5 Tips for Perfect Outdoor Planters


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Over the past few years I’ve followed a simple formula for planting my outdoor flower planters and it’s worked like a charm.  So when I returned from vacation last week and had 2 days to get my entire house (indoors and out) prepared for a photo shoot I scrambled to my local nursery and stocked up on my favorite plant and flower combinations.  After an hour of work, I was able to step back and admire the glowing results– just in time for the monsoons in the mid-Atlantic states this week, ha!  I thought I’d share a few tips and container garden ‘recipes’ just in case you’re wondering what to plant in an outdoor planter… or how.  Also, three plants is all it takes to have a perfectly gorgeous planter full of luscious blooms, so read on for the secret!

What to Plant in a Planter

Tip #1: Buy plants for the lighting conditions where they’ll be planted.  The most important thing before shopping for plants is to determine the amount of light/shade your planters will receive.  If you match the right plant to the right conditions you’ll be golden.  For example, this is my shade collection.  It thrives in partial light and shade, which is great because my entryway receives very little direct sunlight.

5 Tips for Perfect Planters

what to plant in a planter

My deck receives more light, so I have a different combination out there.  Still only three plants, but wow, such stunners!  Keep in mind they’ll fill out quite a bit in a few weeks, I left a little breathing room between plants to allow for growth.

5 Tips for Perfect Planters

5 Tips for Perfect Planters

Tip #2: Find a winning color palette.  When I hit the farm to get my plants, I try to group plants in threes with contrasting yet pleasing color combos (again, keeping in mind grouping plants with similar light needs together).  Try mixing plants containing these shades:

  • light or chartreuse green (like Creeping Jenny, Golden Coleus, or Sweet Potato Vine Marguerite)
  • dark purple leaves (like Dracana Spikes or Purple Queen)
  • silver sage leaves (like Lambs Ear or Silver Edge Lavender)
  • bright, bold flowers (like Petunias, New Guinea Impatiens, Verbena, Vinca)
  • variegated leaves (like Vinca Vine, Tricolor Sweet Potato Vine, or Caladium)

When I’m at the nursery, I group my plants together and play with the colors until I love them.  Then I load up my car and have a trunk full of happiness.

5 Tips for Perfect Planters

Tip #3: Save money (and weight) by adding a filler at the bottom of the planters.  Here’s a tip for saving some money and making your planters lighter.  You don’t need to fill the entire planter with soil, just the top 2/3 or so where the roots will be.  I place a ‘filler’ such as empty plastic water bottles or upside down plastic plant pots at the bottom, which means your planter will weigh less too– such a benefit for a lightweight like me.  Just make sure not to fully block any drainage holes.

How to Plant in a Planter

Tip #4:  Don’t toss old planters just because you don’t like the color, simply spiff them up with spray paint.  See those bright blue planters that make my heart sing?  They used to be red.  And they were pretty when they were red, but… they weren’t ‘me’.  Enter one can of spray paint and my world. is. rocked.

plants and planters

Tip #5: My winning recipe for the perfect plant combination?  Go for a thriller, a spiller, and a filler.  Your ‘thriller’ is the knockout punch of the group, usually the tallest.  A ‘spiller’ is one that will trail down the sides of the planter.  Your ‘filler’ is what goes in between– I love using wave petunias or another bold flower for this one.  Here are two recipes that always work for me.

My shady front porch planters get the following plant combination:

  • Thriller: Caladium
  • Spiller: Vinca Vine
  • Filler: Calibrachoa (and also a small Dracaena Spike, barely visible here)

5 Tips for Perfect Planters

On my deck, which gets sun to part shade, the following plants work like a charm:

  • Thriller: Setcreasea Purple Queen
  • Spiller: Creeping Jenny
  • Filler: ‘Wild Rose’ Verbena

What to Plant in Flower Planters

There’s my top 5 tips for stunning planters.  And wow, you just can’t believe how much a little elbow grease will pay off all summer long!  The transformation in my entryway alone takes my breath away every time I come home.  In case you’ve been following me on Instagram, you may have noticed I’ve been spiffing up my entryway and front porch.  Can’t wait to show you the results!

front door

The chair was there because I was painting the ‘hello’.  Just to explain why a chair was in our hallway.  Not that it’s unusual to find misplaced furniture around here, now that I think about it…

Now, if I only had an ark to get through this week I’d be much obliged.  We got so much rain on Monday that despite drainage holes my plants decided to go for a swim.

flower pots

What are your favorite plant and flower combinations for planters?

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