Last weekend as I was browsing the gardening section of Home Depot, I noticed their beautiful flowering containers that we available for purchase. They always look so beautiful, don’t they?
Well, many moons ago when I was in high school, I worked at a family run nursery in my hometown for a couple of summers. What a fantastic job spent outdoors surrounded by plants! Naturally, my favorite task was to unpack all of the decor and gift items that the store also sold, but the other task that I loved was putting together and potting up the gorgeous flowering pots to be displayed and sold at the front of the store. I would sometimes spend an entire day planting pot after pot!
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Now, to be fair, the flowering pots sold at nurseries look beautiful because:
- The plants included just came from the grower and are all blooming and pest-free. They are beautiful and ready to go!
- The baby plants are crowded into the pot so that it creates an abundance of blooms and looks very lush.
When creating your own container garden at home, you might have to wait a bit for the plants to bloom and you might not plant yours as close together to save money, but there is still one simple formula that you can follow to create an amazing container garden. Basically, it is a THREE LAYER formula that goes as follows:
HEIGHT – FILL- SPILL
This is also sometimes referred to as “Thrill” because an eye-catching or showy plant works well as the focal point, but the key is that this plant needs to have height and be taller than all other plants, so I refer to this layer as Height.
If your container is round, this plant would go in the center. If your container is flat or will be placed against a wall, this plant can be the back layer. Also, this is typically just ONE, upright plant unless you do a small grouping (maybe 3) of annuals that are tall, like salvia, for example.
For larger containers, my personal preference is to use a perennial for the height layer so that you can grow it year-round. But I do like to keep the height at a manageable level so that it doesn’t grow too tall and become disconnected from the other layers.
Examples of plants that work well for this layer include ornamental grasses, lavender, salvia.
This is the middle layer of your container garden and is just what it sounds like – plants that will fill in the space around the Height. These plants should stay shorter than the Height plant and this is a good place to add some annual color.
Examples of Fill plants include petunias, impatiens, begonias, pansies, even some geraniums.
These are shorter trailing plants that are planted toward the outer edges to that they will spill over the sides of the container. They could be flowering plants that complement the Fill layer, or they could be non-flowering with a focus on the foliage. There are some Spill plants that are actually more like Thrill in terms of their interesting foliage!
Some of my favorite Spill plants are ivy, calibrachoa, bacopa, and lobelia.
I just planted the pots on my porch last weekend, so they don’t look like much just yet. But given time and TLC they will be soon be flowering and spilling over! They are a combination of green, white, purple and yellow because I love the juxtaposition of warm and cool colors. I used a gardenia for the Height because the scent reminds me of my grandpa. The Fill is nemesia and pansies and the Spill is calibrachoa, although I want to add one more Spill plant to the mix. I was trying to keep the cost down and so I didn’t pack my plants in the way I’d really like. Patience is not my strong suit but in this case, I’m just going to have to wait for everything to fill in!
Additional Tips & Tidbits
- Know what type of sun exposure your container will get and pick your plants accordingly. Be sure that they also have similar watering needs.
- If you want your container garden to be showy year-round, choose a combination of plants that bloom at different times of the year
- Know what plants are appropriate for your Zone (area). For the most part, nurseries and garden centers carry plants that are appropriate for your area, but if you travel to another area and want to purchase a plant, be sure that it will survive in your home climate before buying!
- Ensure that your pot has adequate drainage and that the soil isn’t too compacted. You might need to add more drain holes to larger pots.
- Some trailing plants will need to be pruned or pinched back so that they don’t get too woody or leggy near the base.
- Use a good potting soil to give your plants a good start for growing.
- When you remove plants from their plastic pots, lightly loosen the bottom roots and sides of the root ball so that they are ready for planting. Be gentle, though, as you don’t want to shock them!
- Use at least one “Thrill” plant in your container, even if it’s not the Height plant.
- Larger sized plants tend to be heartier than the small six-packs, so if possible, use larger plants. Doing so will also help your container look more established.
- If possible, plant your plants right next to each other so that the container looks full – like the plants have been growing together for years. If budget considerations make this impossible, you’ll just have to be patient and wait for the plants to grow, like I am doing with mine. :)
What are some of your container gardening plants?
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This is great, easy to follow advice. Would I do something similar for flower beds? 3 layers? Tall plants, then shorter, then a border?
I implemented your technique. Looks rather nice (if I do say so myself) Lol. Thanks a bunch…….G.V.
I have 5 pots identical to the one in the first picture. My pots sit on columns and I always have trouble getting the right look. I love the top picture. Would you be able to tell me what is in the pot?
Thank you so much for this post. I will not and could not forget this tip — thrill, fill and spill. So helpful. I’ll put together something like this for our church here in the Philippines. Thanks again. What a lovely blog by the way. I’ll visit this often.
Thanks so much for these very useful tips.
What a lovely post! I hope to impliment your formula very soon!
Thank you, Susan!
Great tips I cannot wait to start my flowers. Few more months for us here in the Midwest. Beautiful guide.
Thank you, Kris!
Thank you so much for this article. I’ve never stopped to think about the levels before and this is such a good guide…and right on time with spring finally showing up. I hope you’ll show us your planter after a few months. Your choices are lovely.
Thank you, Vickie!