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Did you know that some plants are big time troublemakers in the garden (invasive, prolific spreaders, aggressive) but they are amazing STARS in patio pots and container gardens?

This page will talk about which troublemaker garden plants you may use in container gardens, turning “Troublemakers into Stars.”

It starts with this plant, and more will be added, so pop in to learn more!  And to see more images of the photos referenced below, visit my Pinboard called “Trouble Makers Turned Star Plants.”

Two pots, one on a table behind the other

Two pots, one on a table behind the other

Petasites japonicus (butterbur)

Because I just stored this plant for its winter rest, I will start with Petasites japonicus (butterbur) as a “Troublemaker turned Star” plant.

Its key feature: HUGE ruffled green leaves reaching 32″ wide.  It prefers shade, and can be used in water gardening because it likes moisture – lots of it. In fact, in a container garden, I give it a nice long watering to soak the soil well each time I water it, which is daily in summer.

Why it’s a star:  Because of its huge leaves.  I like lush foliage, so this one is a keeper.  And because you can overwinter it very easily in a big container garden or patio pot just by moving it into a sheltered location.  My storage location for this plant growing in large patio pots is my little shed. I’ve been moving two pots with Petasites in it for 3 or so years now.  I cut back all the foliage after it gets hit by a light frost in autumn, and then roll it with my hand truck to the shed. In spring, roll it back out, position it somewhere to show the big leaves off, and that makes it a star.

Why it’s a troublemaker:  This plant has rhizomes at the base, and they grow rapidly via a spreading habit.  In the garden, they would easily take over an area and invade.  They can be a problem to remove.  In fact, in a container garden, sometimes the roots will creep up to the top of the pot.  They are ambitious.

Moved into the shed for winter after a haircut

Moved into the shed for winter after a haircut

Caution:  If you decide to use this plant in a container garden, be aware when it flowers, the seeds can self-sow in the garden.  But I keep mine raised above the ground on an elevated deck, so this has not been an issue.

To see more about what I wrote about Petasites japonicus, click HERE.  It is a blog posting I wrote a couple years back with more photos of the plant’s flowers, root structure, and habit.

Have you used this plant in your gardens?  Let me know.

I would love to hear how it did and if it did or did not cause you any problems.

Detailed information about the plant and characteristics can be located HERE at the Missouri Botanical Garden website.

Mentha (mint)

Don’t you just love the scent and taste of fresh mint?  I know I do! Just touching mint in a garden will release a scent powerful enough to entice you to take a bite or snip a piece for your recipes.  And it is very easy to grow, but it has quick moving underground runners that will over”run” your garden.

Image courtesy of

Image courtesy of

However, in a container garden or patio pot, mint plants are STARS.

Mint plants make excellent ‘spillers‘ (a plant cascading over the edge of a pot) because many mint plants are trailing types or have spreading habits.

To have mint at your finger tips in a container garden on your patio or by your kitchen provides an easy and convenient fresh ingredient or garnish to add to your finest mint julep or desserts.

Photo courtesy of

Photo courtesy of

Its key feature: Edible, easy to grow, scented, and trailing or spreading (spiller) that looks great in container gardens with other plants.

Also mint plants are easy to tuck into the edges of container combinations with other plants or herbs.  They can be used in teas, cocktails, recipes, salads, desserts, and more. They add pleasant fragrance to your surroundings.

Image courtesy of

Image courtesy of

Why it’s a star: In a container garden, as noted above, mint plants are great as spillers. And they fill in quickly in your pot. A plant will last all the way into fall, where you can take more cuttings and dry them to use as an herb during the winter months.  Plus, often in a container garden, the perennial mint plant will return the following season, if the container is moved to a protected location, such as a garage or shed – so mint is a ‘repeat’ performer. If you want a long, trailing plant in a container garden with smaller leaves to cascade like a waterfall – mints are the stars to do so.

Why it’s a troublemaker:  In the garden, it spreads and is difficult, if not impossible, to remove later.  I used mint in one of my first gardens, a garden which has been mowed down. Every time we mow the lawn there, I can still smell the mint left behind from the rhizomatous roots still laying below and trying to recover from the repeated mowing.  I like the smell, but don’t ever want mint in my garden again to roam freely, unless it is contained – as in a container garden or patio pot.

Mint Recipes

Do you use mint in your recipes?  Here are some excellent recipes from Connecticut Bloggers to give a try.  My favorite on this list (second link down), is the mint chocolate chip ice cream (yumm) by Local Food Rocks, but gosh they are all wonderful.

Liriope (lily turf)

Liriope muscari and Liriope spicata are perennials with long, strap or grass like leaves with violet, white or pink flowers blooming in late summer depending on the species selected.  Some varieties offer variegated forms, and this plant can be a handy ground cover in the garden or landscape.

Why it’s a troublemaker:  In the garden or in a landscape bed, however, they spread. Sometimes they spread a lot, sometimes a little or gradually, and some don’t spread as much as others, but if you don’t want a plant to move, it can be a troublemaker in the garden because you will see babies pop up next to the mother plant – as it spreads around or near it.

Why it’s a star: I have found this perennial to be an amazing filler (a plant filling in a composition in a container garden with other plants) or even a smaller sized thriller (a tall plant elevating a design in a container or patio pot).  And it returns!  Even when the pot or container is left outside over the winter, the plant will regrow in the pot to repeat its performance.  It is a tough plant, often not getting many insect problems either.  It can be an overlooked star for container gardens if one does not know of its benefits. To see one, click HERE, grown by a Connecticut nursery called Sunny Border Nurseries.

Wisteria Cathy TestaWisteria (wisteria vine)

Look up wisteria on the web, and you won’t find trouble locating some warnings about this plant in regards to its maintenance requirements.  It is well known how rampant it can become in the garden.  Yet, its showy and dangling flowers, clustered in groupings like dangling grapes, can be irresistible.

Why it’s a troublemaker: Wisterias are vigorous and move quickly. They can reach 20-30′ in height and the spread or width of at least half the height in one season.  The plant climbs like a monkey, as it searches for places to twine around, and it will twine around whatever it finds on its spiral journey. It can be tough to control in the garden or ground by a house.

Managing them is a bear. You have to prune, sometimes twice or more a year, and they need a “strong” support structure to grow on to because they gets so long, and the stems become woody (heavy) as it increases in diameter.  A good reading about the care for wisteria can be found HERE.

Photo Source: Wikipedia/author 3268Zauber

Photo Source: Wikipedia/author 3268Zauber

Why it’s a star: So why not use them as a star in your container gardens? One cultivar said to be a little less aggressive is Wisteria frutescens ‘Amethyst Falls’ with teardrop flower clusters blooming in May and re-blooming in September.  I grew this cultivar last summer and it was fun to put the vine up and around my outdoor furniture, great to create a living wall separator or partition to create a new space.

Place it in a container garden, add a decorative small trellis and watch it rise around your patio furniture quickly.  You can direct the vine in the container or patio pot to create a certain look, arbor element, or as I said, a green wall.  Then when the season is over, cut it back and store the container garden in a sheltered location.  It will return and can be reused again the following season.  As a star in your container garden, you reduce (if not eliminate) the chore of maintenance for wisteria, and can enjoy it every season.

Chasmanthium (Northern Sea Oats)

Northern Sea Oats is an ornamental grass suited for zones 3 through 8, and it has some nice qualities such as showy seed heads (spikelets), and deer resistance.  Like most ornamental grasses, deer won’t eat them, so it can be a solution in gardens where deer are known to dine.

It is also a great native grass with an upright growth, reaching about 3 feet tall.  The texture and pattern of the spikelets (the basic unit of a grass flower, consisting of two glumes or outer bracts at the base and one or more florets above – per Google’s online definition) is unique and interesting.  They drupe downward from arching foliage tips resembling wheat seed heads. They mature to a rusty brown color by fall, and this can be a pretty sight up to early winter because it creates some interest.

Why it’s a troublemaker:  In the garden, Northern Sea Oats grass will spread and can self-sow.  It may not be noticeable at first. After the first year of planting one, you may not see any spreading – but just wait.  In a couple seasons, you will see baby Chasmanthiums here and there near where you put it.  They are not too difficult to pull out but can be a little nuisance.  So not a “big time troublemaker” but enough to make you reconsider it in the garden next time.

Photo by ISU Extension News Release

Photo by ISU Extension News Release

Why it’s a star:  In a container garden, this grass serves as a very tall thriller plant with some textural softness to its foliage, and a bit coarse-ness with the seed heads (looking like jewels) hanging from the top.  The coloring of the spikelets, a rusty light brown or bronze, intensifies later in the season.  The foliage looks like skinny bamboo, so it is tough enough to hold up the arching tips.  It has a wispy feel and looks great with other plants in a container garden in full sun to part sun or part shade locations.  In the fall, this can be a nice show piece with other fall blooming perennials or seasonal plants in a container garden, such orange or yellow mums, ornamental cabbage, and maybe even a small pumpkin for decor.  Using warm toned plants with Northern Sea Oats for a fall container garden show provides a nice look.  The plant also moves gently in the wind which is a nice touch when you have the container gardens nearby.

Hedera helix (English Ivy)

Photo Source: Wikipedia/author Klimopblad

Photo Source: Wikipedia/author Klimopblad

This evergreen vine can climb up to 90′ as it clings onto structures using its roots which extend at various nodes.  It serves as a useful ground cover for shady areas and can look lovely climbing up the side of a house or fence, but if you let it take over, you may regret planting it in your landscape.

Why it’s a troublemaker: It will keep spreading as it covers ground or walls in no time. Also, the stem on mature plantings of English Ivy becomes thick and woody.  If you leave a patch of English Ivy growing up a wall, you will see how the stem at the base of the plant can become thick enough to require heavy duty loppers to cut it. Using this plant in your landscape should come with a word of caution because it you leave it unattended for a number of years, you will find it to be a very large job to clean up later when you decide to tear it out.  Yet, in container gardens, it provides elegance as a spiller or when used as a topiary.

Why it’s a star: In a container garden or patio pot, Hedera helix (English Ivy) makes a stunning foliage spiller (a plant cascading or trailing over the edge of a pot’s rim, growing downward) or it can be trailed onto a topiary structure in a pot to create an elegant element as a thriller in the center of a pot. And the other bonus is the plant is hardy and stays green throughout winter.  The leaf color is a dark green but the plant does also comes in variegated forms.  You can also take clippings of English Ivy in the winter to incorporate into your evergreen creations for the holidays. And, did you know that English Ivy has a leaf shape which changes from a juvenile stage (shown in photo to the left) to an adult stage?  The adult shape isn’t something you may notice at first.  Its leaves has no lobes.

Image source: Wikipedia/Moriori

Image source: Wikipedia/Moriori

Yucca filamentosa (yucca or Adam’s needle)

Yucca plants have some benefits.  They are drought tolerant, deer-resistant, low-maintenance, and provide a strong architectural statement when placed in the right spot.  They are also useful in situations where nothing else will grow (roadsides, parking lot island beds, commercial planting sites).

However, if you have ever grown yucca in a garden and tried to move it or dig it out later, you will surely discover it grows a very long and large tap root which is nearly impossible to dig out, or requires the help of power equipment or strong muscles.

Why it’s a troublemaker:  The tap root is extremely difficult to dig out.  It grows very deep and widens in the ground, and you will find it to be a monster job to get rid of it.  And even if you are successful, it may still come back the following year.  In the garden, this plant can take poor soil conditions and lack of watering, but it is a toughie to move or relocate once firmly established in the ground.

Why it’s a star:  In a container garden, this plant provides a bold statement with its coarse, wide, and strong leaves which are sword-like. It is a bold thriller type plant to use in containers and can be planted solo to provide exceptional drama. Think of a yucca rising up in an urn or in a very tall pot.  Or placed at the entrance of a garden or at the steps, using a twin pair on each side of a garden entrance in matching pots, to serve as a marker of sorts in your garden, indicating enter here. Yucca plants are not for wienie gardeners because they are rather courageous looking.  But they do flower in early summer on stems rising from the center of the plant.  If you leave the flowers to go to seed, you will find hard long capsules which can be harvested later to use in fall decorations.  So there’s a little added bonus.

IMG_8164Bamboo (running and clump-forming)

Bamboo will bamboozle you faster than you can imagine, especially the running types.  There are many running types producing long rhizomes (underground stems below the soil that move super fast and at long distances) and clump-forming types (grows in clumps considered to be less invasive but still moves slowly over time).

But either type to me spells big time trouble when you plant bamboo in the ground.  Be aware, be cautious, and no matter what the label or nursery person tells you, do some of your own research first before planting bamboo to make sure it is not the invasive type, or otherwise you will risk a potential fine or at a minimum, very angry neighbors and problems with your own home’s worth.

Why it’s a troublemaker:  I’ve seen bamboo crack concrete foundations and invade whole neighborhoods with its roots.  In fact, did you know that you could be fined a “$100 a day” for planting a particular type of running bamboo?  It was reported in August 2013 by, click HERE to see the report.  At least for residences in the area where this story was featured, it has become a law to not plant a running type by the Genus name of Phyllostachys.

And you can see why when you notice the reporter standing by a large grouping of bamboo along someone’s driveway.  If you plant it, and it happens to be the type that destroys property, you could be liable or have very annoyed neighbors at a minimum, and that is no fun.  It won’t stay in place and will cover a larger area fast, you can’t control it like you can with other plants that spread. It is pretty tough and determined, will little manners.

Resources will tell you to plant bamboo in a physical barrier at specified depths in the soil or ground to prevent concerns of escape, however, to be safe, just plant it in a solid and strong container garden or patio pot where the roots will not be in contact with the soil below if you set it on the ground. You don’t want to give bamboo roots the potential to creep beyond its confines even when grown in a patio pot or container garden where it may be safer.

Why it’s a star: Bamboo makes a tall, exotic looking barrier or wall on your patio or deck, and can be used in groups of containers to make a private nook on your deck. Ever notice Bamboo is often used in restaurants to create a screen or separation?  Because it requires little care and makes an exotic statement, it is very useful in containers as decor.  It is a low-maintenance plant if you don’t let it get away to roam freely.  It doesn’t get many insect or disease problems either.  Put it by a water feature in a container pot near a Japanese garden area, or as an tall thriller element in your outdoor spaces.  Bamboo is a long lasting plant with no staking required because it is so strong. It has a certain ambiance and is unexpected, and the tall varieties are stunning.  Plus it moves gently in the wind.  So it has attributes in container gardens.

Here’s more information by the Missouri Botanical Gardens on controlling bamboo should you tempt it in the ground.  Don’t say I didn’t warn ya.

Ajuga reptans

Image: Wikipedia/EnLorax

Ajuga reptans (bugleweed)

My love affair with Ajuga reptans started many years ago.  It is a perennial with shiny dark green leaves, a low growing habit, and beautiful purple whorls of flowers rising just above the foliage in May through June.  When a mass is blooming, it is a purple feast for the eyes.  The foliage is particularly shiny and new looking, fresh, and many cultivars sport variegated foliage patterns as well.  There’s one that has pink in the foliage which is very lovely when combined with other plants in container gardens or patio pots of similar coloring.

At first, I didn’t realize this plant, useful as a groundcover in the landscape, can escape and spread via stolons. But in a container garden, it makes an excellent filler, and even a slow growing spiller that will just creep slightly over the edge of a pot.  There is one I used one year, called Ajuga reptans ‘Chocolate Chip’, in a single small pot.  It has itty-bitty foliage with some dark tones in the leaves resembling a dark brown of chocolage.  It created a cushion effect as it filled the pot and the look was adorable. There are varieties with much larger foliage sizes, so like clothing, its foliage comes in various sizes to suit your needs.

Why it’s a troublemaker:  I wouldn’t classify Ajuga reptans as a big time troublemaker, because it is not super aggressive, but what happens is it can spread into your lawn if it is planted somewhere without a border or edge in the ground.  I’ve seen it at clients’ homes where it pops up here and there in patches a short or long distance from the original planting.  The plant has stolons which are horizontal stems (or runners) that creep underground and takes its roots a distance from the mother plant, so you don’t see the spread above ground.  It pops up a distance away. It is discouraging for the homeowner because they may have a tapestry of Ajuga in their yard which wasn’t their intention.  So while it is a wonderful groundcover candidate for part sun, part shade, and even full shade situations, and has a beautiful late spring show of purple, it has the potential to create a lawn maintenance problem.  If you are a lawn lover, you don’t want this plant near your grass.

Why it’s a star:  For some reason, I really like foliage with a new appearance, as if it was untouched by damage and just born – and Ajuga is like that.  Plus it can take part shade so for container gardens in the shade, it works well as a filler plant with other shade candidate plants.  As I mentioned above, the variegated forms (leaves with streaks or edges of another color, like white or pink, with the green in the leaf) is really pretty and can be echoed by using other plants or flowers in the design in the container garden to show this off.  The growth of this plant is dense in the container so it fills in nicely without overpowering your other plants in the same pot.  And by the way, this plant is part of the Lamiaceae family – the same family as mint (see above) and Monarda (next to be listed).  They have square stems, so when you see a plant with square shaped stems, ask yourself, could this be a troublemaker in the garden?  It is worth knowing a bit of background before you plant it.  Easter container garden arrangements with Ajuga are lovely with other spring blooming plants with softer color tones such as yellow, pink, soft blues, etc. (think Daffodils, Hyacinth as examples).  One last thought – this plant is long-lasting in your containers too, the foliage looks great all the way into mid-to-late fall.  And when you take apart your containers at the end of the season, transplant it to your garden – if and only if you don’t care if it creeps up somewhere else later – or if the garden has a solid border, like a rock wall.

IMG_8433Monarda (bee balm)

The next troublemaker on the list.  Ironically, it is in the same family, Lamiaceae, as mint and Ajuga, noted above. This family must have a reputation!

Ok, so lets face it – Monarda is BEAUTIFUL, a tall perennial with showy tubular shaped flowers rising high and being enjoyed by hummingbirds and gardeners.  I love Monarda.  And I think people overlook its usefulness in container gardens as a tall thriller, blooming practically all summer.  When used in a container garden situated near you on your deck, patio, or outdoor sitting area, it is a treat when you witness a hummingbird coming back to drink nectar from the blooms.  When used in the garden, you miss seeing them or hearing them, but in containers they are right there, near you.

Why it’s a troublemaker: Well, for starters, Monarda tends to get powdery mildew which is unsightly.  A white cloudy looking covering appears on the surfaces of the leaves and sometimes on the stems.  No fault by the plant, it usually occurs when there is a lack of air circulation around the plantings.  And like other plants (it seems) in the Lamiaceae family, Monarda has the potential to spread in the garden to take over more space.  You may find this to be a nuisance if you want a controlled garden or don’t mind tearing out batches in unwanted areas. But in gardens with a goal for naturalization, it is beautiful and worth planting.  It grows well in full sun locations which is nice with other sun loving plants, but again, this one spreads by two ways – via rhizomes and self-seeding.

Why it’s a star:  In a container garden, it is a very tall thriller with blooms almost all summer, and as mentioned, there’s nothing like having them near you when a hummingbird shoots by to visit the plant’s flowers.  Because Monarda has so many cultivars, you can have pink, red, or even purple blooms to use in your composition with other plants.  Tier the heights of the other plant candidates in your large container garden or patio pot, and use colors to capitalize on the blooms of Monarda, and you have a winner design – plus it is unexpected.  People are often surprised when they see a perennial in a container garden with other annuals or even vegetable plants. They don’t often consider how amazing a perennial can be in a pot.  In my sub-menu, called “Color Wheel My World,” I will be sharing recommended color combinations to help you visualize this description about Monarda with other plants.

Check back in for more – every day, plants will be added to this list.

pinterest-logo-21To see more photos of the plants referenced above, visit my Pinterest board called:

Pinboard “Trouble Makers Turned Star Plants


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