How To Design Garden Pots

Short on space and wondering how to design garden pots for your landscape? Container gardening can yield some healthy rewards. But making them look nice is key.

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Short on space and wondering how to design garden pots for your landscape? Container gardening can yield some healthy rewards. But making them look nice is key.

Two common ways to design your container garden include plant stuffing and the thrillers, fillers and spillers methods. One involves using the rule of thirds while stuffing an abundance of plants in each pot. The other uses a popular style of planting in pots. Both allow you to grow crops stylishly.

Today’s article goes in-depth into both of these common methods of how to design garden pots. We discuss exactly how to choose the perfect containers for your growing needs and conditions. I also cover things like watering, colors and textures to help you create an eye-popping container garden.

Of course, there are many other ways to design your container garden. But over the past year, these are two of the strategies that I’ve come to know and love. They have both helped me create beautifully crafted showstopping containers for loved ones. I’m currently shopping around my local area looking for nice-sized, economically priced pots. I want to create something magnificent for my front porch.

Table of Contents

2 Container Garden Design Ideas

Let’s discuss these two methods of designing garden pots. Using a combination of both in various different planting containers will give your landscape an outstanding look while allowing you to grow multiple plants in each pot:

1. Plant Stuffing Container Garden Method

The Plant Stuffing method is all about finding the right companion plants and pilling them into one pot instead of just planting one variety per container. When done right, this big display method will make your pots look like they were designed by a potscaping professional.

Step 1: Choose the Right Container

Remember that you are creating a big display of plants in one container. That means the pot needs to be large so the plants don’t fight for root space, water and nutrients.

Read the backs of the seed packets or research the plants on Google. Find out what their sizes will be at maturity. Then, choose a pot that can hold a soil volume that’s at least half that size.

Step 2: Apply the Rule of Thirds

The Rule of Thirds is a concept used by artists, photographers and designers. It tells us that the human eye is automatically drawn to certain sections within an image.

For this concept, your pot must use one-third or two-thirds of the future height of the container along with the plants. That means:

  • Using 1/3 – If the container takes up one-third, the plants should utilize the remaining two-thirds
  • Using 2/3 – If the container takes up two-thirds, the plants should utilize the remaining one-third

Let’s say your pot is 4 feet tall. And the eventual height of the plants you want to grow will be 2 feet tall. Then, the overall height of the container and plants is 6 feet tall.

  • Using 1/3 – One-third of 6 feet is 2 feet. Using this method means you should choose plants that don’t grow to about that height.
  • Using 2/3 – Two-thirds of 6 feet is 4 feet. Using this method means you should choose plants that don’t grow to about that height.

Step 3: Stuff in the Plants

The cool thing about designing garden pots using the plant stuffing method is that it gives the pot a rich, lavish look. You want to cram a bunch of different plants into just one pot to achieve this look.

But don’t forget about spacing. Don’t fill every inch of the soil with plants. Instead, leave 2-4 inches of space in between each one. This ensures that they all have room for growth and continue thriving throughout their lifetimes.

Step 4: Water Well

When stuffing plants into containers, keep in mind that watering regularly will keep them from fighting each other for moisture. If it dries out even once during the season, this could possibly stunt the growth of the plants forever.

It’s more about how deeply you water than how often. The best way to water a pot full of plants is to keep watering until it starts draining from the holes in the container. And be sure to adjust your watering as the summer heats up.

Step 5: Fertilize Regularly

It takes more than water alone to grow thriving plants in stuffed pots. The roots have limited space. So, they need to be able to find the fertilizer when they need it.

Use a slow-release granular fertilizer to feed the plants throughout the season. Also, give them a nice snack of liquid soluble fertilizer every couple of weeks or so for an immediate boost.

2. Thrillers, Fillers and Spillers Container Garden Method

This is another very popular and commonly used method of planting in containers. Here is the formula for combining plants with three different habits:

What Are Thrillers, Fillers and Spillers?

What Are Thrillers?

These are plants that grow vertically, including vining and climbing plants. Here are some examples of good thrillers for containers:

  • Lady Palms
  • Ferns
  • Irises
  • Snapdragons
  • Purple Fountain Grass
  • Upright Fuchsia
What Are Fillers?

These plants are generally weaving or horizontal varieties. You can have a single filler or a variety of different fillers.

Infuse some bright colors to give the illusion that the pot is larger than it actually is. Choose plants that you can pinch back or clip and that will produce new foliage and flowers rather than plants that die off quickly, like mums.

Here are some examples of fillers for this garden pot design method:

What Are Spillers?

These are cascading or weeping plants that cascade or spill out over the side of the pot. A spiller makes a very bold statement when it has multicolored leaves or flowers with fascinating colors. Here are some examples of good spillers for container planting:

  • Trailing Lantana
  • Trailing Rosemary
  • Trailing Begonia
  • Creeping Jenny
  • Variegated Ivy
  • Sweet Potato Vines

3 Steps to Planting Thrillers, Fillers and Spillers in Containers

So, now you’re wondering where to begin. Well, continue reading for a simple, three-step process to designing a garden pot using thrillers, fillers and spillers:

Step 1: Plant Your Thriller

As a rule of thumb, your thriller is the main focal point of the planter. Therefore, it should be the largest plant. So, start by planting it first.

Place it right smack dab in the center of the pot if it will be placed somewhere that gives you a view of all sides of the planter. But if the pot will be placed up against a fence or a wall, plant it in the back center of the container so it doesn’t block the view of your fillers.

Tips for Choosing a Thriller for Your Planter
  • Round Container – If your container is round, one thriller will do
  • Long Planters – When using long, rectangular pots, plant more than one thriller
  • Plant Choices – You can use shrubs, house plants, tropicals, annuals or perennials
  • Leave Room – Make sure your thriller’s maturity size isn’t so large that there’s no room for the other plants to thrive
Step 2: Plant Your Fillers

The purpose of your fillers is to connect the dots between the height of the thriller and that of the spillers. Although they are not the main focal point of the container, they are very important. Before removing them from their starter pots, place them around the container so you can get an idea of where each one should go.

Personally, I also tuck the starter pots of the spillers where they will go as well. This helps me get a clear eye view of what the finished product will look like. Once you have the look you’re going for, go ahead and plant your fillers.

Tips for Choosing Fillers for Your Container
  • Long-Lasting – If both your thriller and spillers are foliage-only plants, meaning they don’t produce fruit or flowers, be sure to plant long-lasting fillers
  • Note Height – Because the fillers’ job is to bridge the height differences between the thriller and spillers, ensure that its eventual height stays in between the two
  • Stuff Them In – Create a full look by cramming in fillers that compliment both the thriller and the spillers
Step 3: Plant Your Spillers

Although your spillers are also not the focal point of the container, they are just as important because they soften up the overall look of the planter. This is done by hiding the edge of the pot. For the most appealing look, plant more than one spiller at the front of the pot or plant them all the way around.

Tips for Maintaining Spillers in Containers
  • Balance – Plant multiple spillers if you want them to cascade out of the pot all the way to the ground
  • Trim as Needed – Cut the spillers back if they start to grow out of control, which will also help them become bushier over time
  • Self-Cleaning Plants – These are plants that don’t require deadheading to maintain a neat and clean looking container garden

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