Any ideas on what to plant in zone 5 HUGE containers?

Marisa Saletnik
by Marisa Saletnik
We bought a house and the previous owner put evergreens in these large planters. Last year in Chicago there was extreme drought and even though we watered, the trees died. (Maybe also because they never removed the burlap to let the roots breathe).

I don't want to fill the entire planter with dirt, but something that will add color and creativity to the area.

Any thoughts?
2013 placed in far part of yard
2013 view from driveway
up close and really yellow. (also painted one in a cream)
two planters with evergreens
  13 answers
  • Douglas Hunt Douglas Hunt on Jun 18, 2013
    Do you want them to be in sun or shade?
  • Marisa Saletnik Marisa Saletnik on Jun 18, 2013
    They are both currently in a wooded, filtered light area.
  • Laura Slavin Laura Slavin on Jun 18, 2013
    Fill containers partway with Styrofoam peanuts or water bottles, you won't have to use as much dirt an containers will be much more movable. As far as what to plant-ferns would be a great easy to care for idea, if you want something more interesting these are great pots for "container gardens"-you can plant them with a combination of plants suitable for where the containers are placed. I just did over 20 containers for an outdoor wedding and they will last until the first frost with proper care.
  • Douglas Hunt Douglas Hunt on Jun 18, 2013
    You could plant one of the really big hostas, like "Sum and Substance," which would probably overwinter happily in a pot of that size. Or you could plant alocasia or colocasia, which you would have to dig up in the fall and overwinter. I've even seen Japanese maples in large containers. You will, however, have to watch the water on anything you plant in a container, even one of that size.
  • P P on Jun 18, 2013
    I have sage planted in one of mine. It has been growing for 5 years in the KC Missouri area. Great silver grey foliage and blooms purple. Added bonus: herbs for cooking. I also have some thyme tucked in around it, smaller green foliage and tiny white flowers. I originally planted them for the herbs and they came back!
  • Susan Roquet Susan Roquet on Jun 18, 2013
    Elephant ear bulbs. You have to take bulbs out in late fall. But you can save them and replant in Spring. Giant huge leaves that would look nice in your setting.
  • Gail Salminen Gail Salminen on Jun 18, 2013
    @Marisa Saletnik I am in a zone five and find that the perrenial ornimental grasses do quite well in the pots, I have toyed with the idea of using coriopsis as it is very hardy as well, the hosta is also a good idea.. You could also add some sedum to them to overhang the edges and they will come back every year. If the pot is ceramic, you will want to cover it with a huge garbage bag so that it doesn't get the frost/heating effect which will cause the pot to break down. Also if you are planting something else like ivy you may want to line the sides with a thin layer of styrofoam to add added insulation, but I have not had to do this with my grasses and sedum. Let us know what you decide and how it works out.
  • Marisa Saletnik Marisa Saletnik on Jun 18, 2013
    Thank you for all the wonderful ideas. I'll post when complete. Laura, I learned that long ago... Unfortunately when I emptied these, the previously owner did not :)
  • Mikell Paulson Mikell Paulson on Jun 19, 2013
    Why not some beautiful mixed anuals. They will bloom and provide beautiful colors until forst and then start again in the spring next year. play with it to see what grows best. Have fun!
  • Linda Baer-Marks Linda Baer-Marks on Jun 19, 2013
    I have large pots in my yard and they are great for planting all different types of lettuce in them. I grow it all summer long and it's great. Another hardy perennial for zone 5 is Hosta's they come in all different sizes and colors
  • Gail Salminen Gail Salminen on Jun 19, 2013
    @Marisa Saletnik I am no expert in this area, can only share my experience from a zone 5 area. I have painted ceramic pots without difficulty and without problems of it adhering - sealing it annully helps. As for the inside I usually use a coordinating colour for interest - only paint it about 1/3 of the way down, I just think it is a waste of paint beyond that. I have found that hardy succulents will come back each year without insulation being added. With some perrenials it is advantageous to add a thin layer of styrofoam to the bottom and sides to enhance the success. Just insulating the bottom alone does not have the same effect. For large pots I have used the left over planting pots and styrofoam containers to minimize the amount of earth required.
  • Grace Gleason Grace Gleason on May 05, 2014
    @Marisa Saletnik I think @Douglas Hunt is right. The plants he suggested will thrive in the conditions you said you have. Empress Wu and Sum and Substance are very big hostas. Another thing that would help lighten the pot instead of plastic peanuts is the cell-foam plastic used to pack computers, appliances, etc. Cut into manageable pieces, it won't go all over the place when you decide to empty the pot. It is also a good insulator.
  • Brenda Brenda on Apr 12, 2015
    I use the plastic containers the plants/shrubs come in...also put a small piece of screen over the drainage hole to keep the soil from plugging hole. Something chartreuse or variegated to standout in the dark area...if you use white var. hosta you could use some var. Swedish ivy to trail (Annual) but not does great here in zone 6b NC. You could use creeping Jenny if you use the chartreuse hosta...I don't think that color would go with the yellow pot though. Then maybe an asparagus or foxtail fern (annual/house plant which you can repot & bring inside for the winter. They are a lighter brighter green & will soften the hosta leaves. In the Fall/Winter cut various evergreen clippings & stick in soil...they will do great until weather gets warm..add some natural berries (nandinas/viburnums, hollies) or artificial ones...I do a lot of outdoor containers down here they last until March...sometimes the broadleaf tend to go faster depending on the wind. The spruces, yews, Chamaecyparis & pines last forever. I also use red & yellow twig dogwoods & even add some Christmas balls during hoilday season.