No matter where you live, you want to make the most of the good weather days. Spending time on the patio is even more relaxing when you add seasonal color and interest with container plants, window boxes, or beds of annuals, perennials, and shrubs. And since many plants attract tons of pollinators, you’ll enjoy watching butterflies, bees, and hummingbirds flit about while you drink your morning coffee or sip your iced tea.
To find the right plant for your conditions, observe how much direct sunlight your patio gets at different times of day: Full sun means more than six hours and part sun is about half that. Full shade means your patio gets less than an hour or two of sun, or only a little morning sun. No matter how much you fall in love with a plant, consider its needs first before buying it: Shade lovers can’t handle the heat, and sun lovers never perform well in the shade. Before buying shrubs and perennials, which return every year, check your USDA Hardiness zone (find yours here) to determine if the plant can survive winter in your region. See our favorite annuals, perennials, and shrubs to add pizzazz to any patio.
Mandevilla is a gorgeous flowering vine that requires a trellis. It blooms all season long with little care, and you can bring it in for winter in cold climates when the nighttime temperatures go below 50 degrees. Full disclosure: It is a little messy indoors, because it will drop leaves and flowers with the lower light levels. It likes full sun, though it benefits from afternoon shade in the hottest climates.
There’s a reason these sturdy annuals have been popular for decades: They thrive on neglect! Marigolds come in bright colors, including the classic oranges and yellows, but new varieties are available in creamy white. They take the heat, last until a hard freeze, and look good in beds or containers without any effort from you. Give them full sun.
Lavender has beautiful purple spikes and silvery foliage; it’s drought-tolerant once established. Give it full sun, and plant a variety that will survive in your hardiness zone so it returns next year. Edge your patio with it, or plant it near seating areas so you can enjoy its classic scent.
Got shade? Fuchsia thrives in full shade. This stunning annual comes in saturated tones of red, purple, and pink. It looks best in containers or baskets. Hummingbirds adore this plant, too. This plant is best purchased at a local nursery, as its delicate nature makes it difficult to ship intact or germinate from seed.
SHOP ORNAMENTAL GRASS
Look for short varieties to add architectural interest to pots; tall types offer great screening if used to edge the patio in ground or in pots. Most are perennial, but read the tag to be sure. Most need full sun.
This stunning shrub comes in many different sizes and types. Hydrangea’s blooms appear in early to mid-summer and last until a hard freeze, and they’re extremely easy to dry for floral arrangements or wreaths. Most types need some sun to flower best, but they like afternoon shade in the hottest climates. Make sure to plant one that is suited to your hardiness zone.
Blue, purple, or white lobelia looks wonderful in baskets or mixed containers. This annual needs mostly shade, though it will tolerate a little morning sun. It blooms best in cool weather, so if it starts to look ragged in mid-summer, trim it back and it should rebound in fall.
For a sunny patio, succulents are a fun option! They come in hundreds of sizes, shapes, and colors and require almost nothing from you. Some are cold-hardy and will survive winter, but, if not, you certainly can dig a few up and pot to bring indoors to enjoy on a sunny windowsill.
The pretty purple, pink, or white blooms of this plant attract pollinators, and they last all the way to frost. Torenia are lovely cascading from pots on a shady patio. Some have a slightly grape-like scent.
Every garden needs at least one rose! Shrub, or landscape, types are not as fussy as you may think, and they bloom from early summer to a hard freeze. There’s an array of varieties, so read the tag and look for those that will survive in your hardiness zone. They bloom best in full sun.
SHOP SWEET ALYSSUM
With tiny white, blush-pink, or purple flowers, low-growing sweet alyssum looks beautiful draping over the sides of containers. Plant it where you can catch a whiff of its delightful honey-sweet scent. It’s another favorite of pollinators. It needs full sun, but will take some shade.
Think outside the box: New types of strawberries have been bred to be more compact and ornamental, and new varieties of blackberry and raspberry bushes have no thorns! Plant these as a low border or in decorative pots. They prefer full sun.
For sheer drama, nothing tops a caladium! The heart-shaped leaves in striking reds and pinks make this plant a favorite accent in pots or along borders. Enjoy them as annuals, or, in cold climates, dig up the tubers before winter, and store them in a cool, dark place to plant again next year. They’re shade lovers.
Angelonia love the heat! These annuals with tiny orchid-like flowers come in pretty pastel or deep saturated shades. Some types are upright, others cascade from baskets or containers. Give them part to full sun.
Even if you’ve never grown edibles, cherry tomatoes or any sort of dwarf tomatoes are a good place to start! Many new varieties are compact so they work well in containers—and they’re pretty, too! Give them full sun.
For long-lasting color and easy-care, begonias are the answer. These annuals come in every size, shape, and color, with some preferring part shade, and others tolerating sun. Read the plant tag to know what kind you’re buying. Big plus: Begonias flower without the need for deadheading, or removing spent blooms, all season.
Catmint is a tough-as-nails perennial with gray-green foliage and little purple flowers for most of the summer. Pollinators absolutely love it! Newer varieties keep a more upright, mounded form and don’t flop over. Plant it in full sun along the edge of your patio or in containers.
This stunning annual is a hummingbird magnet! With bright orange, red, or purple flowers all season long, prepare to enjoy the show. Give cuphea a pot of its own because it tends to crowd other plants. It likes full sun.
Herbs are some of the easiest edible plants to grow. Create a small herb garden adjacent to your patio, or place them in pots. Perennial herbs, such as oregano, thyme, chives, and sage, will come back every year. Annuals, such as cilantro and basil, are easy to grow from seed. Some, such as rosemary, can be brought indoors to overwinter. Herbs need full sun.
SHOP SWEET POTATO VINE
This vining annual has colors that range from lime green to deepest burgundy with interesting leaf shapes. It’s extremely tough, and it needs plenty of room to spread in the planter or bed. It prefers full sun, but will take a little shade.