer in pot

This dwarf Pinus mugo (left) has been in this pot for four years. I feed it in the summer and water it, but it’s very easy care. However I have been warned that if I ever want to take it out of this pot, its roots will have grown into the curve and it will be difficult to get out without a major root prune or breaking the pot. A vase-shaped pot wouldn’t have that problem.

Juniper evergreen tree for pots

The plant on the left is Juniper (Juniperus communis) and arrived as a tiny plug plant three years ago. It has been entirely happy in a pot since then and has grown to this size. I originally wrote this post five years ago. Now it’s 2023, and the junipers are getting too big and sprawly for containers. I think that junipers are best in pots for just a few years, but when they get bigger, you’ll want to move them to the garden. So they didn’t make my ‘Top 10’ list above, but they’re still an option when small!

Pots at Great Dixter

For the past few years, the ever-changing display of pots outside the front door at Great Dixter has always included several conifers.

For tips on choosing and growing conifers, see How Conifers Can Transform Your Year-round Garden.

Sculptural evergreens for pots

Look for strong shapes and colours. Phormiums and yuccas are back, and are increasingly popular. Very trouble-free plants!

Variegated evergreen yucca in a pot

This variegated yucca (Yucca gloriosa ‘Aureovariegata’) in garden designer Posy Gentles’ garden adds light to a shady corner. Yuccas are easy care, but do occasionally need a bit of a wipe.

Phormium Joker in pots

This is Phormium ‘Joker’ in a pot wedged into a border where it adds sculptural interest in summer. In the autumn it adds to the colours and in winter and spring it is almost the only presence in this part of the border. It seems to need very little feeding or watering – even in the driest weather I have only watered it once or twice a week, while most of my pots need daily watering.

Evergreen pots for shade

You can grow evergreen ferns in shade in pots. Harts’ Tongue Fern (any fern starting with ‘Asplenium’) is evergreen. Asplenium scolopendrium is the native wild version so likely to be a survivor. It also has an Award of Garden Merit from the RHS.

Fatsias are also very shade tolerant. In fact, the fatsias I know have tolerated almost anything. And if you thought fatsia was dull, check out the variegated versions.

Fatsia in pots

Variegated fatsia (Fatsia japonica ‘Variegata’) in a pot in garden designer Posy Gentles’ garden. Fatsias really do just get on with the business of surviving whatever life throws at them.

Evergreen climbers and trailing plants for pots

You can grow ivy in a pot. It’s an evergreen climber. But people often take ivy for granted, or even see it as a nuisance.

Evergreen hanging basket

Apart from the cyclamen, all the plants in this hanging basket are evergreen. The grass is festuca glauca, the shrubs are skimmia and hebe and the ivy adds a trailing element.

Some people don’t like ivy because they regard it as invasive. However, if you keep it in a pot, it is easy to keep under control. And ivy is not particularly fast-growing. If you chop it back once a year, it shouldn’t be a problem. To see a garden that has made a stunning use of ivy, read An Elegant Evergreen Garden With a Touch Of Grandeur.

And you can also grow the beautiful evergreen Star Jasmine (Trachelosperum jasminoides) in a pot.

Clematis armandii (the evergreen clematis) will grow in a pot, too. But choose big deep pots because they have a large root system. They will need a stable trellis or frame to climb up. And you will need to feed them a liquid feed fortnightly in the summer.

Evergreen grasses for pots

I do love grasses in pots. Choose grasses that are good for winter interest, such as Miscanthus, Calamagrostis or Panicum. I have Panicum virgatum ‘Shenandoah’ in four pots and they have been there for five years. I re-potted them two years ago, cutting them in half and replacing them in new soil. They’ve now re-grown back to fill the pot.

Panicum virgatum 'Shenandoah'

This Panicum virgatum ‘Shenandoah’ looks great from around August to the following March, with good autumn colour and winter shape. I cut it down in March and it grows up to take over from the lavender when we cut that back in early August.

Winter grasses in pots near Kings Cross station

Winter grasses (Miscanthus) in pots near Kings Cross station.

I also think smaller grasses, such as Hakenochloa macra, look good in pots too. I spotted the plant below when picking out the 10 best ideas for your garden from BBC Gardeners World Live 2023.

Japanese forest grass is a good evergreen grass for pots.

These hakenochloa macra (Japanese forest grass) look wonderful in pots by Beanplace Nurseries at BBC Gardeners World Live 2023.

Evergreen pot with olive tree and grasses

This evergreen pot has an olive tree surrounded by Carex grasses. It fits perfectly into this summer garden but will also look good in winter.

Mixed evergreen pots collection

The all-green, no-flowers look for pots is stylish and easy to look after. The effect comes from contrasting shapes. And if you have lots of different styles of pot, it pulls them all together.

Covering the soil with a fine grit gives a good finish.

Mixed collection of evergreen pots

A mixed collection of evergreen only pots in Posy’s garden.

Evergreen succulents – they’ll survive more frost than you think

Succulents, such as sedums and echeveria, have become very popular in recent years. They’re drought tolerant and pretty. And also evergreen.

While some of them will only survive in areas without frost, the sempervivens (houseleeks or ‘hens and chicks’) survive temperatures down to minus 30F. That’s much colder than any UK winter and covers US hardiness zones 4-9.

Kathy Pickering' sempervivens in pots

Kathy Pickering majors on evergreens in her roof terrace in Whitstable ‘because most of the time the plants are seen through the window.’ Here sempervivens or houseleeks appear to tumble out of broken pot. Kathy’s roof garden is often open for Whitstable Open Gardens (NGS). Kathy also created an amazing rustic cottage garden from scratch in just two years – see it here. 

Evergreen plants for window boxes

Ivy is probably the number one choice for an evergreen in a window box. But holly and small conifers can work well too. See how to plant a beautiful winter window box, which will last through spring.

evergreen plants for pots and window boxes

Ivy (top) makes a good trailing plant for pots and window boxes. The plant above is Ilex aquifolium ‘Myrtifolia’, a holly.

And evergreen pots for Christmas

You can get all sizes of Christmas tree for pots. I love the chance to bring in some unusual conifers. There are some brilliant ideas for winter pots and how to plant them here.

Evergreen barbed wire plants for pots

The blue foliage is Barbed wire plant (Calocephalus). Jane Beedle put these pots together in winter 2019 for a post on winter window boxes. In summer 2021, the barbed wire plants are still looking good in her pots and window boxes.

Many Christmas decorations are fine outdoors and you can decorate small pots of conifers to be seen from the kitchen window.

Blue spruce in a pot for Christmas

I bought this little blue spruce in the local market. It’s survived quite a bit of neglect and has even grown.

A simple Christmas tree in a bucket

Great Dixter proving how stylish a simple un-decorated old-fashioned Christmas tree in a bucket can be. A Christmas tree can be a spruce, pine or a fir.

How to look after your evergreen pots

Evergreens are often very easy-care, but all plants in pots need feeding and watering. They can’t get their nutrition from the ground. For container garden care tips, see Your Best Garden Pots Ever.

The important thing to remember is that pots will need watering several times a week – or even daily in hot weather – during the summer. To feed them, add a slow release granular fertiliser, such as Gro-Sure, in spring. Or feed weekly with a liquid seaweed feed, such as Maxicrop organic liquid feed.

Please note that links to Amazon are affiliate, see disclosure. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases. Other links are not affiliate.

Shop my favourite gardening tools, books and products

I’m often asked for recommendations so I’ve put together some useful lists of my favourite gardening books, tools and products on the Middlesized Garden Amazon store. For example, there are some tools which I use over and over again, so they are in my list of essential gardening tools.

While I wouldn’t call myself a strictly organic gardener, I try to garden in a sustainable and wildlife friendly way. That’s why the Middlesized Garden t-shirts, hoodies and tote bags are made by Teemill. Teemill print on demand, so there are no wasteful excess orders. Plus they use natural materials, manufacture with renewable energy and deliver in plastic-free packaging.

If at first you don't succeed, plant, plant and plant again

Our niece Irene modelling the ‘If at first you don’t succeed, plant, plant & plant again’ hoody. Her verdict? ‘A really good hoodie, very comfortable.’ It’s a great present for the gardener who’s sad when a plant fails, but then gets excited about filling the gap in the garden with new plants!

More useful posts about garden pots

Find out more about low maintenance garden pots here. And this post has tips on how to plant a winter window box.

If you’d like ideas on displaying indoor plants, there’s advice and ideas here from three top experts who were each asked to decorate a studio flat with house plants.

And for ideas on how to display pots in your garden, here is an inspiring video from Diane and Robbie Perry’s beautiful garden:

How to display pots in your garden

Pin to remember evergreen pots

And do join us for more garden tips, ideas and inspiration – see here for a free weekly email.

Evergreen pots for year round wow factor

10 comments on "10 easy care evergreen pots for year round impact"

  1. Nicky says:

    I like Bunny Guineas’ advice about growing in pots: cut out the bases of any large fixed pots including terracotta then the plant can take on moisture from the ground. Good for evergreen like box.

    1. Yes, it’s a good idea, although it means that you can’t move the pots, and of course being able to be flexible is one of the main advantages of pots. And it wouldn’t protect box from the main problems (box tree moth caterpillar and box blight). But it’s certainly an option where you know you will never want to move the pots and don’t want to put them on a terrace.

  2. Ms says:

    Brilliant post Alex thank you. Whopping phormium in a pot, to contain it: who knew? I love pot gardening and with this inspiration will assign a whole new paved area just for pots – who needs a table and chairs, this space is perfect for plants.

    1. Lovely to hear from you!

  3. Kathleen Midón says:

    I’m really excited about planting in pots this winter. As for flowers like tulips daffs etc I learned in zone 7 they have to be overwintered in the garage and fumes from the car are a big concern. What I’m doing when I’m about to drive is covering pots with cardboard, open both garage
    doors – back out quickly and pause before I close the doors. When I return I leave the doors open for ten minutes – to clear the air. I then remove the cardboard and close the doors. Heading to garden store for some evergreens – for pots! We dint have any cyclamen for sale – only high priced from the florist! Bummer!

    1. The amount of fumes you get from just driving in and out of the garage is unlikely to harm the bulbs, especially when they’re dormant as very little is happening with them over winter. I’d think that ten minutes with the garage doors open should clear the fumes nicely and you don’t need the cardboard as well, although if the weather gets very cold it may be a useful extra insulation (it’s important that the pots, compost or bulbs never freeze or get frosted). Many plants are very resilient about car fumes, which is why they grow on motorways, in car parks and on the sides of busy roads. CO2, which is released in car fumes, is actually beneficial to plants. Other elements in car fumes include nitrogen oxides, which can damage plants in large amounts but there’s unlikely to be enough in a few minutes of one car’s exhaust fumes to make a difference. Petrol and oil would be harmful if it spilt onto the soil or potting compost, but once again, it’s unlikely to be harmful with just a few minutes of fumes. I hope that helps and that you enjoy your bulbs in pots without worrying too much about them!

  4. Aakarsha says:

    I live in zone 7b will these all survive the winter ?

    1. The Pinus mugo, ivy and Korean fir are all hardy across a wide range of cool zones. And there are lots of varieties of ferns and grasses for all hardiness zones, so check what’s available in your area. There are also some yuccas which are hardy down to zone 7, but you’d have to check the variety. Phormium and fatsia are under debate, some people say hardy to zone 7, others disagree, so I would suggest over-wintering them in a sheltered position close to the house. The only two that definitely aren’t suitable for a zone 7 are the calocephalus and the star jasmine, but Clematis armandii is quite a similar evergreen climber with white flowers, and that is hardy in Zone 7.

  5. Trish Santos says:

    Alexandra, this was a fantastic discussion on low-maintenance front gardens. So many fresh ideas! Loved your discussions on options for the gardener, ie. faux vs real grass. Thank you for sharing your wealth of experience.

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