6 Tips for Beautiful Potted Containers

container gardening

No matter what size your yard, your balcony, or your porch, container gardening fits them all. Now that May is here, it is time to plant our containers with flowers to enjoy all summer and welcome those that come into our homes and backyard. Of course, the varieties of plants and containers are abundant — sun and shade plants, monochromatic color palettes of plants and mixtures, and various shapes and sizes and materials of containers. This is the beauty of container gardening — you decide what works best for your space and which plants will thrive! And of course, you get to plant your favorites, too!

Here are six tips that my great-grandmother taught me about container gardening that have helped me over the years: 

1. Make sure your container has holes in the bottom for drainage. 

Whatever container you choose to use (wire hanging baskets lined with moss, terracotta, or stone pots), make sure your container has holes in the bottom for drainage. If it doesn’t, you can drill some yourself! 

2. Pick the plants for your containers with the concept of “thrillers, fillers, and spillers” in mind.

The master of container gardening himself, P. Allen Smith, stated in his blog post, “I like to use the thriller, filler, and spiller structural concept…. You start with tall thriller plants that add a vertical element to the combination…. Next, use more rounded plants as fillers to give the container the look of abundance…. Finally, spillers go in. These trailing plants soften the edge of the container and balance the height of the thriller.” There are examples of “thrillers, fillers, and spillers” below! 

potted flowers

3. Err on the side of more plants for a fuller looking pot.

When you wonder why some people’s pots looks so good it is probably because they use more flowers and plants. Think big when it comes to containers!

4. Don’t skimp on potting soil.

There are lots of potting soil options; your local garden store will be helpful in recommending potting soil and fertilizer for your containers based on your planting zone. Some potting soils have slow-release fertilizer included in the mixture, but it is always a good idea to fertilize your plants regularly while watering. Most gardeners recommend at least 5-15-5 (NPK ratio for Nitrogen-Phosphorus-Potassium) fertilizers because the 15 Phosphorous helps ensure great blooms! Make sure to initially fill your container full of potting soil, only leaving approximately 3 inches from the top of the container before adding your plants. 

Once you have placed your “thrillers, spillers, and fillers,” add more potting soil to the container, making sure that each plant is fully and compactly covered in soil — and the surface soil is flush with the top edge of the container. 

container gardening

5. Water and fertilize your container gardens regularly!

Containers often require frequent — daily — watering especially in the hot summer months, and it is always good to water when the surface soil is dry to the touch.

6. Don’t forget “deadheading”!

Pinching or snipping off dead blooms, either with your fingers or with garden shears, allows new blooms to form and can even help create fuller containers of plants. 

Here are some examples of “thrillers, fillers, and spillers!” 

Sun Thrillers:

  1. Geraniums
  2. Pentas
  3. Cone Flowers
  4. Boxwoods
  5. Coleus
  6. Zinnias
  7. Shasta Daisies
  8. Gaura
  9. Hibiscus
  10. Carex Grasses
  11. Verbena
  12. Calla Lilies
  13. Angelonia
  14. Cosmos

Shade Thrillers:

  1. Hostas
  2. Caladiums 
  3. Coleus
  4. Begonias
  5. Ferns — Autumn Fern, Japanese Painted Fern, Boston Fern, Soft Shield Fern, Western Sword Fern, Asparagus Fern
  6. Columbine
  7. Mother-in-law’s Tongue and Snake Plants
  8. Phlox
  9. Fuchsia
  10. Inpatiens
  11. Silver Inch Plant

Sun Fillers:

  1. Vinca
  2. Sunpatiens
  3. Merigolds
  4. Sedum
  5. Lobelias
  6. Coleus
  7. Salvia
  8. Euphorbia Diamond Frost
  9. Dianthus
  10. Dusty Miller
  11. Ferns—Fox Tail Fern, Ostrich Fern, Cinnamon Fern

Shade Fillers: 

  1. Inpatiens
  2. Heucheras
  3. Hosta
  4. Ferns
  5. Lobelias
  6. Coleus
  7. Fuchsia
  8. Begonias 
  9. Bacopa
  10. Ferns—Boston Fern, Asparagus Fern
  11. Caladiums
  12. Euphorbia Diamond Frost

Sun Spillers: 

  1. Sweet Potato Vines
  2. Creeping Jenny
  3. Trailing Lantana
  4. Trailing Vinca
  5. Trailing Petunia
  6. Portulaca
  7. Catnip
  8. Sedum
  9. Blue Daze
  10. Bacopa
  11. Asparagus Fern

Shade Spillers:

  1. Lamium
  2. English Ivy
  3. Creeping Jenny
  4. Trailing Rosemary
  5. Trailing Bacopa
  6. Trailing Begonia
  7. Bleeding Heart
  8. Lobelia
  9. Trailing Coleus
  10. Bacopa

What are you planting in your containers right now? 

Laura Fincher is a native Mississippian. Her great-grandmother and mother taught her about container gardening at an early age. Her great-grandmother meticulously made moss-lined wire hanging baskets every year; she would have them overflowing with caladium petunias, and trailing purple cane (Tradescantia zebrina). Every year, Laura and her mother look forward to planting their container gardens and talking about their sweet memories of planting flowers together.