How to Plant Containers

"All gardening is landscape painting" - William Kent

In my last post I showed different ideas and plant combinations for outdoor containers. Now we take a look at how to plant and achieve the look that you want for your containers.
First pick a container that will give you style or color to the plants that you are going to add. I like cement, metal, fiberglass or heavy ceramic over plastic. Heavier containers have more weight and that prevents the container from being dumped over by animals or high winds. Heavier containers also protect the roots of plants that might overwinter in the container. Make sure the container has good drainage. Many containers do not have drain holes and if you have a hard rain you might find your plants drowning in water. Drain holes can be made by using an electric drill and a drill bit for masonry, wood, plastic or ceramic depending on your container. The addition of a small piece of screen wire or a paper coffee filter over the drain hole helps keep insects from entering the soil by way of the drain hole. Next, I add pieces of rock or broken flower pot pieces around the drain hole to keep the drain hole open. I like to use a good brand of potting soil that already contains fertilizer and I prefer potting soils that contain moisture control. You can also purchase moisture control crystals and add them to your potting soil. Moisture control is nice for those days that you forget to water!

When selecting plants I like to use "Thrillers, Spiller and Fillers". Thrillers are plants that have height or great color that really grab the eye. Spillers are plants that hang over the side and "spill" down to the ground. Good examples are the use of vining plants like ivy or sweet potato vines. Fillers are the additional plants that you add for color that fill the container in. If you look at the picture above, you can see the thriller, fillers and spillers very easily. Don't feel bad about over planting a container and try mixing houseplants in with your outdoor annuals and perennials in containers. You can also combine small shrubs, hostas or bulbs with your plants.

How do you select the right plants for container? First, make sure that the plants that you are using have similar water and lighting needs. Plants in the container will do much better if you remember that rule. In selecting plants, work with a color scheme that works with your garden. I use a gardener's color wheel that helps select my colors. Then I just match up similar flower colors. Gardening color wheels are easy to use and can help you put your colors together. Here are some color rules that can help:

  • Primary colors are red, yellow and blue.

  • Secondary colors are orange, green and violet.

  • Warm colors are red, yellow and orange.

  • Cool colors are shades of blue, green and violet.

  • Complementary colors are colors opposite each other like yellow to purple or blue to orange or red to green.

  • Triads are three colors that are equally spaced across from each other on a color wheel like red, yellow and blue.

  • A monochromatic color scheme is the use of a single color. Like an all white garden.

  • Split Complementary is one color plus the colors on either side of it's complement. An example would be yellow to blue violet or red-violet.

One of my favorite books for learning about color is P. Allen Smith's "Colors for the Garden". His book includes many suggestions for different plant color combinations and lots of great plant information.

Now is a great time to start thinking and designing those containers for spring. Buy yourself a color wheel and get out all those flower catalogs that are now arriving in the mail and start designing!

Happy Gardening!

The Creative Gardener

Don't forget to pick! My next post will be on "Water Feature Ideas for the Garden".


Janet said…
Good advice Debbie. I like the fill, spill, thrill approach too. Didn't put much into the winter front porch containers...and it looks like it. Oh well, spring will come.
LeSan said…
This is good advice for creating attractive container plantings. I am still very new to gardening and have not found my comfort zone--meaning time, to do planters. I made a lame passing attmept last year but just had to much going on elsewhere. I admire you who can create these lovely planters. I would like to give it another try this year. I'm keeping your blog bookmarked. Thank you. :-)