Eight Colorful Spring Annuals for Container Gardening

Eight Colorful Spring Annuals for Container Gardening Featured Image
Nothing beats big pots of violas and pansies in spring.
Click Here button for Nursery Ready Plant List

When spring is in the air gardeners want to get planting, and there’s nothing like the fast burst of color that spring annuals bring to containers. They boost bulb plantings and spring-flowering shrubs with an extra pop of pizazz. Place them on a porch, patio, or beside your front door to enliven your senses and home’s curb appeal.

As spring container gardening becomes more popular, the variety of pretty flowers for the job grows. Here are eight of the best that thrive in the cool weather of the spring season. Some are old favorites and some are newer types worth trying. Those that can tolerate light frosts are noted. All prefer full to partial sunlight. Plant them in pots of fresh Fafard® Ultra Container Mix with Extended Feed, which feeds plants for up to 6 months, for best performance.

Pot Marigold

Calendula flowers
Calendula flowers look somewhat like marigolds, but these annuals grow best in cooler weather.

Old-fashioned pot marigolds (Calendula officinalis) look a bit like traditional marigolds with their single and double daisies of orange or gold, but unlike classic marigolds, they like cool weather. These flowers are easily started from seed in spring. Plant them indoors (click here to learn how), or simply sprinkle some seeds into an outdoor pot filled with quality potting mix, like Fafard Professional Potting Mix, cover them lightly, keep them moist, and watch them sprout and grow to blooming-size in a flash. The brilliant orange, double-flowered ‘Neon’ is a fun choice that reaches 2 feet, and the shorter Kablouna Lemon has frilled, bright yellow flowers.


Twinspur 'Apricot Queen'
Twinspur ‘Apricot Queen’ has the softest apricot pink flowers.

Commonly called twinspur (Diascia hybrids), this easy annual enjoys cool, spring weather and becomes covered with colorful spurred flowers. The blooms attract bees and hummingbirds and come in shades of pink, apricot, salmon, and rose. The variety My Darling Berry is particularly high performing and has berry-pink blooms and a bushy, low-growing habit that reaches one foot. The delicate ‘Apricot Queen’ has a more trailing habit and soft, apricot-pink blooms. Twinspur is somewhat frost-hardy.

Trailing Lobelia

Trailing lobelias with pansies
Trailing lobelias mix well with pansies.

Trailing lobelia (Lobelia erinus) is a classic, heavy flowering annual that thrives in cooler temperatures. The blooms are small and numerous and come in various shades of violet-blue, purple, rose, and white. It does not favor frost, so plant it in mid-spring when the threat has passed. Plant it along container edges to make the most of its cascading habit. The varieties in the Laguna® series, such as the deepest blue-flowered Laguna® Dark Blue, are very high performing. They can continue flowering into summer with good care but must be watered regularly and protected from the full, hot sun.


Sunsatia® Aromance™ Pink (Image thanks to Proven Winners)
Sunsatia® Aromance Pink is an award-winning nemesia from Proven Winners. (Image thanks to Proven Winners)

Nemesias (Nemesia hybrids) are fragrant, big bloomers with low, somewhat trailing habits. They come in a riot of brilliant colors, such as bright orange, pink, red, yellow, and white, that really light up containers. They tend to favor the cooler growing conditions of spring or fall, but those in Proven Winner’s Sunsatia® series can tough it out through summer if protected from the hot afternoon sun and planted in a well-drained mix and given plenty of water. The orange and red Sunsatia® Blood Orange is a real standout as is the award-winning Sunsatia® Aromance Pink, which has delicately colored blooms of mauve-pink, white, and yellow.

African Daisy

African daisy hybrid

African daisy hybrids (Osteospermum hybrids) are derived from species that originate from the South African Cape, where weather conditions are mild and comparable to those in the Mediterranean. The plants bloom nonstop in spring and will continue into summer with good care. For a sunny show, add the 14-inch Lemon Symphony to a spring pot. Its large daisies are lemon yellow with a ring of purple around the eye. Lovers of pink should go for the 12-inch-tall Bright Lights™ Berry Rose, which has large daisies of the brightest pink. Plant African daisies after frosts have passed.

Sweet Alyssum

Easter Bonnet sweet alyssum
A simple pot of low-growing Easter Bonnet sweet alyssum is a very pretty thing.

Wonderful fragrance and nonstop flowers are the high points of sweet alyssum (Lobularia maritima), which thrives in both cool weather and hot. It becomes covered with clusters of tiny, four-petaled flowers of white, purple, or pink that just keep going. It is sold at any garden center in spring, generally in inexpensive four or six packs. Spring classics include the low, spreaders in the Easter Bonnet series, which may have purple, pink, or white flowers. Sweet alyssum is tolerant of light frost and mixes well with just about any container combo.


Double-flowered stocks
Double-flowered stocks smell wonderful and love the cool of spring.

Classic stocks (Matthiola incana) are made for spring. The powerfully sweet fragrance of their pink, red, purple, white, or yellow flowers make them perfect for door-side pots. The plants thrive in cool weather and can even tolerate some frost, so they can be planted early. Look for these at your favorite garden center. Double-flowered forms are showiest. Once the summer heat hits, stocks tend to fade, but they can be planted again in fall.

Viola and Pansy

Planted pansies
Plant pansies in the same color groups for beautiful, easy compositions.

Pansies and violas (Viola hybrids) are everyone’s favorite spring annuals for containers and garden edges. They are very tolerant of frosts and bloom endlessly in cool weather with their funny whiskered, flat-faced flowers. Those with the biggest show are smaller-flowered forms, like the violas in the Sorbet series. They produce loads and loads of smaller flowers in many pastel colors that really produce up until early summer. Lovers of large-flowered pansies should look for packs of vigorous Delta pansies with many buds and bushy growth. Pull them once they begin to die back and plant them again in fall containers.

Mix and match these flowers in your front pots for personal enjoyment and to wow your neighbors. They’re the best way to reign in spring.

Easy Spring Container Gardening

Simple pots of colorful annuals
Simple pots of colorful annuals can be placed in the spring garden to add color and interest.

Bountiful spring containers are a joyous way to reign in the new season. Nothing welcomes spring better than exquisitely orchestrated collections of potted flowers. The key is choosing suites of plants and pots that are seasonal and complimentary—whether the compositions are simple or flamboyant.

Some gardeners take their spring container gardening very seriously—planting up bulb and perennial pots in fall for spring show. But, this practice can be problematic, if gardeners don’t take care.  Tulip bulbs in pots are highly vulnerable to rodent attack, and some bulbs or perennials may not survive hard winters or can heave in pots. Both potential problems call for protective pot covers and storage of containers in protected spots in a cold garage or in a protected spot beside the house. Or pre-planting can be bypassed entirely. As more and more potted bulbs are offered at spring planting time, fall container prep is no longer a prerequisite.

Early season perennials, including Dicentra spectabilis ‘Gold Heart’ (center)
Early season perennials, like Dicentra spectabilis ‘Gold Heart’ (center), can add a lot of interest to spring pots.

Choosing Containers

When designing spring container plantings, start by choosing the pots. Pretty glazed pots in subdued earthy or mossy tones create a pleasing base for brightly colored flowers. Pots of different complimentary shapes and sizes look the nicest when arranged in groups. For symmetrical groupings choose an even number of pots, and for asymmetrical groupings choose an odd number. Once pots are chosen, artfully place them together, considering height and shape.

Choosing Container Mix

Next, choose your container mix. Fafard Ultra Container Mix or Fafard Ultra Potting Mix with Extended Feed are great choices for potted outdoor plantings. Not only does it feed plants for up to six months, but it contains moisture-holding crystals that reduce the need to water as often.

Choosing Container Plants

Finally, establish your color pallet and choose your plants—considering height and texture as well as bloom time. More often than not, bright, gregarious colors are what people like to plant in spring (enough with dreary subdued landscapes), but pastels are also popular. Cheerful combinations of yellow, orange, red, pink and blue flowers make spring container gardens pop.
Past plant combinations that have worked well for me include mixes of hardworking annuals, such as pansies, violas, stocks, trailing lobelia and twinspur (Diascia spp.), in addition to choice perennials like colorful golden bleeding heart (Dicentra spectabilis ‘Gold Heart’), Heuchera, and any bulbs that I can get my hands on. Less common perennials, like Tradescantia ‘Sweet Kate’ or trailing bellflower (Campanula poscharskyana), also add polish and oomph to containers. Even miniature roses can be added for color and flair.

Variegated tulip leaves mingle beautifully with pretty Sorbet violas
Variegated tulip leaves mingle beautifully with pretty Sorbet violas.

Planting Containers

Before planting up my containers, I fill the pots ¾ full with potting mix to allow space to arrange my planting before bedding them in. This step is essential to visually balance the plantings and can make the difference between your plantings looking like a hodgepodge or a well-planned container garden. Cascading plants always look best along the edge of the pot while upright plants should be centered. During this process I also consider how different potted plantings will complement one another. Once my design is set, it’s time to start planting.
When transplanting bulbs, be sure to move them without allowing the rootball to lose its shape; then firmly press the soil down around the roots to keep the foliage and flowers tidy and upright. Perennials and annuals are often “pot bound”, meaning their roots have become densely intertwined. Before planting, gently tease apart tightly bound roots a bit to loosen them. Then, sprinkle the pots with a little slow-release fertilizer. Finally, irrigate the pots until the water flows out of the drainage holes.
It’s a joy to watch spring container creations fill in and burst forth. Once bulb flowers are spent, be sure to cut the old stems back to keep pots looking clean and pretty. Then as summer approaches, move out the flagging cool-season plants and replace them with vibrant warm-season ornamentals that will shine until fall.