10 Varieties of Plants for Shallow Pots

The right pot makes all the difference in the health and vitality of your plants. A pot that’s too small will restrict root growth and the plant’s ability to absorb moisture and nutrients.

Too large and these vital elements will flow straight to the bottom of the pot, without the roots ever having a chance to benefit from them.

When choosing plants for shallow pots, troughs, window boxes, or containers, look for ones that have shallow root systems. These plants thrive and readily absorb moisture and nutrients in relatively confined spaces. Keep reading to see some fantastic options.

Types of Shallow Pot Plants

Surprisingly, shallow root systems don’t mean small or underperforming plants. Many, including outdoor specimens, enjoy a snug pot. Yet, still exhibit dynamic growth, variegation, and flowering. 

Vining Types

Nasturtiums and Clematis beautifully spread across trellises nestled in shallow pots. Pothos and Philodendrons do the same, indoors. 

Upright Plants

Azaleas and Heucheras do well in full sun and shallow, shaded pots, respectively. Indoors, Snake plants and Monsteras make excellent compact pot plants.

Flowering or Fruiting

Rhododendrons and fruiting plants, like strawberries, thrive in short pots. As do indoor African violets and orchids.

Perfect Plants for Shallow Pots

Each of these plant options has small root systems and is celebrated for thriving in shallow pots and ground soil. Making them perfect choices for small patios and apartment balconies.

Herbs

1. Herbs

Parsley, sage, thyme, marjoram, and oregano have shallow roots that thrive in compact pots.

In a full-sun location, sheltered from the wind and heavy rain, herbs are easy to grow and are typically less troubled by pests than other plants. 

Most herbs are safe to cultivate around pets. However, Marjoram may cause severe intestinal issues.

Native to Mediterranean climates, kitchen herbs develop robust roots and delicious foliage while being tolerant of less-than-desirable soil.

Although, a nitrogen-rich fertilizer is needed to support leaf development, as well as frequent watering and pots with adequate drainage.

Leafy Greens

2. Leafy Greens

Nutritious, leafy greens like Swiss chard, kale, arugula, baby bok choy, and various lettuces will also do well as shallow pot plants. Requiring just 8” of depth for healthy root development.

With at least 6 hours of full sun, leafy greens are simple to grow on a sunny windowsill, small patio, or balcony. Yet, if allowed to dry out, or exposed to extreme heat, these will go to seed too early and cease to grow.

Like herbs, leafy greens require consistent access to nitrogen and water to accommodate their smaller growing environment.

Pansies

3. Pansies

These are perfect for shallow pots, as roots stay just below the surface and don’t mind sitting snug with companion plants.

However, 6” spacing will encourage vigorous growth, as well as sufficient moisture and nutrient absorption. While fairly tolerant of poor soil, full sunlight is preferred.

Unfortunately, these dainty leaves and colorful blooms are attractive to slugs. Placing pots up off the ground will help to prevent attacks.

Pansy roots need quality airflow and drainage and grow best in terra cotta or clay pots. These popular annuals can be started indoors but must be moved outside when weather permits. 

Petunias

4. Petunias

This annual favorite is a prolific bloomer when offered 6-8 hours of sunlight, per day. Petunias are fairly tolerant of hot, dry, mid-summer weather, too. But, they are heavy feeders. A well-balanced, liquid fertilizer, when applied as recommended, will keep them thriving.

Native to warm climates with low humidity, petunias prefer to dry out a bit between thorough waterings. Adequate drainage and loamy potting soil will ensure sufficient moisture absorption without risking root rot.

Shallow pots filled with these multi-colored, trumpet flowers and herbaceous foliage are safe to place on the ground, as these are considered non-toxic.

African Violets

5. African Violets

Moving indoors, this quaint bloomer actually prefers a unique, shallow container called an Azalea pot. Since roots grow sideways rather than down, standard pots could result in rotted roots.

Bright, indirect light will encourage robust growth. Occasionally rotate the pot to ensure that all leaves properly photosynthesize and don’t yellow. A special African violet feed will also promote growth and continued blooming.

Downy leaves don’t respond well to getting wet or being misted, so water directly at the soil level. Then, rest assured that you’re growing a safe plant that is listed as non-toxic by the ASPCA.

Orchids

6. Orchids

In the wild, these majestic bloomers grow on tree branches and rock surfaces, upon which aerial roots spread to capture moisture and nutrients. A deep pot filled with soggy soil would be contrary to their natural growing environment.

Orchids bloom in a plethora of brilliant colors and flower shapes, all of which will thrive in shallow pots and sunny windows with bright, filtered light. Although, they are quite tolerant of low light conditions that offer warmth and high humidity.

If these preferred conditions aren’t consistent, orchids will begin to wane. So, these may not be appropriate for houseplant beginners.

Chinese Money Plant

7. Chinese Money Plant

The safe and non-toxic Pilea peperomioides is an architecturally appealing plant. Not only for its elegant, coin-shaped leaves and mounded crown but the potential contrast between its substantial, mature size and the horizontal narrowness of its pot.

Small roots require a pot that’s only an inch or two deeper, filled with airy, well-draining soil. Above ground, leaves rapidly multiply when positioned in bright, indirect sunlight and given access to a consistent flow of nutrients.

Overwatering is a common risk with Pilea. Allowing the soil to dry out a bit will prevent root rot and pest infestations.

Jade Plant

8. Jade Plant

Native to South Africa, the Jade Plant (Crassula ovata) is well-known for producing abundant growth in relatively small spaces. 

A compact root system (typical of many succulents) means that doesn’t need deep, or necessarily fertile, soil, and its ability to store water in its leaves and stems means it can tolerate periods of drought.

These do require a minimum of 4 hours of bright sunlight, for healthy growth and photosynthesis, and lower-than-average humidity. If the humidity in their immediate environment is too high, mealybugs may soon appear.

While beautiful, Jade plants are considered toxic for people and pets. So, it’s best to keep these away from curious fingers and paws.

Succulents

9. Succulents

Offering diverse colors and forms, small succulents and cacti make fabulous options for shallow pots that provide just enough soil to stimulate root and foliage growth.

Bright sunlight (a six-hour minimum per day) will encourage an optimal growth rate while preventing weak, spindly growth. Being desert plants, these prefer deep yet infrequent watering. Which makes these plants perfect for people who are limited on time.

Some cacti varieties develop needle-like spines which can irritate your skin. But, in general, most are considered non-toxic and safe to have around children and pets. As well as being very easy to maintain.

Bonsai

10. Bonsai

Bonsai are artistic depictions of full-sized trees, in miniature, and can be created from almost any type of tree or shrub. In practice, these are intentionally grown in shallow pots to restrict root growth and slow the plant’s growth rate in order to maintain their scaled-down size.

This restriction can impede moisture and nutrient absorption by the roots. So, careful attention to application and availability is required for long-term success.

Since these are typically made from outdoor tree cuttings, Bonsai need bright light from a south or west-facing window and consistent care for continued health and vitality.

Plant Care for Shallow Pot Plants

Pots offer plants a limited space within which to grow and produce, compared to ground plantings. With this comes increased watering and fertilizing needs as a result of inevitable leaching. 

The right pot size will go a long way toward ensuring these vital elements reach the roots of your plants. Too large and they’ll flow right past, too small and plants will become root bound and unable to absorb them.

Plants with small root systems, however, actually perform better and live longer in a shallow environment that is better suited to their needs. Not to mention, exciting options (as we’ve seen) for gardeners with small growing spaces.

Even in larger spaces, though, big, heavy pots can be cumbersome and physically taxing to move around. By choosing plants for shallow pots, you’re applying a more efficient use of space while adding beautiful color, texture, and fragrance. All of which you can move around as you please, with little effort.

Just bear in mind the light requirements of your plant choices. Some will require full or filtered light, while others prefer shade. In addition, your potting soil should be loamy and airy with balanced drainage and moisture retention features.

For more articles on potted plant varieties, here’s a link to 20 Tall Outdoor Potted Plants that you may enjoy.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the best perennials for shallow pots?

Any perennial plant or shrub with a relatively small root system will thrive in a shallow pot. As long as it’s big enough to accommodate healthy root growth and water/nutrients absorption.

Can perennials survive winter in shallow pots?

In warm climates, perennials with shallow root systems will thrive in short pots, outdoors, year-round. In cold climates, these plants can be wintered over in a cool, protected location indoors. 

Citations

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Ben's horticultural interest grew when graduating from Hertfordshire University in 1997. Having contributed to numerous publications including Better Homes & Gardens, Garden Design Magazine, and The English Garden. He is also the author of Propagating Houseplants Made Easy.