Best Pot Plants for Sun and Shade

© 2024 CTC Productions Pty Limited. All rights reserved. The material presented on this website, may not be reproduced or distributed, in whole or in part, without the prior written permission of CTC Productions.


Many people love growing plants in pots, but potted gardens can be a lot of work.


Choosing the right plants is half the battle. Some plants (such as roses, most Australian natives, most fruit trees and most vegetables) hate growing in pots. They will always struggle and they will never look good. Others love having their roots contained, so they thrive and flower well in pots.

Here is the Burke’s Backyard list of the 10 best pot plants for full sun, and the 10 best pot plants for shade. Don has chosen plants to suit a range of climates. To find out which ones grow best in your area, check with your local nursery.

10 best pot plants for full sun

Herbs: try basil, coriander, parsley and chives. Herbs are readily available from nurseries and garden centres. Expect to pay about $4.75 for 150mm (6″) pots.

Annuals/ bedding plants: try petunias for summer, and pansies from winter to spring. Petunias (Petunia x hybrida) are available for planting now. They cost from $4.25 a punnet.

Pelargoniums and geraniums: try regal pelargonium, zonal geraniums and ivy geraniums (Pelargonium peltatum). Pelargoniums are very hardy and they love hot, dry positions. They will grow in all areas of Australia except for the tropics. You’ll pay around $10 for 200mm (8″) pots.

Mexican orange blossom (Choisya ternata) is similar in appearance to murraya (Murraya paniculata) but is a better choice for cooler areas. It has glossy green foliage and perfumed white flowers. Plants in 200mm (8″) pots cost about $19.

Bougainvilleas love full sun and some varieties (particularly the dwarf Bambino range) do very well in pots. ‘Raspberry Ice’ is also a good one to try. Expect to pay from $12-20 for bougainvilleas. Bougainvilleas are very hardy and grow in all but the coldest areas of Australia.

New Zealand flax (Phormium tenax) is an excellent accent plant for a container. Dwarf varieties are available, and there are new varieties in a wide range of foliage colours. Ask at your local nursery for advice on the best ones for your climate. You’ll pay around $18 for a 200mm (8″) pot.

Succulents are the most fashionable plants in Australia today. Try agave, echeveria and bromeliads. As well as having interesting form and foliage colour, some succulents produce attractive flowers. Prices range from about $7 to $15.

Wisteria does well grown as a potted standard, and potted wisterias are not as rampant as wisterias planted in the ground. Try Chinese wisteria (Wisteria sinensis) or Japanese wisteria (Wisteria floribunda). Expect to pay from $12 to $95.

Citrus trees have glossy green foliage, fragrant white flowers and delicious fruit. Cumquats and ‘Meyer’ lemons are well suited to pot cultivation. Expect to pay about $30 for plants in 250mm (10″) pots. Citrus grows in all but the coldest areas of Australia.

Ixora (Ixora chinensis ‘Prince of Orange’) flowers during spring and summer, and needs a frost-free area. New varieties are available with improved flower colour and size. 200mm (8″) pots cost about $18.95.

10 best pot plants for shade

Clivia (Clivia miniata) has dark green, strap-like foliage and orange flowers. New varieties are available with red, cream and yellow flowers. Prices vary depending on the variety, but the new varieties are the most sought after and the most expensive. Clivias grow everywhere in Australia except for the mountains.

Daphne (Daphne odora) actually does better planted in pots than in the ground, because it is susceptible to root rot and pots provide the perfect drainage it needs. It is grown mainly for its fabulous perfumed flowers. Daphne grows best in the cooler areas of Australia. Expect to pay around $18.95 for a 200mm (8″) pot.

Camellias will flower and grow happily in pots for many years. Sasanquas grow well in part-shade to full sun, while japonicas prefer a shaded position.

Azaleas, particularly the smaller varieties, are well suited to pot culture. Your local nursery can suggest the best varieties for your area.

Ponytail (Nolina recurvata) has a curious swollen base. It makes an attractive pot plant and will also take full sun. 150mm (6″) pots cost around $12.95. The ponytail plant will grow everywhere in Australia, except for the mountains.

Begonia varieties will grow in all areas of Australia. They have beautiful flowers and they often have interesting foliage. They do best in a shady position.

Palms including rhapis palm (Rhapis excelsa) and kentia palm (Howea forsteriana) can be grown in pots in a shady position. They are readily available from most nurseries and cost from $18.95 for 200mm (8″) pots.

Ferns of all kinds do well in pots. They thrive in shady, moist, humid conditions.

Orchids need an open, free-draining potting mix and a sheltered position. The most popular orchid grown is the cymbidium, but many other kinds are available including cattleyas, dendrobiums, slipper orchids (Paphiopedilum) and moth orchids (Phalaenopsis). Orchids in pots can be brought inside the house when in flower for a beautiful, long lasting display.

China doll (Radermachera sinica) is a Chinese native with glossy, dark green leaves and an elegant growth habit. It does best as a garden plant in the warmer areas of Australia, but also makes an attractive pot plant. China doll is readily available in 200mm (8″) pots for around $18.95.

Other tips

When you buy a new plant, always repot it into a larger sized pot than it was growing in. Most potted plants grow best in good quality potting mix (orchids require orchid mix). Most potted plants need to be kept very well watered but should have excellent drainage. For best results check that drainage holes in pots are adequate and install a micro-irrigation system for potted plants. To improve drainage and to keep plants well contained, always elevate potted plants slightly using chocks or pot feet.

Further information

Staff at your local nursery or garden centre will be able to advise you on the best pot plants for your climate and particular situation.