Perennials in containers can be placed in locations where planting isn't an option, like near a tree or on a deck or patio. Protect the roots of container-grown perennials during the winter in colder zones by moving the container into a garage, basement or outside wind-protected area. The perennials will sprout new growth in the spring. Before shopping for perennials for container gardening, determine the sunlight level--whether it's shade or full sun--and where the containers will be placed.
Use tall and wide containers when growing perennials 2 to 5 feet tall. Large containers will help to visually balance the height of the plant and help to keep it upright in strong winds.
For a sunny location, yarrow or purple coneflower will give weeks of bright colors. Purple coneflower has daisylike blooms while yarrow has flat blooms that may be yellow, pink, rust or white. Fountain grass, a 3-foot-tall ornamental grass that displays foxtail tips in the summer, looks right at home at the beach.
Tall perennials for container gardening in the shade may include astilbe with its plumes of pink, white, red or lilac. Astilbe grows to about 3 feet. Globe thistle can handle partial shade. Growing 2 to 4 feet tall, globe thistle produces a blue globe-shaped spiny bloom.
Container plants in the sun will need more frequent watering than ground plants. Options for perennial sun plants include chrysanthemums, or garden mums, which provide steady green foliage until they bloom in late summer. Capable of reaching 2 to 3 feet tall, garden mum size can be controlled by pinching back new growth in the spring and again in early summer. Lamb's ear grows to about 15 inches tall with long oval, fuzzy leaves. Pinks is the name of a sun-loving perennial that grows 6 to 24 inches tall and bears fragrant pink blooms in spring or summer.
For the shade, hosta is an all-time favorite. Many hosta varieties are available with solid green or variegated leaves. Hosta can be 1 to 2 feet tall. Dead nettle and foam flower grow less than 1 foot tall and tolerate full shade. In the spring, each produces pink or white blooms. Dead nettle's blooms are small but highly visible against the light green leaves that are spotted or striped with white. Foam flower produces spikes of blooms.
Fill out the container with trailing plants to tumble over the side. Choose ivy for a classic look with dark green or variegated leaves. Variegated periwinkle, with its light green leaves accented with creamy white, is labeled an annual but will act like a perennial if the plant is protected from cold in the winter. Each vine can tolerate full sun or partial shade.