LSU AgCenter Horticulturist
You don’t need a large yard or a lot of space to create a beautiful garden. You can create beautiful planters or containers that fit any space with limitless plant combinations that bring beauty and joy to wherever you call home.
There are plenty of options to choose from when it comes to size, shape and color of containers and planters — hanging baskets, window boxes, small and large containers for combination plantings, single plant containers and clusters of pots. Your options for the plants themselves are plentiful and diverse, too.
To create a beautiful container design, begin by choosing a container that suits your spatial needs. Most garden centers, retail nurseries and online shopping venues offer many types.
Next, choose the plants, and then arrange them in a design of your choosing. Keep them looking good until you want to change the design.
One of the great advantages is that you can change these out. Year after year, you can play with the plant combinations, colors, textures and themes.
A combination planter typically has what is known as a filler, a thriller and a spiller. If you haven’t heard these terms yet, let me explain them to you.
The thriller is the plant that is the main attraction of your container planting. It will be the focal point of your design. Choose a plant that has some height and a striking flower form or color.
The filler is just as the name suggests. Use these plants to fill in areas to create a fuller look in the arrangement. Fillers are medium-sized plants, typically in a mounded form, that make up the bulk of the plant material in the container. You can choose just one type of plant for focal impact, or you can choose several different plant types of similar sizes.
Spiller plants are the trailing, cascading plants that flow over the sides of the containers and complete the arrangement.
When choosing fillers and spillers, a good rule of thumb is to use an odd number of plants — three, five, and seven and so on.
Symmetry brings a good balance to beginning designs. Although it is not required to have an equal number of similar or identical plants on each side of the focal point, it does bring a visual balance to the arrangement.
Be sure you bring different textures into the container planting and design. Add fine-, medium- and coarse-leaved plants. Use tall pieces that bring height for the focal point; shorter, mounding species en masse; and low-growing spiller plants to soften the edges of the container planting.
Lastly, use proportional sizes to match the container. For large containers, use larger plants; use smaller plants in small containers. The rule of thumb is that the tallest plant should not be taller than 1 to 2 times the height of the container.
Now is the fun part: picking the plants. Be sure that you use season-appropriate plants. For example, if you are creating a design for the summer, make sure you are using heat-tolerant, warm-season annuals and perennials.
Most trees and shrubs will be fine throughout the seasons, but be sure to use evergreen selections unless you plan to rotate them out with the seasons as you do with your annuals and perennials.
Here are a few suggestions of Louisiana Super Plants for each category for medium-sized containers.
Thriller plants: Suncredible yellow sunflower, Flamethrower coleus series, Fireworks pennisetum, Senorita Rosalita cleome, Intenz Classic celosia, Flutterby Tutti Frutti buddleia, Camelot foxglove series, Diamonds Blue delphinium, Jolt and Amazon dianthus series.
Filler plants: Beacon impatiens series, Babywing begonia series, Serena and Serenita Raspberry angelonia, Mesa gaillardia series, Butterfly and Lucky Star pentas series, Sorbet viola series, compact varieties in the Sunpatiens impatiens series, Kauai torenia series.
Spiller plants: Mini Vista Indigo and Vista Bubblegum in the Supertunia petunia series, Homestead Purple verbena, lemon sedum.
Ornamental kale, snapdragons and sorbet violas make a dazzling plant display for fall and winter. Photo by Heather Kirk-Ballard/LSU AgCenter
Containers can be used to bring a splash of color to the foundations of homes without having to plant them in the ground. Photo by Gary Bachman/Mississippi State University
You can utilize recycled materials for container planting arrangements. Group different containers together for a variety of options. Photo by Jennifer Johnson, a Get it Growing reader