Spring in the garden center means many flowers, and it’s really the greatest time to plant flower containers, in my opinion.
But there’s often questions about plants that work well together, and how to make them last. Also, everyone (also my opinion) secretly yearns to unlock the secret(s) of making container flower plantings look effortless and full of whimsy.
Well, I won’t claim to know ALL the secrets, but I know a few that will help you. And at the end of the article, I’ll give you the biggest secret of all on this topic, so let’s get started!
Flower Containers Tip #1: Start Small In The Beginning
If you’re new to flower containers and planting them, it’s easy to get overwhelmed. I truly recommend that you start with a SMALL project first, and try it out for awhile.
No huge pots. Not a dozen plants. No crazy soil mixing. No irrigation systems. You’ll hear and read all kinds of advice, and with all the pretty things in the garden centers (including mine!) it’s very easy to want to buy All.The.Things.
As a retailer, of course, I want you to buy everything. But as a gardener, I know the heartbreak of buying lots of stuff and having it all fail because I took on too much at once.
Photo from Pinterest
Flower Containers Tip #2: Stick to the Easy 3 Method
I’ve heard this flower containers formula called many things. I call it the “Easy 3”.
In a flower planting, you want 3 things: Height, Substance, and a Trailing. These are commonly referred to in horticulture design as the “Thriller, Filler, and Spiller” setup.
Expecting Michael Jackson beats to start playing and Vincent Price to laugh maniacally here? Well if you know me you know I love that song in a “13 Going On 30” movie kind of way, but I’m not referring to mega hit pop songs here. We’re talking design.
The Thriller part of flower containers is your plant that gives the container design height. You want a tall visually interesting grass, or tall flowering plant, that will sit in the “back” of the container and draw your eye from the top down towards the container it’s planted in. It usually has a “WOW” factor to capture your attention.
Some examples of “Thrillers” are: Heather Grass, Snapdragons, Lavender, Dianthus (certain varieties), Pentas, Liriope, Cosmos, Salvia, Geraniums, Horsetail Reed, Junco (corkscrew) plants, Celosia, and many more!
The “Filler” is the most relaxed plant of the 3. It shouldn’t be too big or too small, it shouldn’t have a lot of height and it shouldn’t spill down either. It essentially sits on the “couch” and watches the world go by, just looking pretty.
It should also be a uniting factor between the Thriller and the Spiller. Perhaps it’s flowers that coordinate the colors of the other two. Or maybe it has a fantastic foliage that compliments the container itself. There’s multiple ways to tie the 3 parts together, and being the middle sibling, it’s the Filler’s job to hold the design together.
Some examples of “Fillers” are Lamb’s Ear, Impatiens, Diascia, Dusty Miller, Pansies, Violas, Coleus, Cuphea (Mexican Heather), and herbs like Sage, Parsley, Dill, Fennel, Lemon Balm, and Catnip.
The last, and usually front-most, plant in your flower containers is the Spiller. The Spiller plant should have a “trailing” habit – in other words, it should “spill” over the side of the pot towards the ground as it grows, like a waterfall.
The Spiller can be any kind of plant, flowering or not, with this trailing habit. I definitely like to make it a coordinating or complimentary color to the other two. If I don’t do that, then I look for something that will highly contrast with the container it will be partially covering.
For example, if my container is a dark deep blue, then I’d like my spiller foliage to be variegated with white and green, OR, have big flowers that are white, or pink, or anything that really stands out against that dark blue.
Some examples of “Spillers” are Petunias, Verbena, Aptenia (sun roses), Dune Sunflower, some varieties of begonias and geraniums, and Portulaca (moss roses).
Flowers Containers Tip #3: Make Sure Your Pot is Big Enough
This probably goes down as the most frequent mistake I see in planting these containers; the pot doesn’t have sufficient growing room for the roots of your plants, either in width/diameter, or in depth.
Remember that your plants are going to be housed in that container for the entire season…and sometimes forever. The roots are going to need someplace to grow into! I always err on the side of bigger is better in this situation.
The key, I think, is to either choose your plants first, or your container first. One of those is going to dictate what size of everything else to buy! If you have 3 1 gallon plants, you’ll need at LEAST a 6 gallon container – double the size of your initial plants and their rootballs!
Flower Containers Tip #4: Don’t Cheap Out On The Soil
Have you ever gone to look at a house, an apartment, or even arrived at a hotel, and realized that the pictures you saw ahead of time definitely don’t reflect where you’re currently standing?
Imagine how your plants will react to being moved into their new home only to realize that their surroundings are not up to their standards. In this case, cheap soil will have a lasting impression on your plants and will definitely affect their performance in your container.
I’m not saying you have to spend a fortune! But for flowering containers that you want to last a while, you’re going to need soil with some substance, some organic matter, and a good mixture of aerating components and substrate that the roots can thrive in.
$2 bags of soil won’t do that. Sorry. Your plants will drown and succumb to root rot OR they’ll never have access to water because the water drains away too fast. Fair warning!
I recommend: Low end: Mix Black Velvet Peat, Potting Soil, and Cow Manure and Compost (makes 3 cu ft) for less than $10. Mid-grade: Just Naturals Organic Potting Mix, contains worm castings and compost, feeds for 3 months, $11.99 for 2 cu ft. High-end: Happy Frog Potting Soil or Bushdoctor Coco Loco, both by FoxFarm and both 2 cu ft – it’s the same awesome mixture, just one uses Peat and the other Coco Fiber.
Flower Containers Tip #5: Consistent Water, Fertilizer, and Maintenance Schedule
The key to most gardening success, which if you’ve been following me for awhile you probably already know, is consistency. The most challenging thing about consistency is that it is not a trait that humans possess naturally!!
For me, I have to set reminders for myself. Calendar notifications. Post-it notes on the mirror or car keys. Daily chore list. Whatever works. Even then it’s hard to stay consistent. #TheStruggleIsReal
To further break down care of flower containers, make it a 5 to 10 minute task that you do daily. Water Monday mornings for 5 minutes (if it’s just one container, won’t take long at all), Tuesday afternoons after work sit on the porch with a glass of wine and deadhead your flowers, trim off spent leaves or broken branches, pull any weeds that might be trying to pop up, and check for pests – treat or remove if you find any. Every other Wednesday morning water with a dilute liquid fertilizer. Whatever works for you and your plants to keep them looking radiant, do that.
And finally, forgive yourself when you mess up your schedule. Plants are often quite forgiving if you bribe them with a little food after a period of what I like to call “benign neglect.”
We had an old rusty broken wheelbarrow just lying around. I made it useful again by planting in it. Dianthus and Geranium “Thrillers”, Marigold and Cuphea “Fillers” and Petunia “Spillers”. I later added some Mint (another “Spiller”) and a couple of plastic flamingos, because Florida.
Those are my top 5 tips for Easy Beautiful Flower Containers! I hope they were helpful. If you keep these few things in mind for your flower containers, they’ll be perky and beautiful all season long!
If you’re looking for plants for your containers, I hope you’ll stop in. We’ve got a lot of beautiful flowers right now just waiting to go home with you…at prices that I think are hard to pass up.
Until next time, Keep Growing!