3 Steps to Stunning Container Gardening

Creating a striking planter arrangement is a simple project that can be completed in an afternoon and will be enjoyed for many months to come. If you want to plan and design your own container garden this season, here are some tips to get you off on the right foot. The concept is simple: thrillers, fillers, and spillers.
By Stephanie
Few Hours
Less Than $500
Collection of succulent plants with a lattice behind it
Blue peonies in a clay pot with greenery behind it
Red fire poker plants

What You Need for This Project

Closeup of red and white dahlia bloom
Cordyline red star with assortment of green plants around and behind it
Closeup of dracaena spike
Closeup of orangey yellow daylilies
Fuchsia geraniums
Aerial closeup of purple fountain grass
Red salvia

Plant a Thriller in the Centre

Start with the “thriller,” a plant with enough height and decorative interest to anchor the centre of your container design. The thriller is the star of your container and should have remarkable flowers, bold colour, or noticeable height.

Here are some plant ideas to get you started:

  • Dahlia
  • Cordyline Red Star Spike
  • Dracaena Spike
  • Daylilies
  • Geranium
  • Lavender
  • Purple Fountain Grass
  • Salvia

Choose Spillers to Trail Over the Edge of the Pot

Next, add in your “spillers,” the plants that cascade over the edge of the planter like a waterfall. Choose spillers that contrast with the pot colour to add an eye-catching combination.

Good choices are:

  • Bacopa
  • Calibrachoa
  • Creeping Jenny (Lysimachia nummularia)
  • Euphorbia
  • Lobelia
  • Sweet Potato Vine (Ipomoea batatas)
  • Vinca Vine

Closeup of a single white bacopa
Calibrachoa with a single purple bloom
Closeup of yellow creeping Jenny
Closeup of red euphorbia
Closeup of blue lobelia
Closeup of black sweet potato vine with red plant in the lower foreground
Vinca vine with purple blooms
Pink and white begonias
Purple campanulas
Fuchsia celosia
Multi-coloured coleus leaf
Pink dipladenia
Dusty Miller
Pink gaillardia with yellow trim
Assortment of sempervivum succulent plants
Blackish red heuchera
Closeup of parsley
Red pentas
Purple petunia
Rosemary with white flowers
Purpley green sage
Red zinnias with yellow centres

Use Fillers to Add Fullness

Add "filler" plants to complete your gorgeous planter arrangement. Fillers can add in complementary colours, interesting foliage, or long-lasting blooms to elevate the design. They are mid-sized plants with strong foliage that act as a background to the other elements.

Look for fillers with a different colour, height, or shape than your thriller, such as:

  • Begonia
  • Campanula
  • Celosia
  • Coleus
  • Dusty Miller (Senecio cineraria)
  • Gaillardia
  • Hens and Chicks (Sempervivum)
  • Heuchera
  • Hibiscus
  • Parsley (Petroselinum crispum)
  • Pentas
  • Petunia
  • Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis)
  • Sage (Salvia officinalis)
  • Zinnia

Reminders for Container Gardening

Now that you know the steps, here are some helpful hints to plant the perfect container garden.

Choose the Right Plants

Plant arrangement of peonies, grass and other plants
Assortment of plant information tags

Select complementary plants that have the same light and watering requirements listed on their labels. If your container plant is placed in a sunny spot in the garden, make sure the labels show a yellow sun. If your container is going to be placed in part-shade or full-shade, then select plants suitable for those conditions.

You can choose any combination of perennials, annuals, herbs, or even fruits and vegetables for an outdoor planter arrangement. Many annuals are well-suited for container gardening, but when branching out with perennials, look for “dwarf” or “container” notation on the labels, as those plants are meant to thrive in containers.

The Dirt on Soil

Look for bags of soil specially formulated for container plants. Container mix is often good quality compost with peat moss and perlite or vermiculite added for aeration and water retention. Garden soil is generally too heavy for containers, so it’s best to purchase container soil to start off right.

Tip: If you have a lot of planter arrangements to create, you can make your container mix at home with one part perlite, two parts peat moss, and four parts well-rotted compost.

Container gardens have limited space for soil and no natural critters rooting around in the dirt. While that might sound ideal, bacteria, microbes, worms, and bugs offer great benefits in keep soil healthy and nutritious for plants.

Once you have created the right soil, add a slow-release container-specific organic fertilizer and mix it in well. Throughout the growing season, water the plants with a dilute fertilizer mixture that will keep them fed and happy all season long.  

Not All Containers are Created Equal

Felt Root Farm plant pot
Red plant container on foldable frame
Clay plant pot
Wood style plant container box with green plants in it
Black plastic plant pot
Black urn style plant container
Green plastic plant pot
Black plastic rectangular plant container

There are plenty of options for containers made from materials like ceramic, plastic, wood, and resin. They come in many shapes, sizes, and colours — and some even have self-watering bases. With so many options to choose from, you're sure to find one that will be the perfect muse for your container display.
  • Ceramic and clay pots have a classic look and natural feel to them. Unglazed terracotta pots are porous so excess moisture to escape, making them a good choice for wet climates. Glazed pots have more longevity in cold seasons, but unglazed pots will crumble if left to freeze over the winter.
  • Good quality plastic pots are very durable, hold moisture well, and can be left outside year-round. They are inexpensive to buy, but will need to be replaced after a few years of weathering.
  • Planters made from cedar are meant to be left outdoors year-round. They're porous like clay, but hold moisture in the soil better. Cedar planters add a rustic look to the garden and will last for a number of years before needing to be replaced.
  • Fibre and resin pots take the good looks of ceramic and stone, but without the weight or the cost. Good quality synthetic pots can last for countless years and remain outdoors in all seasons. Look for double-walled containers to protect plants from extreme heat or cold. In the event that the fibre pots are missing drainage holes, you can use a drill to add some for outdoor use.
  • Save time and resources with self-watering pots. Many containers are now available with an insert that holds the soil above a reservoir for additional water. This is a wonderful way to reduce watering requirements. Make sure there are still drainage holes in the pot to avoid a build-up of excess water. Usually, these holes will be on the side of the planter or in a raised tube in the centre of the pot.

Growing a Green Thumb

With these easy steps, you will be well on your way to becoming a master of 

container gardening in no time. For just an afternoon with your hands in the soil, 

you will be rewarded with a whole season of beauty to enjoy.

About the Author


Garden Therapy

I registered the GardenTherapy.ca domain and began to share the projects that I was working on in the garden. Each time I showed one of my finished projects or a few flowers from the garden, I would get emails asking how I did it. With cooking, some people use recipes and others just run wild in the kitchen. Well, I ran wild in the garden. I would experiment and test new ideas and they would sometimes work and sometimes fail. If I had a success on my hands, I would make it again and take step-by-step photos along the way so I could share it here.My articles, projects, and recipes on Garden Therapy still follow the idea of blogging as sharing my personal take on gardens and crafting from natural materials but I work hard to share each step with photos so that they can be recreated by others.

How To Terms

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