Best Outdoor Potted Plants for Chicago: Winter, Low-maintenance, and Full Sun

Chicago’s unpredictable weather has many wondering what plants do well in Chicago outdoors. If you’re looking for the best outdoor potted plants for Chicago, you’re not alone. Your plants must be resilient from dealing with cold winters to hot summers. We’ll dive into the best outdoor potted plants for Chicago that are low maintenance and withstand full sun. 

These plants are suitable for Chicago outdoor pots and can survive winter, making them the perfect options for your home garden. Whether you’re focused on low-maintenance outdoor potted plants or looking for outdoor potted plants that can withstand heat and cold, there’s something for every Chicago garden lover here.

Winter-Resistant Outdoor Potted Plants for Chicago

When the temperature drops, you need potted plants that survive winter outside in Chicago. Evergreens are a great choice as they retain their foliage year-round. Boxwoods are another robust option, offering deep green leaves even in the harshest winter. Ornamental grasses like blue fescue can also handle cold and add visual interest to your outdoor space.

Daphne Odora Evergreen Shrub

Pansies are colorful and surprisingly frost-resistant, offering a burst of color even in chilly months. Also, consider adding shrubs like winter jasmine or heather, which are hardy and flowered during winter. All these choices are excellent for adding life to your outdoor setting during the bleak Chicago winters.

Low-Maintenance Outdoor Potted Plants for Chicago

For those seeking low-maintenance outdoor potted plants, succulents are an excellent pick. They require minimal water and care, making them one of the best outdoor potted plants for Chicago low maintenance. Hostas are another easy-going option; they thrive in partial shade and don’t demand a lot of attention. Lavender is easy to care for and offers a lovely scent and beautiful purple flowers.

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Indoor Flower Pots

Rosemary is another fragrant herb that requires minimal upkeep. For a pop of color with little effort, petunias and marigolds are vibrant and straightforward to care for. These options make it easy to have a thriving garden without dedicating too much time to upkeep.

Best Outdoor Potted Plants for Chicago in Full Sun

If your garden space gets a lot of sunlight, plenty of outdoor potted plants love the heat. Zinnias are colorful and enjoy plenty of sun, making them one of the best outdoor potted plants for Chicago’s full sun. Geraniums are another sun-loving flower that comes in multiple colors and varieties. If you prefer foliage over flowers, consider elephant ears or caladiums, which have large, colorful leaves and thrive in direct sunlight.

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Red geranium in flower pots

If you’re interested in herbs, basil, and oregano, they do well in full sun and can be used in various recipes. For those who prefer vegetables, peppers and tomatoes love sun and can easily be grown in pots. These options are perfect for those seeking low-maintenance outdoor potted plants for Chicago’s full sun, and they will undoubtedly brighten your outdoor space.

Hardy Evergreen Shrubs for Winter Season in Chicago

Consider hardy evergreen shrubs if you want to add some greenery to your outdoor space that will last through the cold Chicago winters. Boxwoods are an excellent choice, maintaining their deep green leaves all year round and working well in various garden styles. Yews are another evergreen shrub that’s versatile and tough, capable of surviving Chicago’s harsh winter conditions.

Junipers are popular for their needle-like foliage and their resilience to cold and pests. Holly is hardy and offers bright red berries in winter, adding a pop of color to your outdoor space. Arborvitae is another option, recognized for its tall, columnar shape and dense foliage, which also acts as a natural windbreaker. Planting these evergreen shrubs will keep your garden vibrant and colorful even when snow blankets the ground.

Drought-Tolerant Outdoor Potted Plants for Chicago

While Chicago is known for its cold winters, it also experiences hot summers, and having drought-tolerant outdoor potted plants can be a huge advantage. Succulents are a popular choice for their ability to store water, requiring less frequent watering. Lavender not only offers a pleasant aroma but also can tolerate dry conditions. Sage is another herb that can withstand drought and offers culinary and ornamental value.

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Succulents in pots

Ornamental grasses like fountain grass and blue fescue are resilient and add texture and movement to your garden. Cacti are another option, and while they may seem unconventional, some varieties can survive Chicago’s winter if placed in a protected location. Opting for these drought-tolerant plants will help you maintain a beautiful garden, even during periods of low rainfall.

Winter-Flowering Bulbs for Outdoor Containers in Chicago

If you’re looking to add some blooms to your outdoor containers during the chilly Chicago winter, a variety of bulbs can flower in the colder months. Snowdrops are one of the first bulbs to bloom, often poking through the snow as early as late winter, offering small, white, bell-shaped flowers.

Crocus is an early flower that comes in various colors like white, yellow, and purple. Winter aconite offers cheerful yellow flowers that can brighten any gloomy winter day. Dwarf irises are another excellent choice for late winter, providing small yet vibrant purple-blue flowers. These winter-flowering bulbs add color to your outdoor containers and offer a welcome sign that spring is on the way, even in the depths of a Chicago winter.

Heat-Tolerant Annuals for Full Sun Outdoor Pots in Chicago

When the sun is blazing in the Chicago summer, it’s essential to have plants that can withstand the heat. Marigolds are vibrant and heat-tolerant annuals in various warm colors like yellow and orange. Zinnias are another colorful option that loves the sun and comes in various hues. Petunias can handle full sun and offer continuous blooms throughout the summer.

Lantana is a unique choice with clusters of tiny flowers that can withstand high temperatures. Cosmos are easy to care for, enjoy full sun, and offer feathery foliage and delicate flowers. These annuals add a pop of color to your full-sun outdoor pots and require less fuss and watering than many other plant varieties, making them perfect for the Chicago summer.

Colorful Winter-Blooming Outdoor Potted Plants for Chicago

Winter doesn’t have to mean a drab and colorless garden. There are a variety of outdoor potted plants that can bring vibrant hues to your outdoor space, even during the cold months. Pansies are a fantastic choice for their ability to survive frost and come in various colors, including blue, yellow, and purple. Winter jasmine provides bright yellow blooms that cheer up any gloomy winter day. Camellia is another winter-blooming plant offering rose-like flowers in pink, red, and white shades.

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pansy summer flowers in flowerpots in garden

Heather plants also bloom in winter and come in a range of colors from white to purple, adding an extra layer of interest to your outdoor setting. Hellebores, commonly known as Christmas roses, provide subtle shades of green, pink, and white and are incredibly resilient. These plants will help your garden remain colorful and lively during the winter season in Chicago.

Native Perennials for Low-Maintenance Outdoor Pots in Chicago

Suppose you’re interested in plants that thrive in the local climate and contribute to local ecology; consider native perennials for your outdoor pots. Coneflowers are native to the Chicago area and are incredibly easy to care for, offering large, daisy-like flowers that attract pollinators. Black-eyed Susans are another native perennial that’s low-maintenance and provides bright yellow blooms.

Butterfly weed is easy to care for and attracts butterflies, adding beauty and ecological value to your garden. Wild bergamot offers lavender-colored flowers and is known for its resilience. Prairie dropseed is a native grass that’s low-maintenance and provides a gentle, fountain-like shape that adds texture to your outdoor space. These native perennials are suited to Chicago’s weather conditions and are also easier to care for, making them ideal choices for low-maintenance outdoor pots.

Ornamental Grasses for Full Sun Outdoor Pots in Chicago

Ornamental grasses can add texture, movement, and a unique aesthetic to your full-sun outdoor pots in Chicago. Blue fescue is popular for its bluish hue and spherical shape; it thrives in full sun and requires little maintenance. Switchgrass offers height and turns a golden color in the fall, making it a multi-seasonal option.

Fountain grass is another excellent choice; its arching plumes sway gracefully in the wind, and its feathery seed heads add an extra layer of texture. Maiden grass offers silky flower heads and can grow quite tall, providing a backdrop for other plants. These ornamental grasses are suited for full sun and are generally low maintenance, requiring minimal care beyond occasional trimming.

Fragrant Outdoor Potted Plants for Chicago Gardens

For those who appreciate a fragrant garden, various outdoor potted plants can add an aromatic touch to your Chicago outdoor space. Lavender is a top choice, not only for its lovely purple blooms but also for its calming scent. Rosemary offers an earthy fragrance and can be used in various culinary dishes. Mint is easy to grow and provides a refreshing aroma; just be cautious, as it can be invasive.

Jasmine is another excellent option; its intense, sweet fragrance can fill your garden, especially during the evening. Gardenias provide creamy white flowers with a rich, intoxicating scent. These fragrant plants not only add a sensory layer to your garden but also have the benefit of often repelling pests, offering both beauty and functionality.

Cold-Tolerant Succulents for Outdoor Containers in Chicago

While succulents are often associated with hot and arid climates, some varieties can survive the chilly Chicago winters when planted in outdoor containers. Sempervivum, often called hens and chicks, is a tough succulent that can handle freezing temperatures and still look good. Sedum, often called stonecrop, is another resilient choice and comes in various shapes and colors, from creeping ground covers to upright varieties.

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Cold-Tolerant Succulent

Agave is also a sturdy option; certain types can handle low temperatures when well-drained. Yucca plants are another cold-tolerant variety, known for their spiky appearance and low water needs. Opting for these cold-resistant succulents will allow you to enjoy a modern, low-maintenance garden year-round in Chicago.

Compact Conifers for Small Spaces in Chicago Gardens

Compact conifers can offer a wonderful solution if you’re dealing with limited garden space in Chicago. Dwarf Alberta spruce is an excellent option, growing slowly and maintaining a compact size, perfect for small pots. Hinoki cypress is another small conifer offering interesting texture and color, with its golden or green foliage fans

Mugo pine is a robust option that can handle the Chicago climate well and stays relatively small. Blue Star juniper offers silver-blue foliage and maintains a petite size, perfect for small gardens or balcony settings. Cryptomeria, or Japanese cedar, comes in dwarf varieties that fit nicely into smaller outdoor spaces but still offer a lush, green appearance. These compact conifers are perfect for adding structure and year-round interest to small Chicago gardens without overwhelming the space.

Edible Herbs and Vegetables for Winter Container Gardening in Chicago

Growing edible herbs and vegetables in outdoor containers is possible even in the cold Chicago winters. Kale is incredibly hardy and can continue to grow in colder temperatures, providing fresh greens for your kitchen. Spinach is another leafy vegetable that can tolerate frost and even improve in flavor after a cold snap. Chives are hardy herbs that can survive in containers during the winter months and offer a mild onion flavor.

Thyme and rosemary are winter-hardy herbs that can withstand colder temperatures and offer aromatic flavors for winter stews and roasts. Parsley is another robust herb that can handle the Chicago winter if given a somewhat sheltered location. These edible options not only provide you with fresh ingredients during the winter but also offer the satisfaction of year-round gardening.

Best Outdoor Potted Plants Schedule for Chicago

Type of PlantBest ForIdeal Planting TimeMaintenance Tips
Evergreen Shrubs (e.g., Boxwood, Yew)Winter ResilienceSpring or FallWater regularly, fertilize in spring
Succulents (e.g., Sempervivum, Sedum)Low MaintenanceLate Spring to Early SummerWater sparingly needs well-drained soil
ZinniasFull SunLate Spring to Early SummerWater regularly, deadhead spent blooms
LavenderFragranceSpringWater sparingly prefers full sun and well-drained soil
Dwarf Alberta SpruceSmall SpacesSpring or FallWater regularly, protect from strong winds
MarigoldsHeat ToleranceLate Spring to Early SummerWater moderately prefers full sun
KaleWinter EdibleLate Summer to Early FallWater regularly, mulch for winter protection
PansiesWinter ColorLate Summer to Early FallWater moderately, can tolerate frost
Blue FescueOrnamental GrassSpring or FallWater moderately, trim back in early spring
SnowdropsWinter BloomingFallPlant bulbs 3 inches deep, water moderately


Gardening in Chicago presents its unique challenges, from hot summers to frigid winters. However, with the right plant choices, you can create a vibrant and resilient garden that thrives year-round. Whether you have a small space and need compact conifers, require heat-tolerant annuals for those scorching summer months, or wish to grow edible herbs and vegetables even in the dead of winter, there’s a suitable option for every gardening enthusiast in Chicago. By selecting plants tailored to the specific conditions and challenges of the local climate, you can enjoy the rewards of a flourishing garden in any season.


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