DIY container garden on covered porch

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Happy Saturday! While I’m praying that the weather cooperates so I can get more done on the shed this weekend, I thought I’d give you a fun little update for what’s going on with the front porch.

A few weeks ago, I shared with you that, although I’ve done a lot of repair and basic updating to the front porch area, I haven’t really taken things to the next level in terms of style. Don’t get me wrong; it’s a far cry from where things began:

humble beginnings - front porch circa 2012

But with more of the house in later renovation stages and my increasing desire to entertain after years of repair, it’s time to really put some oomph into the entry! Most recently, I began this process with two new planters and some seasonal color. As I finished up, it occurred to me that I should pass on a few of these tips to you guys!

6 Tips for Better Results from Porch and Patio Plants

1. Know thyself… and thy porch

It’s taken me years to get the hang of gardening and landscaping around the house. In that time, I’ve learned the kind of light/water/general care the area is going to get. Knowing your general regional climate as well as the answers to a few key questions will help make sure plants stay healthy:

  • what kind of sunlight does the area get naturally? is it direct or indirect?
  • will the spot be exposed directly to the weather or stay dry even when it rains?
  • will it need to be moved around regularly?
  • realistically, what kind of plant maintenance habit can you tolerate?
southern living plant collection mountain snow pieris - great for shade containers

Considering that a covered porch is shaded most of the day, any light it gets is generally indirect. As far as watering, the rain won’t reach this area, so I would have to do most of the watering myself (which also means a plant would need to be tolerant of my limited upkeep).

I’ve found that as well-intentioned as I might be, it’s best to ignore my impulse to buy a plant just because it’s beautiful. No amount of beauty in a plant has ever caused me to put in more effort in the garden, so I’ve learned to seek out plants that suit my needs and my house’s most natural conditions rather than tell myself that I’ll change my ways. Phrases like “full shade”, “partial shade”, and “drought/heat tolerant” are factors for success. Don’t buy the plant that needs watering every day if you barely have time to shower. Resist the urge to buy a plant and get overly ambitious with your normal habits for care; it’s a recipe for a brown, dead plant!

It’s also important to know your hardiness zone so you pick plants that can tolerate the typical humidity and temperatures in your area. Most plants that you pick up from a landscape supply selection are already well-matched to your region, but if you are unfamiliar with USDA hardiness zones, you can learn about them here.

What plants are best for shaded porches and patios?

Different climates call for different plants, but these are mostly considered low-maintenance if you fall within the hardiness zone, so it’s a good place to start with potted plants:

  • Sansevieria (snake plant)
  • Kalanchoe
  • Sedum, aloe, hens-and-chicks, and other shade-tolerant succulents
  • Hosta
  • Lamium (deadnettle)
  • Begonias
  • Ferns
  • Cypress
  • Hellebore
  • Astilbe
  • Fuscias
  • Sweet potato vine
  • Hydrangeas (but these might need more moisture)
  • Loropetalum (I love the deep purple color of these leaves and the way they trail)
  • Lungwort
  • Fats
  • Creeping Jenny
  • Heucheras
  • Boxwood
  • Musk geranium
  • Coleus
  • Caladium

2. Height, texture, color

There is another rule like this you may have heard: thriller, filler, spiller. Basically, you want to pick plants that have some variety for visual interest. And a good rule of thumb is to pick a grouping with three separate purposes:

  • a showy upright plant (aka thriller)
  • full plants that fill the container by spreading or growing in clusters
  • and trailing plants that spread and spill over the lip of the container.

Some plants may accomplish 2 of the 3 at once, but it’s always a solid plan to add a selection that adds height, fullness, and texture. I decided not to go with a “spiller” for this season, but I still kept the variety a priority. One larger evergreen shrub toward the back of the container is used to add height (and will grow taller over time). Another set of perennials added texture and silvery green leaves (the hosta), and a third was chosen for bright accent color with orange-red blooms. The colorful impatiens will eventually need to be replaced (these are annuals) but are an inexpensive filler option. At a later point I might replace them with a more cascading plant with green foliage like Creeping Jenny.

new planters on front porch

3. How to use less soil and lighten up potted plants

You may have noticed the empty plastic water bottles in the above photo; that’s actually the planter’s little secret! A few years ago, I discovered this trick for using less soil per pot. It also keeps the potted plant lighter, so I can move them around when the situation calls for it. Just throw several empty bottles into the bottom of the container, and cover the top area with newspaper. Then, plant as usual.

layer in newspaper and soil
fill container with plastic bottles, newspaper layer, then soil

4. Tilt plants toward the lip to look fuller

When I first began planting containers, I thought everything had to be planted straight up and down. It wasn’t until I spoke with a gardener a few years ago that I realized that you can manipulate it a little. Tilt the plant slightly when planting so that they root at an angle, toward the edge of the planter. This is especially effective with “spiller” type plants that fall over and down the container, but I did it here with the impatiens to make the color pop a little more and make the planter look fuller.

rule of 3 for fillign in container

5. Water regularly until established

Moving day is pretty much stressful for all living creatures, it seems; keep in mind that new plants tend to need more water upkeep until they have been around for a little while.

new porch planters

6. Easy does it

I’ve found that if I can keep my impatience in check, the better it is for my gardens. Adding slowly and thoughtfully, rather than planting too ambitiously too fast, leads to a garden style I’m much happier with.

I always get so impatient during the first year with new plants, thinking that I went too small or that I need to add more. Instead, a simple care plan for this first year is better than adding too much; it risks killing everything from having too much upkeep. The main shrub in each of these containers will grow between 3-4 feet, so while the plants needed a little something extra this year, they probably won’t need to be filled in much in the future.

containers for front porch
closeup of impatiens and front porch planters

Regardless, it’s nice to come home to some bright new color!

diy tricks for covered porch planters - ugly duckling house
shaded container garden on covered porch - ugly duckling house
covered porch container garden - shade loving plants and easy care tips - how to and video tutorial

Want more outdoor DIY ideas? You’re in luck!

outdoor DIY challenge button #remodelaholic

There’s also a video playlist you can catch right here too! Have a great weekend, friends!

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  1. I used the plastic bottle trick and learned the hard way that you had better have drainage holes in the bottom of that pot. Otherwise, if they get too much water, those bottles will float to the top and push out your plants. Same with the Styrofoam packing peanuts.

    1. Yes, drainage holes are super important! I’ve had that happen before too with some uncovered ones. The rainwater collected and flooded out the bottom. I don’t think I put that in the post, so I’ll update that so it’s more clear. Thanks for the reminder!

    1. Picked ’em up at Walmart! I tried finding a direct link but they might have been an early spring thing. Similar ones though (on Amazon) are here.

  2. Thanks for explaining the tilting trick! I’ve seen some people do this, but didn’t think there was rhyme or reason to it.

    I have a covered porch, too, and am pretty terrible on my covered plants in terms of continuing to remember to water them after the post-potting, honeymoon period. I’ve been thinking about a really scaled down rain barrel concept – having a medium sized, hidden container that is off to the side under the sky, collecting water (or that I can fill with the hose in a drought), and connecting that to a low drip system that snakes surreptitiously around my pots.

    I’m in DC which has really humid summers, so this year, I’ve potted up 1-2 carnivorous plants in birdcages to keep near the doors and grab up as many mosquitos as they can — at least to keep them from ambushing when I go out. Some cute pitcher plants and sundews. The temperate pitcher plants are native to the Southeast – maybe they’ll thrive in your area!