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Design Containers Like the Professionals

There are a number of insider secrets that the pros use to create spectacular container combinations. And actually, they're not so much secrets as design concepts on a smaller scale - and they are easy to learn. Gardeners with smaller spaces as well as those with expansive acreage can incorporate beautiful containers into their landscapes; it simply takes a little bit of preparation to get the basics down.

Container Design "Secrets"

Choose the Right Plants

Plant selection is absolutely key. You can have a smashing container display with one perfectly chosen plant, but if you'd like to combine several plants together, there's a design concept to help you choose. Pick one plant that is the focal point (a taller one that is typically placed in the center or back of the container), other plants to fill in around the base (usually flowering or with colorful foliage) and still other plants to spill over the edge (often a vine or trailing flower). This is the "thriller," "filler" and "spiller" concept you may have read about.

Choose the Right Container

Your container needs to be large enough for your plants, and in a material and color that complement your plantings. Go with larger containers that make an impact instead of many smaller ones that can look like an afterthought. The color of the container should either contrast strikingly with the planting (a cobalt blue pot with vivid green succulents, for example) or remain subtle so the plants can shine (a steel container with brightly colored annuals). Avoid combining two washed-out colors together, such as a faded terracotta pot with a pale green agave or wheat-colored ornamental grass. It's just too blah.

Finish with a Topdressing

The finishing details make all the difference. If you're planting a variety of flowers that love moisture, tuck handfuls of green or gray moss in between the plants so no soil is visible. Plants that like more arid conditions, like succulents or cacti, will prefer a 1 in. layer of pea gravel, decomposed granite (granite that has broken into very small pieces) or chunky river rocks added around their base. Topdressings are particularly stunning when using one striking plant (perhaps a spiky agave or a citrus tree topiary) in your container - they create a unified look and add that fabulous designer touch.

Water Correctly

Most container plants need daily watering in warm weather, unless you're using plants that like drier conditions such as agaves, yuccas and succulents. The material of the container affects watering too. Terracotta pots will dry out more quickly than plastic ones, so you will need to adjust your watering schedule accordingly. You've got to get your hands dirty to find out; poke your finger down into the soil about 1 in.; if the soil feels dry, it's definitely time to water.

Now you know the secrets to getting started designing your own containers. Who knows? Maybe you'll become a professional too!


TSC Container Gardening Supplies:

  • Seed
  • Shovel