Interest in container gardening continues to grow because it's so versatile. Use containers as accent pieces all over your garden, to liven up a balcony or to frame an entryway. Annuals in hanging baskets can add color to a drab patio and banana plants in big pots can turn a swimming pool into a tropical oasis.

Containers mix your personal style and flair into every aspect of your property, including patios and can make an outdoor dining area look refined. Plus, they are ideal for small space gardening.

Choosing Plants

There are no limits when it comes to container gardening. Plant them full of annuals for an all-season floral display or full of herbs and place them near your kitchen door for the freshest flavor enhancers. Some vegetables and fruits, like Bushel and Berry’s compact blueberries, raspberries and blackberries, also thrive in containers. Create a small water garden with miniature water lilies or lotus. Succulent arrangements are perfect for tables, and don’t need to be watered every day. You can show your patriotism with red, white and blue combinations for Memorial Day and the 4th of July.

Choosing a Container

Almost any pot will work as long as it has good drainage, except for a container water garden, of course. Keep in mind that the smaller the container, the faster the soil will dry out. Larger containers allow you to create displays with more impact. If weight is going to be an issue (think about carrying a pot upstairs to a balcony), look for lightweight pots. There are high quality plastic pots now that are hard to distinguish from terra cotta. The soil you use is very important and a specialty blend like Espoma’s Organic Potting Mix or Homestead's own Maryland Select Potting Soil is recommended. They’re specially formulated to help plants thrive through the nutrients found in the soil. Use a liquid organic fertilizer like Espoma’s Bloom! once a month to keep your plants flourishing.

Color Theory

This is a project you can really put your stamp on. Use terra cotta pots for a natural or classic look, try painted pots for bold statements, wooden barrels, wheelbarrows, you name it.

Try out different color combinations of plants, too, in your cart first, to get a feel for the overall look. Complementary colors, opposite colors on the color wheel, make bold combinations. Think of opposites like red and green or violet and yellow. Harmonious colors live next to each other on the color wheel. Think of blue, violet and pink or a warm combination like yellow, red and orange. Play around and have fun. That’s what gardening is really all about.

Thriller, Filler, Spiller

One well-known rule of thumb about planting containers is the thriller, filler and spiller method. The “thriller” is generally a tall plant with big bright blooms. The “filler” is medium sized, while the “spiller” is generally a trailing plant that gracefully cascades over the edge of the pot, softening the lines.

Read on for some ideas for sun and shade using annuals and tender perennials. Don’t worry, perennials, tropicals and small shrubs can work well too. You can even plant summer bulbs in containers like Montbretia,’s Summer Bulb of the Year. When planting in shade, consider textures – your combinations may be more subtle, but they can be equally beautiful as a full-color sun container.

Top Picks for Your Container Garden:

Thrillers for Sun

  • Butterfly Bush
  • Ornamental Millet
  • Hibiscus
  • Mandevilla
  • Angel’s Trumpet

Fillers for Sun

  • Angelonia
  • Pentas
  • Lantana
  • Verbena
  • Nemesia

Spillers for Sun

  • Bacopa
  • Calibrachoa
  • Helichrysum
  • Sweet Potato Vine
  • Lobelia

Thrillers for Shade

  • Ferns
  • Elephants Ear
  • Coleus
  • Ornamental Grasses
  • Asparagus Fern

Fillers for Shade

  • Fuchsia
  • Begonia
  • Double Impatiens
  • Wishbone Flower

Spillers for Shade

  • Creeping Jenny
  • Wire Vine
  • Polka Dot Plant
  • Euphorbia
  • Diamond Frost
  • Ivy

Whatever you choose, remember, there are no hard and fast rules. A pair of containers planted simply with an evergreen in each has a subtle splendor. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder!

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