En Español

Q. Who is Mr. Smarty Plants?

A: There are those who suspect Wildflower Center volunteers are the culpable and capable culprits. Yet, others think staff members play some, albeit small, role. You can torture us with your plant questions, but we will never reveal the Green Guru's secret identity.

Help us grow by giving to the Plant Database Fund or by becoming a member

Did you know you can access the Native Plant Information Network with your web-enabled smartphone?


Ask Mr. Smarty Plants

Ask Mr. Smarty Plants is a free service provided by the staff and volunteers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

Search Smarty Plants
See a list of all Smarty Plants questions

Please forgive us, but Mr. Smarty Plants has been overwhelmed by a flood of mail and must take a break for awhile to catch up. We hope to be accepting new questions again soon. Thank you!

Need help with plant identification, visit the plant identification page.

rate this answer
2 ratings

Saturday - April 21, 2012

From: Millbrook, NY
Region: Northeast
Topic: Container Gardens, Planting, Shrubs, Trees
Title: Shrub that will grow outside in Zone 5 from Millbrook NY
Answered by: Barbara Medford


Is there any shrub, tree or other sort of plant that will grow well in zone 5 in a very large container outdoors?


Any plant being grown in a container outside in Zone 5 is going to be a difficulty. Plants' root are ordinarily insulated by the Earth itself, both from heat and, certainly, from cold, as in your case. The only insulation your outdoor pot has would be a few inches of potting soil and a very thin container wall, whether it were pottery, plastic or stone. You are correct that your area in Duchess County is in Zone 5b, which means your average annual minimum temperature ranges from -15 to -10 deg. F. We don't have any way to rate cold resistance of plant roots, but we will bet there are not any that would go for those temperatures from such an exposed situation. The main problem with exposing plants to cold is that the water in those plants, especially that stored in the roots, would freeze, expand and rupture cell walls in the plant, resulting in death for the plant.

Please read our How-To Article on Container Gardening with Native Plants. Of course, down here in Texas we are more in fear of heat damaging container plants than cold, but the criteria for selecting pots are still valid. There are a number of trees and shrubs native to your area that would be just fine planted in the ground, but not in a pot. If you purchased a large pot, it would be a considerable expense, and the likelihood is high that you would have to replace the plant every year, also expensive.

Smaller pots that could be taken into a protected area, like a garage, seasonally could give you some outdoor color and form in warm weather, but that's about the best you could hope for. If you have a particularly attractive pot already, and it has drainage holes, you could plant blooming annuals every Spring and leave the pot empty as a decorative feature in the cold weather.


More Shrubs Questions

Getting rid of non-native, invasive English Ivy from Davidsonville MD
March 19, 2014 - Just moved and need to rid the well established Ivy planted on the steep slope area around the back and side of the house as it is taking over the bushes on the top and trees in forested area at botto...
view the full question and answer

Yellow-blossomed Shrub that Occurs in Arizona and Texas
May 08, 2012 - What is the name of the large shrubs you will see in Arizona with the bright yellow blossoms. They grow wild everywhere, and I also see them in the town. Could you please tell me the name of them, s...
view the full question and answer

Vascular wilt in Rhus virens
June 22, 2007 - Hi Smarty: Our evergreen sumac grew beautifully this spring (it is about 2 years old -- we got it at the LBJ Wildflower Center plant sale). Then its leaves suddenly drooped last month (May) and turn...
view the full question and answer

Evergreen thorny bush for California
May 01, 2010 - I need to find an evergreen thorny type bush, shrub or tree that will grow with about 3-4 hours of morning sun only. Prefer CA native, inland/semi coastal. Purpose: To provide a deterrent for "tag...
view the full question and answer

Hardy, inexpensive perennials for Mansfield, TX
March 12, 2008 - I am trying to fill two flowerbeds that are in full sun mostly and right next to the house. I want something that can live in the Dallas-Ft. Worth area and is pretty hardy. I also don't want to spe...
view the full question and answer

Support the Wildflower Center by Donating Online or Becoming a Member today.
© 2016 Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center