How to Care for Container Shrubs


If your gardening space consists of a balcony or patio, don't give up on the idea of having a lush, green living space. Nearly any plant can successfully be planted in containers, including shrubs. Container gardening is especially useful if you live in a cold winter climate, because you can bring the shrub indoors for the winter. Although growing shrubs in containers isn't difficult, container shrubs will have slightly different needs than shrubs grown in the ground.

Step 1

Choose a sturdy container with a solid base that won't be easily tipped or blown over in strong winds. Terra cotta and clay containers are sturdy and attractive, but they are porous and the shrub will need to be watered more frequently, and may crack if allowed to freeze. Plastic containers are inexpensive and lightweight, but won't withstand strong wind or extremes in weather. Wood or stone containers will be heavy, but will withstand weather and won't tip easily. Be sure the container has a drainage hole in the bottom. A wheeled platform will be helpful for heavy containers.

Step 2

Soak the potting soil whenever the top of the soil feels dry, and allow the excess water to run through the drainage hole. Don't allow the soil to become bone dry. Remember that container shrubs will dry out quickly, so check the soil daily during hot, dry weather.

Step 3

Repot the shrub whenever it appears to be crowded in the pot, if growth slows or if you notice white roots on the top of the soil. Choose a container just one size larger, and fill it with commercial potting mix. Lay the existing container on its side and let gravity help you slide the shrub from the container. Never pull the shrub out of the container by its trunk. Loosen the roots slightly with your fingers, and trim any damaged or excessively long roots with clean scissors before planting the shrub in the new pot.

Step 4

Make sure your shrub is properly protected from winter weather. Some shrubs will need to be moved indoors. Others will do fine outdoors, but may need to be placed against a sheltered wall or under an overhang.

Step 5

Fertilize your shrub every spring. Although different shrubs have different needs, a good rule of thumb is to feed your shrub 2 to 3 tbsp. of slow-release granular fertilizer, sprinkled on the surface of the potting soil. If the container is one gallon or less, limit fertilizer to 1 tbsp.

Things You'll Need

  • Sturdy container with drainage hole
  • Wheeled platform (optional)
  • Larger container for repotting
  • Commercial potting mix
  • Scissors
  • Slow release granular fertilizer


  • Ohio State University Extension: Gardening in Containers
  • Brooklyn Botanic Gardens: Growing Shrubs in Containers
  • GardeningKnowHow: Potted Shrubs---Growing Shrubs in Containers
Keywords: growing shrubs in containers, container shrubs, container gardening

About this Author

M.H. Dyer is a long-time writer, editor and proofreader. She has been a contributor to the East-Oregonian Newspaper and See Jane Run magazine, and is author of a memoir, “The Tumbleweed Chronicles, a Sideways Look at Life." She holds an Master of Fine Arts from National University, San Diego.