The series “Seasonal Design” covers home decor and how flowers elevate an environment. In this story, we explore the most popular flowering plants for your garden and hard.

When spring unfolds with warmer temperatures and gentle rain, gardeners look forward to planting their properties with colorful and interesting flowers, shrubs, and trees. Depending on the region, some can be planted successfully in the ground, and others are better living in containers. 

Here’s a guide to some of the most popular flowering plants and how to care for them. 

Photo of an azalea, a popular outdoor flowering plant

1. Azalea (Rhododendron spp.)

Azaleas are annual showstoppers with their brilliant flowers that cover the bushes in the spring. They are the state flower of Georgia and are native to Asia, Europe, and North America. They bloom with colors of lavender, white, pink, orange, or red, depending on the variety. Most azaleas are deciduous shrubs that grow from 2 to 8 feet, which is generally not as tall as their close rhododendron cousins. They look beautiful in any garden design and can be grown as accent plants to brighten up shady spots on a property, grouped in a woodland garden, clipped into low foundation plantings, or as attractive container shrubs.

Azalea care

Azaleas are easy-care shrubs that grow best in USDA hardiness zones 6 to 9. They prefer to grow in cool, partially shaded areas with dappled light, especially in the southern parts of their range, which get the most intense sun. Similar to other ericaceous family members, such as rhododendrons, mountain laurels, and blueberries, they are acid-loving plants. The best soil for azaleas is well-drained, acidic soil that can be amended with compost to afford it good nutrition. If your plant needs additional feeding, fertilize in the late spring or early fall. Prune the branches back after it blooms in the spring to maintain its size and promote more branching.

Container-grown azaleas

Small azaleas grown in pots are a beautiful addition to a shady porch, deck, or balcony. Use a planter that is large enough (2 feet in diameter) for good root growth, and make sure it has at least one drainage hole in the bottom to prevent root rot from accumulated water. When you’re ready to plant your azalea, use a well-draining potting mix that is formulated for acid-loving plants. Water after planting, and then again when the soil is dry an inch down from the top. The soil will dry out faster in a pot than in a garden. When grown in a container, they won’t grow as large as in the garden, but you can trim them back after they flower to keep them to the size and shape you want.

Photo of a blooming sunflower

2. Sunflower (Helianthus spp.)

Bright, cheery sunflowers are native to North America and Mexico, and come in many sizes depending on the species and variety. They are in the daisy family, and most sunflowers grow on thick, single stems and have large, fuzzy, heart-shaped leaves. Bright yellow petals circle the flat flower heads, and the small blooms on the face of the flower heads develop into sunflower seeds. They bloom from summer through fall. The most common type is the annual sunflower, which grows up to 10 feet tall or more and produces seeds that are eaten by both wildlife and people. They are thought to have been domesticated by Native Americans up to 5,000 years ago for their seeds as a source of flour and cooking oil. The sunflower is the state flower of Kansas, where fields of these big, beautiful plants are grown.

Sunflower care

Sunflowers are usually grown as annuals, though some varieties can be grown as perennials in USDA hardiness zones 4 to 8. They can be started from seeds or small potted plants. Sow the seeds in full sun 2 to 3 feet apart in well-draining, moist, slightly acidic soil after the danger of frost has passed in the spring. Small plants can be set in the garden in late spring or early summer between 2 and 3 feet apart. Water them well and watch them grow. A row of sunflowers is a cheerful addition against a sunny wall or fence. You can gauge the best placement of your plants by how tall your variety will grow.

Container-grown sunflowers

Small varieties of sunflowers can be grown in containers. Choose a pot with a drainage hole in the bottom that is at least 18 inches across or larger if you have more than one plant. The soil should be loose, well-draining potting mix that you plant the seeds in or transfer from a small, potted plant that you have bought. Seeds or small sunflowers will only need to be planted 6 inches apart in the container. Water them in well, and enjoy their jaunty flowers on a sunny porch, deck, or around a pool.

Photo of a lilac, a popular flowering plant

3. Lilac (Syringa vulgaris)

Lilac bushes grace doorways and gardens with their pretty, heart-shaped leaves and sprays of sweet-smelling purple, lavender, pink, or white flowers in the spring. They come in different sizes, depending on the variety, but they never fail to charm with their graceful leaves and panicles of blossoms. Lilacs take well to pruning, but left to their own will grow up to 15 inches high and 12 inches wide in the garden. They are native to Europe and also the state flower of New Hampshire.

Lilac care

Lilacs are easy-care bushes, but to remain healthy, they need full sun and good air circulation to prevent powdery mildew from forming on their leaves. They are at home in loamy, well-draining, neutral pH soil, and they like to be watered when the soil is dry. To give them a boost, feed them in the spring with a balanced fertilizer that will encourage both leaf growth and blooming. After they flower, prune out any old or dead branches and thin some interior branches to allow more air circulation. Most lilacs will grow well in USDA hardiness zones 3 through 7, although some varieties will grow in southern climates as well.

Container-grown lilacs

Lilacs do better in the garden than in a container, but for those who have limited space and still want to enjoy these lovely plants, it is possible to grow dwarf varieties successfully in a pot. Choose a large enough container with enough depth to allow good root growth (24″ × 18″) and one with a drainage hole. Plant your lilac in neutral pH potting mix. Most commercial mixes are slightly acidic, so it’s a good idea to add some garden lime to keep it neutral. The soil will dry out more quickly in a container than in the garden, so be sure to water when the soil is dry 2 inches from the top of the pot. Prune it back after flowering for good air circulation and to keep it at a manageable size.

Photo of a hibiscus, a popular flowering plant

4. Tropical hibiscus, rose of China (Hibiscus rosa-sinensis)

Native to Southeast Asia, the beautiful tropical hibiscus is the national flower of Malaysia. It is a favorite worldwide, known for its large flowers and shiny, dark blue-green leaves. The flowers can grow up to 6 inches in diameter in colors of red, pink, purple, white, peach, or orange, depending on the variety. The shrub can reach 10 feet high in southern areas (USDA hardiness zones 9 to 12), where they can be grown as perennials that flower year round. In areas where temperatures dip below 50 degrees, tropical hibiscus can only be grown as an annual and can attain a height of 3 to 6 feet.

Tropical hibiscus care

Hibiscus plants love warmth, humidity, and sunshine. In northern areas, they will need to be in full sun, but in hotter, drier areas, they will do better in partial or dappled shade. Your garden soil should be well draining and have plenty of organic matter to nourish the plants and retain moisture. Hibiscus should be set about 3 feet apart to give them room to spread. They need plenty of water, so give them a drink frequently, especially in hot weather to keep them hydrated, and you can fertilize once or twice a year with a slow-release fertilizer.

Container-grown hibiscus

Hibiscus is a perfect plant to grow in a container, and can be placed anywhere there is sun, preferably out of the wind. Use a good, well-draining potting mix and a pot with at least one drainage hole. Container-grown plants will dry out much quicker than those in the ground, and your hibiscus is already a thirsty plant. Water it daily, and fertilize it with a weak liquid fertilizer every two to three weeks to keep it healthy and blooming. If you are in an area where the temperature drops below 50 degrees, you can bring the plant inside for the winter. It will not grow as fast with less light, but put it near the brightest window you have or use a grow light. In order to keep it going through the winter, pinch off any buds that develop so that its energy will be focused on growing and staying healthy.

Photo of Mandevillas

5. Mandevilla, rocktrumpet (Mandevilla spp.)

Bright, 2-inch, red, white, or pink Mandevilla flowers lend a sunny, tropical flair wherever they’re grown. Native to the southwestern U.S., Mexico, Central and South America, and the Caribbean, mandevilla is a tropical vine usually grown as an annual in the United States that blooms from summer through fall. In the most southern areas of the country (USDA hardiness zones 10-11), it can be grown as a perennial and blooms year round. The vines can grow up to 10 feet tall and are spectacular climbing up a trellis, over a fence, or in a hanging pot or trellised container.

Mandevilla care

Plant your mandevilla in the garden after all chance of frost is passed. It does best in neutral to slightly acidic, well-drained soil in full sun to dappled shade. Let it grow up a support, such as a trellis or fence, or, to make it bushier, pinch it back in the early spring. Water your mandevilla to keep the soil consistently moist and fertilize with a weak, general fertilizer every two to three weeks so that you can enjoy the bright flowers as long as they bloom.

Container-grown mandevilla

Mandevillas are frequently grown in containers with a short trellis, which makes these vines portable to any sunny location. When transferring them to a decorative planter, make sure it has at least one drainage hole in the bottom. A good commercial potting mix will do nicely for this plant. Keep the soil consistently moist without being soggy, and mist it daily if it’s in a dry area since it does best in high humidity.

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Nancy Maffia has a bachelor’s in biology and a master’s in horticulture and communications. She has worked in plant taxonomy, has written and edited gardening books and plant articles, and currently works at a garden center helping customers with plant and gardening questions. She has been published in the Encyclopedia of Indoor Gardening, Getting the Most from Your Garden, and others.

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