Planting Summertime Container Gardens

by Rebecca Austin

One of our favorite warm-season activities is designing our container gardens. These are perfect for adding color and life to small spaces like patios or apartment balconies! 

There is no exact formula for how to pot up annual designs, but there are a few factors that you should consider.  

The Basics: 

Consider the plants you're going to use:

  • The three key components to an annual flower container garden are the thriller, filler, and spiller. Using these three types of plants creates dimension in your arrangement. Rather than having one note designs if you use only one type of plants, you can add depth and contrasting colors and textures to create a more well-rounded feature.
    • The Thriller- This is the focal point of your design. Typically this is your tallest and most dramatic component. This can be Dracaena Spikes, Salvia, or Geranium in smaller designs, or Hibiscus, Dipladenia or Mandeville in taller designs.  
    • The Filler- These plants add body to your design. They take up the majority of space, and connect the tallest and lowest points. These are plants like smaller sized Geranium, Petunias, Calibrachoa, Dusty Miller, Lantana, and Flowering Vinca.  
    • The Spiller- Plants that trail add dimension and downward interest to your arrangement. Mezoo, Vinca Vine, Portulaca, Lobelia, Scaevola, and Creeping Jenny are perfect for giving your pot downward reach. 

Know your light: 

  • Plants have a wide range of needs that if not met will cause the plant to die. You wouldn’t want to put a sun-loving annual in the shade as it will get stretched out as it looks for light. Comparatively, a shade loving annual put in the sun will get sunburnt and crisp up. 
  • "Full Sun” means at least six hours of direct light, “Partial Sun” is between 3-6 hours of direct sunlight, “Partial Shade” is up to 3 hours of direct sunlight, and “Full Shade” would ideally get as little direct sunlight as possible (areas under the canopy of a tree or fully under the cover of a porch or awning) 
  • Take care to determine what type of light the area you want to put a potted design receives so you can buy plants accordingly. 

Pick appropriate soils, fertilizers, and pots: 

  • Be sure that you select a well-draining, all-purpose potting soil.  
  • While your new potting soil is nutrient-rich at the start of the season, your plants are going to be growing at an astronomical rate and will use up all of the nutrients fairly quickly. It is imperative for the longevity of your design to fertilize bi-weekly with an all-purpose plant food. We recommend Jack’s brand, which you can buy here. 
  • Your pot should ideally have a drainage hole. It is difficult to do, but outdoor arrangements can be overwatered! 

Odd numbers of interest: 

  • When selecting your plants, you should consider how many pots/ flats/ handle-packs you need to get the job done. Remember that in terms of design, odd numbers are more pleasing to the eye. Plants are unpredictable, and symmetry is nearly impossible because of that. In most cases, you want to aim for one thriller and one to three spillers. The fillers don’t matter as much because that is the area of the pot where all the plants meet, so whatever you can stuff in the pot to take up the negative (unused) space, the better! 

Be prepared:

  • These designs take time to grow and fill out if planted early in the season. Be patient with them, and they will flourish for you! 
  • If you plant early enough where there is still a fear of frost, be ready to bring your pots indoors on nights where temperatures drop below 45-50 degrees! This is especially true for tropical plants like hibiscus and Mandeville. There is a reason you don’t see these plants in the Winter! 
  • These pots will not get all of their water needs satiated from rain! In the heat of the summer, they will need to be watered daily. In weeks where it is not too hot, they can be watered every other day. 

Have fun with it:

  • Making container gardens is a great way to be creative and express yourself! 

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