Whether you’ve got a small patio or a sprawling outdoor living room for your bed swing, a little greenery is the perfect accent. One of the biggest considerations when choosing a patio plant is how much sun your space receives. Plants that need “full shade” should get little to no direct sunlight. “Partial shade” plants shouldn’t get more than six hours of direct sunlight, while “full sun” means at least six hours of direct sunlight.
In Charleston, we’re lucky enough to be able to grow some wonderful, exotic plants in containers on our patios year-round. Here are some of our favorites:
Part Shade Patio Plants
If your patio is mostly shady or has filtered sunlight, calidiums are great choice for adding drama and color. The leaves of this plant are large, heart-shaped and come in vibrant reds, pinks, greens, and even pure white.
Wishbone is a lovely filler that thrives in shade. This is compact plant with royal blue and purple flowers that looks like a cross between an orchid and a pansy. Wishbone can be overwintered inside, and may even bloom indoors throughout the winter season.
Of course, Boston ferns are a staple on southern porches, but there are several other types of ferns from which to choose. Maidenhair fern is the most delicate in appearance of all the ferns, but it is just as hardy as it’s cousins. Lady ferns are a perfect choice if you’re not a big fan of gardening. Lady ferns are drought tolerant, so if you forget to water it – it’s forgiving.
If you have total shade, don’t worry. Philodendron plants prefer no direct sunlight at all and provide a splash of chartreuse and deep green at the same time. New leaves are bright green yellow as they emerge and eventually change to a pine green as they mature.
In Charleston, orchids thrive nearly year round in our climate. Orchids prefer dappled sunlight and high humidity. If you want them to bloom, they require cool nighttime temperatures – so you can bring them into the air conditioning at night or just wait for cooler fall and winter temperatures to work their magic. Blooms last about three months, sometimes longer. When the flowers drop, trim the stalk back to the last “knuckle” before the flower stem then let the plant rest for a few months.
Patio Plants for Full Sun
Though there are far more options for full-sun patio plants, they can require more care – especially in high temperatures. Don’t forget about your sun-loving plants or you’ll end up with crispy plants.
Angel Trumpet is one of the most beloved, dramatic container plants for sunny patios. The trumpet-shaped blooms can be white or pink, and the plant will bloom even in part shade. Use a large container – this one grows fast – and keep it moist. Note that the plant is toxic if ingested, so if you have kids or plant-eating pets, this may not be the patio plant for you.
If you’re lucky enough to have a big, sunny space for a banana plant it – you’ll be rewarded with an interesting, hard-working plant friend. Banana plants love humidity, heat, and are easy to grow, but they can take up to a year to produce fruit so they do require some patience. These plants need about 12 hours of sunlight a day. With less sunlight they’ll grow – just more slowly. They want excellent drainage, a big pot, and plenty of space to spread out.
A favorite of container gardeners, million bells is a compact, brilliantly colored flowering plant that comes in a wide variety of shades. Blossoms attract butterflies and hummingbirds, and the plant doesn’t need much attention outside of regular watering and good drainage.
The best patios have just a few small accent touches to make it feel homey without making it feel too busy. A bed swing, a few lovely plants, and a cold glass of sweet tea are really all you need to create the perfect outdoor refuge.