Poppies flowering in two small containers on an outdoor table
(Image credit: 8213erika)

Not everyone has a backyard appropriate for a large garden, but almost everyone can keep a container plant. Size is only one of the many advantages of growing plants in containers rather than in the ground. This only works well, however, if you select plants that are happy living in a pot. Gardeners in the West have many choices. Read on for some top options for California or Nevada container gardening.

Container Gardening

Those gardeners complaining about overwhelming backyard gardens might keep in mind that many folk don’t have any dirt to dig. This is especially true in urban environments. That’s one place container gardens fit the bill. Almost anyone has room for a few pots on the back porch, fire escape, or kitchen window sill.

But container gardening can solve other issues as well. For example, those with clay or sandy soil in the backyard can avoid a lot of garden problems by planting a container garden instead. This also works well in wet areas and when it’s best to move plants from one corner of the backyard to another as the seasons change. These are all benefits of considering Nevada or California container gardens.

A Rule for Western Container Gardens

Are you wondering what to put in pots in Nevada? Or the best container plants for Southern California? We’ve got a suggestion for you. The simple essential rule for selecting container plants is the same in the Western states as for the rest of the world: Select plants that will thrive in the climate and exposure you can provide.

You can go with vegetables (some gardeners grow all their veggies in pots!), annuals, or perennials, depending on whether you want a container garden for one season or to last years.

What to Plant in a Container Garden?

For spring and summer planting, here are a few of the most popular annual container plants to consider: lobelia, marigold, petunias, verbena, and zinnia. If your area is shaded, put in impatiens. If you are thinking of veggies, go for cherry tomatoes or popular herbs like parsley and basil. Note that while these are among the best container plants for California, these annuals can be grown almost anywhere in pots.


Choosing perennials will mean that your container gardens last longer and can provide delight year after year. Some great flowering perennials to consider are marguerite, agapanthus, carnation, geraniums, and chrysanthemums. For spring bulb planting, think about tulips, daffodil, amaryllis, crocus, freesia, hyacinth, iris, and ranunculus. Most will regrow year after year when properly fertilized.


If you are putting in a fall vegetable container garden, try planting cool season leafy greens like kale and lettuce, or radishes, garlic, and chives. For ornamentals, consider stocks, snapdragons, pansies, violas, dianthus, ornamental kale, and ornamental cabbage.

Fruit Trees

Are fruit trees among the best outdoor potted plants for Southern California and Nevada? While dwarf fruit trees and shrubs can be planted in containers in the West, they are not one-and-done. These plants grow fast and should only be left in the same container for short periods before being moved to progressively bigger ones or transplanted into the ground.

What About California Natives?

Many gardeners in the West are trying to focus on native plants. These are trees, shrubs and grasses that grow naturally in the wild and provide native birds and insects with the food and shelter they need to survive. They tend to be extremely self-sufficient and require little care from humans.

While many native plants of Nevada and California will grow well in containers, they will need more care than when they grow in soil. But that is the downside of all container plants: since they only have the soil in the pot to sustain them, they may require regular water and even fertilizer in containers, even if they need nothing in the wild.

For example, some succulents work well in pots, including Cacti, Agaves, Sedums, Dudleyas, and Lewisias. Many offer fascinating long flowers in unexpected shades. But unlike ground-grown succulents, you’ll need to change their soil and plant in a larger pot every few years.

Teo Spengler

Teo Spengler has been gardening for 30 years. She is a docent at the San Francisco Botanical Garden. Her passion is trees, 250 of which she has planted on her land in France.