Deck Out Your Dock: 20 Container Gardening Ideas for a Dressed-Up Summer Landing

By Anna Price Ols
Anna Price Olson
Deck Out Your Dock: 20 Container Gardening Ideas and Tips for a Dressed-Up Summer Landing

In the South, summers are spent on the water whether you’re a lake or beach person (and everyone is one or the other, no argument). If you’re so much a lake or beach person that you own a home on a beloved body of water, chances are you own a dock or aspire to own one someday soon.

The dock of any house on the water, no matter if it’s a vacation oasis or one you’re lucky enough to call home year-round, is a busy and much-used space. Especially in the summertime, when it’s packed with guests, kayaks, fishing rods, floats, and more. And while a dock is a necessary luxury for any home on the water, it doesn’t have to serve only as a home base for guests embarking to and from water sports. We like to think of a dock as an extension of the home, and it’s our belief that any part of a home should feel lived-in, loved, and welcoming. The dock is no exception, so treat it as such! Adding a container garden is a way to check all three boxes with one weekend project.

If you’re looking for container garden inspiration to spruce up your dock, we gathered 20 fresh ideas from garden experts and homes featured in Southern Living, covering the lakes of North Georgia to the coasts of Florida in the process. What is right for you depends on the climate of your area and dock’s design and setting, as well as your style, budget, and lifestyle. Consider all of the above, then scroll on to decide how you want to show off in style this summer.

01 of 20

Lean Into the Season

Plant a Patriotic Mix
If summertime means lake time, then don’t forget the dock. Add a splash of color in a red, white, and blue palette to the spot where you’ll enjoy it most. Ralph Lee Anderson

A statement container garden is a favorite, whether you opt for a pair on either side of the dock or lean into a focal point on one. Either way, we love the idea of doing the pot up in patriotic colors of red, white, and blue as shown in this lush arrangement of zinnias, petunias, and dahlias. Just be sure to plant sun-loving plants if the area will be exposed during the afternoon rays.

02 of 20

Consider Succulents

Lively Succulent Container Garden Mix
Southern Living

No green thumb? No worries. Succulents are a great choice if you’ll be traveling to and from your lake house, as they only need to be watered every two weeks. This arrangement is a beautiful example of a simple terra cotta pot on a side table, but this idea can also be recreated in a standing pot with larger succulents at scale.

03 of 20

Keep It Natural

Summer Lake House
Photo by: Helen Norman, Styling by: Rebecca Omweg

The boat house at this Georgia lake house is proof that your dock can have it all. It’s no-doubt designed to be kid-central with a diving board and a stock of colorful kayaks on deck, but it’s also adorned with three container gardens of lush ferns that make it feel more like an elevated porch than a playground or closet.

04 of 20

Embrace Your Locale

Tropical Inspiration
Melina Hammer

To lean into a summer vibe or a tropical climate, treat your pot accordingly by embracing tropical plants and a palette of vibrant hues. This container garden is a perfect example of how ‘Maui Gold” elephant’s ears can add that tropical “wow” factor, especially when surrounded by orange SunPatiens, citronella plant, Persian shield, and angel vine. A pot like this will hold its own in full sun or part shade if watered regularly.

05 of 20

Hang a Plant Wall

Metal Wall Hanging Container Garden with Summer Plants
Design by Mark Thompson; Photo: Robbie Caponetto; Prop Styling: Buffy Hargett Miller

Have a deck or structure on your dock? Think out of the box by hanging plants on the wall itself. Feel free to copy this arrangement by florist Mark Thompson—it includes shrimp plant, ‘Aqua Marine’ pilea, variegated pteris fern, selaginella, sword fern, arrowhead vine, asparagus fern, ‘Triostar’ stromanthe, ‘Neon’ pothos, arrowhead vine, and selaginella. As for care, these particular plants will withstand late-summer heat with regular watering in part to full shade.

06 of 20

Utilize Rustic Containers

Container Garden in Buckets
Take advantage of seasonal sales at your local nursery, and stock up on popular plants. Keep them in fun containers like these galvanized buckets until you’re ready to plant them in the ground.See the Pin.

Lean into a natural theme by using galvanized buckets, such as these shown, as planters. They make for a rustic, durable addition to whatever plants you choose to pair them with. Pro tip: Take advantage of sales at your local nursery, and stock up on popular plants. These planters will make anything look great!

07 of 20

Make a Statement

Style in the Shade
David Hillegas

While an arrangement such as this may seem like overkill for a dock—it’s just a dock, right?!—here us out. Investing in one statement piece can be beneficial for a number of reasons—most pointedly, it makes for less watering and acts as a focal point that can easily turn the dock from playtime to party ready.

08 of 20

Think In Pairs

Flowering Jar Pansies
Container Recipe:Dwarf Alberta spruce, Viola, Pansy, ‘Red Chidori’ ornamental kale, Golden creeping Jenny, and English ivy. Light: Sun to part shade, Water: Medium. Photo: Ralph Lee Anderson

Looking to keep it sweet and simple? Place pots in pairs at the entrance of the dock or at the bottom of the stairs leading up to the dock. These pots are planted with flowers in shades of purple—specifically, Dwarf Alberta spruce, Viola, Pansy, ‘Red Chidori’ ornamental kale, Golden creeping Jenny, and English ivy—and look too cute, if we do say so ourselves.

09 of 20

Go With Geraniums

Gorgeous Geraniums
Laurey W. Glenn. Laurey W. Glenn

For a pop of color, consider purchasing geraniums like the pretty red ones shown here. Geraniums are a favorite for outdoor container gardening in the summertime because they are a lot of look for little investment, in that they require basic care and comfortably bask in full sunlight.

10 of 20

Soak Up the Sun

Sun-Loving SunPatiens
Hector Manuel Sanchez

It’s important to consider where your pot will live when picking and choosing what plants to include. This lime green pot, featuring ‘Tropical Salmon’ SunPatiens, foxtail asparagus fern, and ‘Neon’ pothos, is an ideal choice for hot and humid climates (hello, the entire South in the summertime!). Note: SunPatiens thrive in sun or shade, while the pathos shine in full or partial shade with regular watering.

11 of 20

Embrace Color

Classic Zinnia Freestanding Container Garden
Alison Miksch

No matter if you’re at the lake or beach, summer calls for zinnias. These vibrant flowers, which come in every color of the rainbow, will add a bit of cheer to any space—especially if it’s in the sun, where these sun seekers thrive. Zinnias are also a fun investment if you love entertaining. Simply cut the blooms for a centerpiece, and they’ll grow right back.

12 of 20

Add a Fragrant Touch

Basil, Lemon Grass, Rosemary, and Plumbago Container Garden
Robbie Caponetto; Styling: Mark Thompson

Love to cook with fresh herbs and add garnish to a refreshing summer cocktail? Make the deck your garden and plant an assortment right where you’ll most enjoy them, as shown with this arrangement of basil, lemon grass, rosemary, and plumbago.

13 of 20

Think Seasonally

Mixed container garden with coneflowers
A perennial normally planted in the flower bed, coneflowers can also make a good container flower. Hector Manuel Sanchez; Styling: Buffy Hargett Miller; Location: Alys Beach, Florida

Looking for a flower that’s in-season in the summer, requires little care, and blooms for months? Let us introduce you to the coneflower, a perennial that’s part of the daisy family. As evidenced by this photo, the little pink blooms look stunning alongside an abundance of greens, and, well any backdrop.

14 of 20

Consider Climbing Vines

Clematis Vine and Confederate Jasmine Container Garden
Laurey W. Glenn; Styling: Lydia Pursell

If you have a pergola or deck on your dock, consider planting vines that will look pretty in the pot this summer and make themselves at home, attaching to the closest structure and climbing right along, by next. This container garden contains clematis vine and jasmine.

15 of 20

Focus On Farm-to-Table

Fresh Decorative Collards
The striking foliage of collards is a decorative choice to fill containers. Group pots to keep plenty of fresh greens at hand. Photo: Laurey W. Glenn

Summer is the season of fresh produce, so consider planting a container garden with greens and veggies that will look as pretty in a pot as on the plate. Just be sure to do your research about what can withstand direct sunlight and high temperatures, if that’s the case, as well as what plants attract pests. For instance, these collards will beautifully fill a container in the summer, but you might want to avoid placing them at the center of the dock because the leaves are known to attract pests. Instead opt for a alternate leafy green, or place away from gathering areas.

16 of 20

Stick To Your Style

Modern Green Container
Memphis landscape architect Marley Fields Slutz opts for a modern look because, “simple lines and streamlined palette show off the plants more.” Succulents, evergreens and blooms like purple calibrachoas make up her stunning, clean-lined arrangements. Alison Miksch

Having a container garden on a dock doesn’t mean you have to go the traditional route. If your home is modern with sleek lines and dark colors, or even if you prefer a sleek look, consider a modern arrangement like this one by Memphis landscape architect Marley Fields Slutz. We love how the charcoal pots add a dark contrast to the flowering greens, as well as the streamlined palette of cool tones with plants like succulents and purple calibrachoas.

17 of 20

Choose a Color Palette

Choosing and Using Containers
This cottage-style collection is filled with geraniums, petunias, and caladiums.

When mixing plants with similar size booms, it can be fun to go all-in on a color. That way, the combination appears visually appealing to the eye while also looking coordinating and cohesive together—especially when potted in cottage-style terra cotta pots for added warmth.

18 of 20

Welcome With Toparies

Spruce Topiary Container Garden
Robbie Caponetto; Produced by: Mark Thompson

This spruce topiary is shown by a front door, but a pair of these can make the entrance to a dock or corners of a deck feel just as framed and welcoming. The structural greenery of a topiary will feel at home year-round, but feel free to shake up the bottom skirt seasonally. These bright orange blooms—Crossandra (Crossandra infundibuliformis)—are also known as firecracker flowers, which feel like a fitting addition for the celebratory season.

19 of 20

Shine Bright

Pansies & Mums
There’s a sure sign that it’s fall in the South, and no, it doesn’t have anything to do with football. When our garden centers start to fill up with pansies, violas, and mums, you know cooler temps are just around the corner. These colorful annuals have long been favorites of ours. “They bloom prolifically and don’t ask for much,” says Hilton Head horticulturist Carol Guedalia. “They are always happy plants—an ideal choice for both new and experienced gardeners.” Great in containers, these plants look beautiful when displayed on their own or mixed with ornamental cabbages and kale. Pictured: ‘Matrix Yellow Blotch’ pansy (with dark centers) and ‘Penny Clear Yellow” viola.

There’s something about yellow plants that packs on the happy vibes. In the summer, match your blooms to the sun (and your yellow polka dot bikini, if you have one) with coordinating arrangements of pansies, violas, and mums. They are a smart choice for both new and experience gardeners, and are best planted towards the end of summer when cool temps are on the horizon.

20 of 20

Roll With It

Rolling cart container garden with zinnias and marigolds
Robbie Caponetto; Design: Mark Thompson; Styling: Buffy Hargett Miller

We’re going to leave you with a final, unexpected suggestion: the rolling flower cart. As shown here, this container garden looks pretty parked on a porch overflowing with zinnias and marigolds. But, thanks to the wheels, you have the added flexibility of moving it—say, if you have an extra packed dock to need to get it out of the way for the day, or want to place it front and center for a dinner party al fresco.

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