Summer container ideas: 12 seasonal looks for colorful pots and planters
Our dramatic summer container ideas will help you to create standout displays for your patio, deck and porch
Summer container ideas come into their own in the warmer weather, with such a wide selection of flowering plants to choose from that are at their very best. It's the perfect season for creating beautiful planters to brighten up your outdoor space. From ideas for large patios and decks to more modest terraces and balconies where space is tight, there are plenty of planting ideas that will work for you.
A simple mix of color, texture and form using containers in a variety of heights and sizes has maximum impact. Whether you like tiny terracotta pots featuring individual flowers or large tubs packed with a range of plants of varying heights and textures you'll be needing ideas and inspiration on how to create successful color schemes and planting combinations that work for your space.
Our brilliant selection of easy-to-achieve container gardening ideas will let you freshen up your garden with instant displays of vibrant summer plants that will last for months.
Create instant impact with our summer container ideas
Want to fill your outdoor space with stunning planting combinations this summer? Our expert tips and tricks for successful garden planter ideas will help you tick all right boxes.
1. Opt for low-maintenance summer blooms
Plant up easy-care, brightly colored pelargoniums in containers to create a lovely summery mood. Pelargoniums promise abundant blooms, and these diverse flowering beauties score highly with their bright colors too as well as requiring very little care.
'Pelargoniums are incredibly robust and easy to care for, so are perfect for container gardening,' says Dr Suzanne Lux of Pelargonium for Europe. 'They bloom abundantly and continuously without you having to take special care of them. To ensure the plants develop well, the containers should have a diameter of about 8in (20cm) or hold at least two litres of soil.'
Suzanne recommends planting pelargoniums individually in pots and placing several next to each other to build up a central display for your patio gardening ideas. They will thrive in even the smallest pots and won't need lots of watering either. In full sun to partial shade locations, standing, semi-trailing and trailing pelargoniums are ideal as a planting theme.
2. Create a seasonal display with a stylish window box
Sleek steel window boxes will look stylish planted up simply with one variety of flower such as these dainty mauve scabious. As well as for working on window sills of period properties, window box ideas like this look just as good in a modern aesthetic.
Scabious is also known as the pincushion flower because of its shape and comes in a range of colors, from white through various shades of blue to darkest burgundy. It makes an excellent ‘filler’ in summer container ideas but also looks good on its own. It's a long flowering plant that's loved by pollinating insects too. Just remember to keep snipping off any faded flowers to keep new blooms coming all summer long.
Choose the best plants for window boxes for a long lasting display, and remember that they are generally those that are low maintenance so you don't have to be in constant attendance with secateurs and liquid feed.
3. Fill a hanging basket with tumbling flowers
Make a great first impression at the front of your property with some summer hanging basket ideas crammed with beautiful blooms to give you loads of pleasure right through the warmest months of the year. Plant plenty of colorful blooms and lush foliage that will spill generously over the edges of the basket to create a naturalistic look.
Some of the best plants for hanging baskets include Calibrachoa (million bells) with its trumpet-like flowers in a wide range of colors, including purple, pink, red, yellow, orange and white, clouds of dainty lobelia, and trailing petunias, which come in a range of colors from white to dark purple – and look out especially for the gorgeous petunias with ruffled double blooms that will add a touch of luxe to your look.
4. Try an unstructured look for your summer container
Loose and airy planting of flowers like trailing petunias, cosmos, achillea and verbena bonariensis lets you create a wonderfully natural and unstructured look in your summer container ideas.
Offering sumptuous color all summer long, a trailing petunia like this 'Tidal Wave Red' looks wonderful with its rich, velvety red flowers spilling over the edges of a pot. It thrives in full sun and moderately fertile well-drained soil, and will flower from late spring to the first frosts.
Petunias are a really versatile choice for seasonal containers. Choose from trumpet shaped or double ruffled blooms, or more subtle ones featuring delicate marbling detail on their petals. They look particularly spectacular planted in a solid color block of magenta pink, inky purple or dark crimson.
5. Combine a fragrant mix of lavender and summer herbs
Scented herbs such as thyme and rosemary, and flowers like lavender can be combined in pretty summer container ideas that appeal to the senses as well as being a handy option for the kitchen. Hailing mostly from the Mediterranean these tough drought-tolerant plants combine to create a tapestry of muted soft grey-green and pale blue colors that's easy on the eye.
Mediterranean plants like a sunny position if they’re going to thrive and they do well in poor soil, so this means they're easy and low maintenance when combined in a container.
The mild winters and hot dry summers of the Mediterranean lends itself to hardy and low-growing plants that like these conditions including lavender and herbs. So if your garden gets plenty of sun and you have mild winters, a summer container planted up with these will suit your space well.
6. Style up a summer container with on-trend succulents
If you've been learning how to grow succulents, filling a summer container with them is a beautiful and versatile alternative to traditional planting schemes, and it’s so easy to do. There's such a huge range of succulents available now that you'll have a hard time choosing a look.
Go for a combo that works well in terms of shapes, colors and textures. A good place to start is by checking out common succulent varieties like echeveria, sedum, sempervivum and aeonium.
Try to vary the colors of your succulent garden to include a mix of greens, reds and mauves. Most of the plants used in this container will be available from your local garden center or nursery, although with such a great selection now available online as well sourcing a good selection of plants is easy.
Use plenty of grit with the compost to create the well-drained soil that succulents love and go easy on the watering too.
7. Fill hanging planters with pelargoniums
Happy go lucky pelargoniums are one of the varieties of flowering plants that are happy planted up on their own in quite small pots that can then be grouped together to create a display, such as these pretty hanging planters. They're one of the best balcony plants too as they don't take up much space.
They are a great choice if you haven't got much time and are looking for low-maintenance plants as they don't need a lot of watering or care. Just remember to keep snipping off any faded flowers to keep on enjoying the Mediterranean vibe.
8. Add height and texture to pots with feathery grasses
Rhythmic planting of airy ornamental grasses in summer containers creates texture and interest, as well as an understated elegance. The choice is huge as they come in a range of eye-catching colors and textures, everything from rich gold and luminous silver to inky black and lush green varieties.
The trick to add that special wow factor is to plant one type of ornamental grass in a container to maximize the impact rather than mixing them in with other plants as a filler. The shimmering grass becomes the star of the show rather than the supporting act.
Grasses can be the crowning glory of even the smallest urban garden. They look after themselves, don’t need watering or feeding, and require no pruning or deadheading, which makes them a definite plus if you’re looking for low-maintenance options.
Generally undemanding about soil, they enjoy dry conditions, so add some horticultural grit to the compost when planting up your container.
9. Plant up vintage-look containers for summer color
Old containers, pots and planters can be picked up in thrift stores and online. As well as looking good they have the advantage of being relatively inexpensive, making them a brilliant option if you're looking for cheap garden ideas. This old tin bath is planted with lupins, zinnia, pelargoniums, foxgloves and ivy for an untamed look that's right on trend.
‘My favourite material for containers is galvanised metal,’ says Arthur Parkinson who hosts a series of inspirational online courses on planting summer pots for Create Academy and is known for his unrivalled ability to create gorgeous, deeply colored planters. ‘Be like a magpie to hunt it down. Look on eBay and PreLoved, and try to choose tub-shaped ones with handles. As well as being roomy enough for plenty of plants they’re easy to move around.’
Galvanised buckets are good too. 'They're widely available. Remember to add drainage holes in the bottom if you find one,’ says Arthur. This will help prolong their life as you don’t want the bottom to rot. Using plenty of grit or other drainage material in the base too will ensure any water flows through freely.
10. Pick white flowers for a cool summer vibe
Choosing one color for your planting scheme is an easy way to create a professional look for your containers and none is more elegant than white.
Bright and breezy daisy-like cosmos add height, floaty texture and luminous white flowers to containers all summer long. They’re easy to grow, love the sun and don’t need much looking after. Just snip off the flowers as they fade and more will keep coming.
Fill out your display with verbena to add another layer of abundant, pure white blooms. Very easy to grow, they will flower reliably all summer as long as your container is in a sunny spot and has well-drained compost.
Both cosmos and verbena are easy choices if you're new to summer container ideas, and they both come in jewel bright colors too if you're looking for a bolder look for your garden color scheme.
11. Green up with eco containers
If you're interested in creating a sustainable garden, look for eco-friendly containers made from recycled materials like rubber, plastic, fibreglass and crushed stone, many of which are frost proof and will not fade, rot or crack so they're good buys long-term too as they won't need replacing so often.
The latest looks for recycled containers are smart and on trend, so you can pot up your summer plants in a planet friendly choice that looks good at the same time.
Try also looking for terracotta pots at salvage yards and upcycing old drawers for your planter box ideas as another way to reuse existing materials. Large catering cans that previously held olive oil or pureed tomatoes and old wooden wine boxes are also good options.
12. Go large with your summer container planting
‘I tend to go big rather than small when it comes to pots,’ says Arthur Parkinson. ‘The main reason for this is maintenance. The bigger the pot is the more compost you can get in it, which means they have to be watered less.’
A big pot has more impact too, and is a good choice even if your garden is small. They add height and can be crammed with lush abundance. ‘Think about creating a triangle effect,’ suggests Arthur, ‘with a large pot at the pinnacle, then smaller pots lined up at different heights either side.’
This ribbed planter by Sarah Raven features tumbling curtains of Petunia grandiflora 'Sophistica Lime Green' and starry osteospermum ‘Akila White Purple Eye' broken by vertical scented spires of the compact lupin ‘Avalune White'. You will need three of each plant to get a full look like this.
What can I plant in a summer container?
For ideas on what to plant in a summer container think about what you would most like to grow as there are no hard and fast rules. In fact, most things will work given the right growing conditions and it's a great opportunity to try out new ideas.
It can help to choose a theme such as grouping together plants that are bee friendly, a particular color or scented. Alternatively focus on the position of your container and choose plants that will thrive in either a sunny or shady spot according to the location and conditions.
If you're interested in growing vegetable in pots, containers are ideal for creating a mini-veg garden especially if space is tight. Salad leaves like lettuce and rocket, herbs such as parsley and basil, edible flowers like nasturtiums, chillies, tomatoes and dwarf French beans are all good crops to try.
Likewise if you would like to try your hand at growing fruit in pots, berries and dwarf or miniature fruit tree varieties are the way to go. Try strawberries, blueberries, raspberries and blackcurrants, while lemons and figs are good mini-tree options too.
How can I create a striking summer container?
Head gardener Josie Lewis works at Sarah Raven's Perch Hill and is amazing at getting the right pot combinations. She always considers form and scale as well as color as the main criteria for the best summer container ideas.
To avoid making too many container gardening mistakes, Josie suggests sticking with the following easy-to-remember formula: 'First choose a thriller, something dominant you love for wow factor. Then choose a filler which backs up your thriller and is a similar color. Next comes a pillar to add height and scale. Finally, add a spiller that tumbles over the edge of the pot.'
Your summer container ideas shouldn't be a fixed thing either. 'Never think of your garden containers as a permanent show,' says designer Arthur Parkinson. 'Choose containers with handles as that makes it easier to move things around to create nice combinations. What I love most about pot gardening is that it's a continual rotation of ideas tying in with the seasons.'
Lifestyle journalist Sarah Wilson has been writing about gardens since 2015. She's written for Gardeningetc.com, Livingetc, Homes & Gardens, Easy Gardens and Modern Gardens magazines. Having studied introductory garden and landscape design, she is currently putting the skills learned to good use in her own space where the dream is establishing a cutting garden.
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