Four Seasons of

Container Gardening

for Year-Round Interest


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Exposure – Will the container be in the sun or the shade?  How much are you willing to water?  During hot and dry summer months, daily watering may increase to twice daily.


Design – “Thriller, Filler, and Spiller.” The Thriller is the largest plant positioned in the center or back of the container.  The Filler is a smaller and rounder plant that fills in the space nearest the Thriller.  Lastly, the Spiller cascades over the edge of the container in the front and on both sides. This is the technique used by the Missouri Botanical Gardens and also by P. Allen Smith in his container design book.  

At Sugar Creek Gardens, we go crazy with our containers! We carry hundreds of varieties of Fillers, Spillers, and Thrillers. The size of the container will dictate the number of plants that you need – three or thirty!  Ask yourself:  Will containers be arranged in a group and complement each other?  There may be a specific plan for each container so that colors, textures, shapes, and sizes of plants and flowers -- and even the color of the containers -- all relate to each other and are part of an intricate design.


Color – Contrasting colors -- red and yellow, purple and orange, yellow and blue, and pink and white, create interest. Monochromatic arrangements, all one color on several different varieties of plants, will also have an impact.  Foliage plants with colorful leaves, the purple of ‘African Queen’ Tradescantia, or the pink, white, and green of Tricolor Sage, add color and interest. The color of the pot can also be part of the design, complementing the plants, or creating a clever contrast.


Texture – Consider a variety of leaf shapes. The large, round shape of Hosta is a good contrast with the light, airy shape of Ferns. The tall straight leaves of ornamental grasses, paired with round and cut leaves of Heuchera, create an interesting fall container.


Soil and Amendments – Start off each spring with clean pots filled with fresh potting compound. Fertilizers and water retention additives come in ready-mixed bags of potting soil. Compost may also be added to the soil mixture: one part compost to four parts potting soil.  After adding the soil to the container, leave a space of about 5,” then fill in the plants.  When you are finished, there should be a 1”–2” space between the soil and the top of the container.


Spanish moss may be added to cover any exposed soil.  This will add another texture to your pot, while helping with water and soil overflow.  If fertilizer (Bloom Booster Miracle Gro) is used, be careful not to over-fertilize.  The first application should be full strength, and then apply at half strength every two weeks after that. Another choice for fertilizer would be Osmocote.  It requires only one application at the time the pot design is put together.


Using These Principles, Create Containers for Spring, Summer, Fall and Winter!


Spring – Pansies, Linaria, Dianthus, forced bulbs, Ferns, and Ivy fill our spring pots. Spring is a wonderful time to add colorful herbs and leafy lettuce, a practice Allen Smith noticed in England.


Summer – Delicate spring blooms roast in the summer heat. Summer annuals are joined by tropicals and house plants to create interesting containers. The varieties are endless: Pentas, Cleome, Angelonia, Sweet Potato Vine, Melampodium, Wave Petunias, Million Bells, Scaevola, and Cannas!  Herbs and vegetables may be planted in large “salad bowl “shaped pots to sit outside the kitchen door -- easy access for the gourmet cook! Always remember your “Thriller, Filler, and Spiller” technique when combining your plants in their containers.


Fall – Remove tired and fried summer annuals. Add a new

        mixture of potting soil to the container. Happy fall annuals

        include Pansies, Dianthus, Ornamental Kale, Variegated Ivy, and

        Snapdragons. These are complemented by perennials, Asters,

        Mums, Dianthus, Heucheras, Ornamental Grasses, and Solidago

        ‘Golden Rod.’


Winter – Remove plant materials and replace with an interesting arrangement of evergreens, branches of red berries, pinecones, and red bows. Fresh fruit (pineapple, oranges, lemons, and pomegranates) will create a Williamsburg look.  Some of the evergreens, like Boxwood, Spruce, Balsam, Holly, Pine, Southern Magnolia, and Cedar, may be left in containers and window boxes until spring. Then the process starts all over again!


Fairy Gardens – Large pots and bird baths that have sprung a leak may be used to create unusual miniature fairy gardens. Plant material may include tiny miniature shrubs, creeping Thymes, Mazus repens, Steppables, and Moss. There are delightful little garden features – fairy houses, bird baths, garden benches and chairs – that are just the right size for fairies!







Take the Guess Work Out

of Plant Selection


For colorful images of plants, descriptions and care instructions visit Reference Guide & Images.  For our listing of plants with sizes and prices visit Plant Price List.