Gardening with containers is another creative way to add color, texture, and plants to your garden.  It is a wonderful way to enhance an entrance, deck, patio, or even add a new structural element to a bare area of your garden. There are so many ways to plant containers, and that can seem quite intimidating, especially for beginners.

The most daunting task is to choose the plant for your containers. Consider plant features you most enjoy; texture, fragrance and color combinations. Each plant offers its own color, texture, shape, and dazzle. While combining plants in a container or a grouping of pots, ask these following questions:  How do the plants interact with each other. Do certain colors in one plant bring out subtle complementary colors in another? How do the various leaf shapes, sizes and textures carry through the container plantings? Is there an underlying theme that connects all the plants together?

Recipes for Success

Designing great containers is easier than it seems. Here are a few tips to help you create great containers.

The easiest way to begin is to combine these categories of plants: thriller, filler and spiller.

Thriller – Your focal point. This is the plant that provides architectural structure in the pot. The filler is Filler – The plant with medium height in the pot. Fills in the around the base of the thriller.

Spiller – Tumbles over the edge of the container and falls toward the ground.

Choose contrast or have harmony by the colors you select. The easiest high impact color combination is the combination of red, yellow, and blue.

Maintain proportion. The basic guideline is for the plant material to be twice as tall as the visible part of the container.

Combine different flower and foliage textures that complement each other.

Be creative, push the boundaries, and have fun. Most times there are really no bad combinations.

Select a Container

Select a container based on how you would like to use it in the landscape. Will it soften the corner of a patio? Do you want to place it within a grouping of containers? Will it flank your main entrance? Making this decision will help you choose a pot and will help to determine if you need small eight-inch pots or big four-foot containers. You should also consider color combinations, formal vs. informal, style, access to a water source, general care and maintenance, and plans for winter care.

Concrete Thicker and double-fired pots are far very rugged. They can occasionally crack, but most often endure several years and several alternate periods of freezing and thawing without cracking. They can be fairly heavy when filled with potting mix and plants. In fact, the very large pots can be extremely heavy.

If you’re on a budget, it’s hard to beat the standard terra-cotta pot. They’re functional, lightweight and inexpensive. They’re great for growing plants that won’t need to be overwintered, especially herbs.

These pots have two basic flaws: they’ll crack if left outdoors when temperatures drop below freezing, especially if you leave soil in them, and they break easily.


Using a good potting soil mix, not garden soil will help you garden in containers more successfully. A mix with peat, perlite or vermiculite or other organic material will hold moisture longer, be well draining, and give your plants “happy feet”.. Some potting soil mixes have added features like water retaining crystals and/or fertilizers.

Water and Fertilizer

Plants growing in containers do not have the ability to expand their roots beyond the confines of the pot walls to search for water or nutrients in nearby soil. Too much or too little water can quickly kill your plants. Check your containers daily for water needs.  If the soil feels dry to the touch water your container. You may need to water daily in the heat of the summer.

Adding a good time release fertilizer at the time you plant your container can be an excellent way to keep your plants fed. In addition, fertilizing with a water soluble fertilizer every 2 to 4 weeks will give your plants an additional boost.

Plant Choices

Spring Bulbs

  • Daffodils
  • Fritillaria
  • Grape Hyacinth
  • Hyacinth
  • Snow Drops

Flowering Perennials

  • Asters
  • Astilbe
  • Berginia
  • Coreopsis
  • Daylilies
  • Echinacea
  • Ferns
  • Garden Mums
  • Heuchera
  • Hosta
  • Lamium
  • Lavendar
  • Liriope
  • Miscanthus
  • Perovskia
  • Roses
  • Rudbeckia
  • Sage
  • Sedum

Ornamental  Grasses

  • Calamagrostis
  • Miscanthus
  • Pennisetum
  • Sporobolis


  • Arborvitae – White Cedar
  • Boxwoods
  • Chamaecyparis  – False Cypress
  •  Holly ‘Sky Pencil’
  • Juniperus procumbens ‘Greenmound’ – Greenmound Juniper
  • Juniperus scopulorum ‘Skyrocket’ – Skyrocket Juniper
  • Pinus leucodermis – Bosnian Pine
  • Taxus x media, ‘Hicksii’ – Hicks Yew

Trees and Shrubs

  • Azalea
  • Cotoneaster
  • Euonymous – Burning Bush
  • Hydrangea
  • Japanese Maple
  • Lilacs
  • Rhododendron
  • Spirea
  • Blueberries


Other Ideas

  • Pumpkins
  • Gourds
  • Cut Ornamental Grasses