5 Tips for Outstanding Containers

Maria, our horticulturist, competing in the INspired Beauty container competition

Maria, our horticulturist, competing in the INspired Beauty container competition

Last week we were excited to participate in Downtown Indy's second annual INspired Beauty event as part of the planter challenge to help raise money for their street beautification fund. We were even more excited to take home the People's Choice Award for our entry! Today we're going to share 5 container design elements from Maria, our horticulturist, to help you make your own winning containers.

container garden coleus euphorbia lysimachia

Heights and Habits

In order to give your container design good structure, you need to think about the height and habit of the plants you choose. If everything is the same height, you can't see all the plants properly, so it's good to mix that up. Planters where everything is the same height also lack interest. Habit refers to the shape of the plant. This is where the classic rule of "thriller, filler, and spiller" comes in. "Thrillers" are tall plants that are usually narrow or sometimes bushy. "Fillers" are shorter and less conspicuous, and they often have a spreading form. As you might guess, "spillers" are plants that cascade over the sides of the container. Some people treat the "thriller, filler, spiller" saying as a strict rule for making good containers, but we like to consider it more of a guideline than an actual rule. If you have all three, chances are you'll have a good container (especially if you follow our other tips), but don't be afraid to experiment once you get comfortable. Just know that too many of one type will leave you with a container that isn't at its best. In the container on the right, we have coleus provide both height and width, euphorbia with little white flowers to help fill in some of the bare spots, and vibrant creeping Jenny cascading over the sides.

fall planter grouping pumpkins mum kale


Color is pretty self-explanatory. When choosing colors and color schemes for your planters you have all kinds of options. A monochromatic color scheme uses different plants with the same color - using all different shades of green is a surprisingly fun option. Complimentary color schemes use colors on the opposite sides of the color wheel: green and red, orange and blue, or purple and yellow. You can also use all warm colors (orange, yellow, and red) for a bright and cheery look or all cool colors (purple, blue, and green) for a peaceful and laid-back feel. While we may think of flowers first when we think of color, make sure you're thinking about foliage color too. In the grouping of planters on the right I stuck with bright orange and dark purple for a dramatic, high contrast fall color scheme.

drought tolerant planter with varied texture


Texture is a visual element that people usually don't consider if they're new to container design. When we talk about texture, we're talking both about how the plants physcially feel (like sharp agave or soft licorice plant) but also how fine or coarse the leaves and flowers are. We think of plants with small, airy flowers and leaves as having a fine texture. Plants with big flowers and leaves are considered to have a coarse texture. Mixing textures well can truly set a container apart and make anyone look like a pro. In the container on the right, I used agave for a coarse texture, 'Black Beauty' ornamental pepper with a medium texture, and white lantana for a fine texture.

Growing Conditions

Growing conditions don't affect the look of a container much, but they are absolutely essential to making sure that your container continues to be beautiful for weeks and months to come. The two main conditions you need to think about with containers are light level and water needs. Pick plants that match the light levels you have. If the plant has a label it will tell you the light needs, if not you can ask a garden center employee for help. The plants you pick should also have similar water needs, and those water needs should go with what your maintenance expectations are. If you are great about remembering to water your plants, then you can pick whichever plants you want as long as they all tolerate the same water levels (and you can teach me your secrets - even I forget to water my own plants as often as I should). If you know you struggle with watering, you're going to want to pick plants with moderate or low water needs. The more heat and sun your planter is exposed to, the more often you'll need to water it. The planter on the left is a mix of succulents - perfect for full sun locations and people who have a hard time remembering to water containers.

modern spring planter purple tulips

Whatever you love!

The final rule is to just do what makes you happy! Don't get so wrapped up in the rules that you stress yourself out and can't enjoy what can be a relaxing and fun process. Start with a few plants that make you really happy. If it's something tall and dramatic, try to find something more subdued with a fine texture to go with it. If it's a stunning succulent, add other drought-tolerant plants like lantana and agave. I could go on and on with more scenarios, but my main point is that sometimes the easiest way to make a plan is to just go with your gut and add a few extras if the combo you end up with needs a little something to bring it all together in keeping with the tips we went through. For example, the combo of tulips, willow twigs, and violas on the left started with the client knowing she wanted purple tulips, and also that she didn't want the design cluttered up with a lot of extras. So we simply added violas for some low-lying texture and lighter color and twigs for extra height and finer texture. She absolutely loved the results!

If you love what you're seeing but don't want to design or plant it yourself, give us a call at 251-GROW or fill out a contact form. We love doing planters, and we work with our customers to understand their tastes and preferences and then come up with solutions they love. Now is the perfect time to plan for fall containers, so get in touch with us if you want some showstopping autumn designs without finding time in your own busy schedule.

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