The basics of a good planter

The thrill, the fill & the spill. This is the standard formula when we’re talking about planters. It’s a helpful one even for an experienced grower, as it keeps you focused when you head into your local garden center. You can start going plant blind by the beauty & want to take home ALL the things! It also helps you keep in mind just how your plants are going to grow, because whatever you choose will continue to grow – as long as you remember to water it!  So factoring in the different requirements & preferences of plants, considering the location you’d like your planter & your own aesthetic,all need to match up. 

So let’s talk about just how you go about deciding what to put in your planter. One of the first things to consider is the size & the location of your planter. Firstly, what kind of light is your planter going to get? Full sun, part shade, full shade or a combination? Where you want to place it, is the determining factor for what you will be able to put in it. And remember, if there is something that you REALLY want in your planter but the site won’t accommodate its needs, just move your planter. It’s your planter, put it wherever ya like! Stick it in the middle of the yard and set a chair next to it. If it makes you happy, then that’s where it should go!

When creating your planter you want it to look full but you don’t want it to be overcrowded with plants that will be competing for the same space. Here comes that formula again!

The Thrill

This is all about adding dimension via height to your arrangement. The thrill should be an upward growing species that is eye catching. Something that stays fairly compact and central at its base, while gaining height throughout the season. Dracena spikes, compact ornamental grasses, snapdragons, coelus, or taller varieties of celosia are great choices for smaller sized containers. For a larger container consider cana lilies, taller varieties of ornamental grasses,  flowering tobacco, cordylines, or elephant ears work well. You can even take an elephant ear, a dracena or cordyline out of your planter at the end of the season, pot it up &  let it continue to grow inside as a houseplant. Now you’re really getting your money’s worth! Whatever you choose, the thrill is placed in the middle or towards the “back” depending on the shape & style of your planter.


The Fill

Now don’t let the name fool you, your fill should be anything but boring! Choose something that grows out ward & flowers. You want the foliage & flowers of this plant to compliment the colours of its surroundings as well, so while making your choices put them together on your cart & see what you think. For a smaller planter you will want 2-3, for larger containers, 3-5 good sized plants. Geraniums, inpatients, sunpatients, salvia, begonias all come in a wide variety of colours and make lovely fillers. Personally, I like to add a few smaller filler plants to larger containers as well. This helps bridge the gap between freshly planted & a good mid summer growth state. Petunias, allysum, lobelia, gypsophila, bacopa are all plants to consider for this job.

The Spill

Think dramatic & whimsical. You want to select a plant, or 2 or 3, that will cascade over & down the sides of your container. Select something that pops & adds a nice contrast to the surrounding plants. Ivy, sweet potato vines, dichondria, wave petunias, all do the trick very nicely.

Other Important Factors

A rich soil IS the foundation of any growing plant, so be selective with your purchase & add a bit of compost for good balance. If your planter is particularly large & you don’t wanna go bankrupt filling it, there is a trick for cutting down on the amount of soil required. An upside down bucket with a piece of cardboard on top of it eliminates some space at the bottom nicely. Be sure to pack your soil down tightly as you are filling it, as the soil will settle over time bringing your plants along with it.

Your plants also require nutrients to bloom & grow, so be sure to fertilize them every couple weeks or at least monthly. A slow release fertilizer spread on top after planting is a good shortcut for the busy or forgetful grower as well.

This last bit I can not stress enough – WATER your container REGULARLY! Plants become stressed when not watered adequately. If you put your finger in the soil & the top inch isn’t moist, it’s watering time. Containers dry out quickly & water is essential for growth & health of your plants. Regularly watered soil is also better at retaining moisture, so by being consistent you’re really cutting down on the time that future you is standing there with the hose or making trips with the watering can. No point spending your hard earned cash on beautiful plants for them to wither & die by your doorway. So WATER ok? Good.

Happy planting & don’t forget to water!