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Easy-Care, Low-Water Container Gardens

10 ideas for potted arrangements from Sunset's new Western Book of Easy-Care Plantings

Succulents are a Natural

Photo by Trina Roberts, Grin/Courtesy of Sunset

These easy-to-grow plants do well where it's hot and dry, with little-to-no supplemental watering, as long as they're planted in a fast-draining potting medium. A mix of mini succulents in a troughlike container makes a perfect centerpiece for an outdoor dining table—one you can leave out in the blazing heat without worry. Standout plants, from front to back: rosette-forming Sempervivum S. soboliferum (right) and S. arachnoideum (left); a pair of Echeveria agavoides; ropes of Sedum 'Burrito'.

Arching Fronds

Photo by Saxon Holt, PhotoBotanic/Courtesy of Sunset

A cobalt blue pot forms the colorful foundation for a quartet of plants with interesting foliage color and form. Tall, metallic green Astelia 'Silver Shadow' sits up high, while purple-flowering Salvia 'Amistad' and coral-blooming Heuchera send up delicate flower spikes, and weeping chartreuse Carex oshimensis 'Everillo' spills over the edge.

Dramatic Statement

Photo by Lisa Romerein/Courtesy of Sunset

Tall stems and supersize leaves give giant bird of paradise (Strelitzia nicolai) major stature, but ringing their base with rosy Echeveria agavoides, black Aeonium arboreum 'Atropurpureum', and draping fishhook senecio (Senecio radicans) makes for a sensational arrangement that draws the eye top to bottom.

Simple Beauty

Photo by Trina Roberts, Grin/Courtesy of Sunset

One container filled to the brim with a single type of plant can have major impact beside the front door. Apple-green "dinner plate" Aeonium urbicum fills this textured white urn with a mound of the flowerlike rosettes, resembling a bouquet.

Made for the Shade

Photo by Joshua McCullough, PhytoPhoto/Courtesy of Sunset

Potted plants can be problem solvers. Where grass once struggled to grow, gravel now paves this outdoor room—with the dramatic chartreuse foliage of four large 'Sum and Substance' hosta defining the edges of the space and brightening it up.

Hens-and-Chicks Garden

Photo by Joshua McCullough, PhytoPhoto/Courtesy of Sunset

Sempervivum come in many varieties—get half a dozen and pack them into a low bowl for a wonderfully textured patio or tabletop display that will last for years. If it gets overcrowded, just snip off the chicks, or offsets, and pot them up. These succulents are cold hardy, so they can generally winter over outside, though in very harsh climates, they may benefit from some added protection.

Woodland Beauty

Photo by Steve Young/Courtesy of Sunset

A forest in a columnar container: Huckleberry (Vaccinium ovatum), the tall shrub in this pot, is nestled together with Leucothoe fontanesiana, while fine-leaved wire vine (Muehlenbeckia complexa) trails over the front and a variegated sedge, Carex hachijoensis 'Evergold', arches over the sides. Use it to brighten a spot in partial shade.

Asian Inspiration

Photo by Marion Brenner/Courtesy of Sunset

Framed by a Chinese wisteria overhead and a Japanese maple peeking out on the left, two shapely espaliered Atlas cedars (Cedrus atlantica) trained on trellises stand side by side with two fine-leafed golden bamboo plants. Their unusual blue and chartreuse foliage softens and perks up the matte black containers and charcoal doors.

Pretty Pastels

Photo by Erin Kunkel/Courtesy of Sunset

The spiky form and curling threads of Agave filifera give this planting a fascinating foundation, while the coral-flowering succulent Echeveria 'Lola' adds beautiful soft color that complements the powder-coated aluminum container.

Fun Foliage

Photo by Erin Kunkel/Courtesy of Sunset

Exotic, octopus-like Aloe variegata shows off its sculptural form up top, while golden Sedum rupestre 'Angelina' billows out below. A lesson is how a pair of plants with dramatically different foliage, form, and color can add up to one very effective combination.

Get the Book

Photo by Courtesy of Sunset

Sunset's Western Garden Book of Easy-Care Plantings is available at independent bookstores and at amazon.com