A Guide to Growing in Containers

A Guide to Growing in Containers 

Look what you can do with your own two hands

When people are first starting to ‘garden’ or grow, we usually recommend starting small. Whether it’s annuals, veggies or bulbs, starting small gives you some room to experiment without such a big investment.

We also appreciate the flexibility of containers and that they allow us to add plants to almost any space, move them in/out of the sun, group multiples, plant and replant and switch out for the seasons. 

And while we love the ability to change with the seasons—or on a whim—it’s also nice to carry over plants from season to season. Especially if they’re thriving.



It would be nice to say the only rule is there are no rules, but there are just a few things to keep in mind as you create.

1. Start Fresh

One of the best things you can do for your plants is to give them a fresh start in rich potting soil that’s full of organic material. We use Coast of Maine Bar Harbor Blend Organic Potting Soil here and at home. If you already have containers, give them a good cleaning with warm, soapy water to remove any debris, pests, etc.

2. Know Before You Grow 

Always check your plant tags or talk to us. You’ll want to grow plants together that have similar light/exposure and watering requirements for the greatest success. That doesn’t mean you’ll be limited to one or two plant shapes, sizes, textures or colors. There are plenty to choose from.

And if you can’t live without plants that don’t play well together? Plant up two different pots and place them in the environments they need to thrive for the best of both worlds.

3. Feed and Water Generously 

Because containers have a limited reservoir for moisture (as opposed to landscape beds), they can dry out quickly in warm, dry conditions. In the hottest months of summer, you may even want to check your containers daily for moisture.

Frequency depends on the weather, but we recommend checking for moisture every day. If the soil just under the mulch, moss or surface is dry, give it a good, slow soak. It’s important to water your containers slowly, ideally with a slow steady spray so the force of the water doesn’t compact the soil and you give the water time to travel through the soil and be absorbed, as opposed to running off.

You can also install self-watering systems or use pots with water reservoirs like this one or this one.

We also recommend feeding with Jack’s Classic All Purpose Plant Food every two weeks (follow package instructions).



With the basics out of the way, you can get to the fun part. Choose a colorway that coordinates with your home and other plants, design something playful, modern, monochromatic with texture, or frame an entryway, patio or border with the drama of potted trees. 

We tell people to make it uniquely their own. The same way recipes are guides to delicious outcomes in the kitchen, container recipes are guides to beautiful combinations that thrive—but there’s room to experiment, right?

The container planting concept is based on some of the same design principles used to decorate your home, including adding height or a focal point (thriller), filling in the space and adding texture (filler) and transitioning from one space to another (spiller).

Here’s how to start:

1. Thriller 

Once you have fresh potting soil in your pot, start with your focal point, the star of your container. This is normally the tallest part of your pot, but you can also mound the soil in the center to give it added height. Thrillers are bold and beautiful, they may be surprising, filled with texture and/or the only one of its kind in the pot. This is where you can make a visible update specific to the season, or you can use something tall and textural (like a boxwood) and create around it.   

Thrillers we like:  

  • Angelonia
  • Coleus
  • Dracaena Spikes
  • Small shrubs
  • Grasses (many seasonal varieties)
  • Small trees 

2. Filler  

Everyone loves a container that’s full and lush looking. Fillers are low-to-mid-height plants that mound and spread, filling in spaces, holes and leggy thriller stems. They can echo the color and shape of the thriller or be a counterpart (round to the thriller’s spikiness or tiny and delicate to the thrillers large, bold silhouette).

Fillers we like:  

  • Calibrachoa / Million Bells
  • Petunias
  • Geraniums
  • Begonias
  • Impatiens  

3. Spiller 

You can probably guess that these are the tendrils overflowing the sides of the container and softening the edges. You don’t need to reserve a lot of room for spillers, we often wedge them into tiny spots where they make the biggest splash. You can unify the look of the planting by weaving in complimentary colors or leaf styles or you can go for big contrast in the color or shape of the spiller.  

Spillers we like:  

  • Bacopa
  • Dichondra
  • Ivy
  • Petunias
  • Sweet Alyssum
  • Sweet Potato Vine
  • Vinca Vine


Have questions or want to know more about choosing and caring for plants in your containers? Please stop in or give us a call at (603) 472-8880.