Tips and Tricks for a Successful Potted Garden
Keep your outdoor spaces looking fresh and colorful with sage advice from the owner of Designscapes Colorado
When it comes to designing a beautiful outdoor living space, you can’t beat the versatility of container gardens. Potted plants and flowers add color and ambiance to outdoor sitting areas, provide interesting focal points, and enhance the architecture of your home. Pots can be placed on the ground or on a pedestal, tucked into a window box, or hung from a porch. But perhaps the best thing about potted plants is that they extend your gardening season.
In spring: Traditionally, Mother’s Day is considered the “safe date” for planting annuals in Colorado. But you can get a head start on that hint of spring everyone is craving by choosing annuals which can handle frosty temperatures, such as pansies, primroses and tulips. Plant your flowers in attractive pots and containers and if an extreme weather event comes around (definitely not unheard of in March and April) you can always pull them inside.
In summer: Typically, Colorado gardens begin to fade shortly after the 4th of July. Spring flowers peter out and long, hot, dry days take a toll on perennials. This is the perfect time to refresh your outdoor space with overflowing pots of colorful annuals to keep the party going.
In fall: When the trees begin to change color and lawns go dormant, the range of colors in our gardens narrows. Now is the perfect time to add gorgeous jewel-toned flowers such as mums and asters tucked into arrangements of ornamental grasses and vegetables, like cabbage and kale.
A Tried and True Design Technique
To begin, a foolproof formula for creating beautiful pots is the “thriller, filler and spiller” method, which incorporates three levels of a variety of plants that work well together.
The thriller is typically a taller, stand-alone plant situated in the middle of the container, a “superstar” of the arrangement, if you will. Good choices include ornamental grasses or spiky flowering plants, tree roses, mandevilla (also known as rock trumpet, with large showy blooms) or even an exotic tropical plant that you can only put out in summer, such as bird of paradise or a palm.
Fillers are mid-size, mounding or rounded plants that surround and enhance the thriller and fill the space in the pot. Some of our favorites include purple or lilac wave petunias—a vigorous, spreading annual which produces larger blooms than traditional petunias; verbena—a heat tolerant choice with an extremely long bloom season featuring tiny flowers grouped into rounded clusters; and calibrachoa, otherwise known as “Million Bells”—a prolific bloomer that comes in a rainbow of colors, with one inch blossoms that look like tiny petunias.
And finally, spillers drape over and soften the edges of the pot with flowers or greenery. One of our favorites is sweet potato vine, which comes in a variety of colors from brilliant chartreuse to nearly black. Other choices include ivy, vinca and, again, wave petunias.
Blending is a method of filling containers with complementary plants in varying shades of the same color, with a variety of different textures- a tapestry in a pot, so to speak. For example, one client’s Moon Garden, pictured above, features plants and flowers in varying shades of green, from emerald to chartreuse, and brilliant white. The effect is enchanting, especially in the light of a full moon.
Grouping pots together is a great way to make a statement and draw attention to different areas of your outdoor space. For a grand first impression, flank your front entrance with two large pots filled with matching, symmetrical plantings overflowing with color and texture. If your backyard patio or deck covers a large space, create different zones by grouping a number of pots together in different areas. Mix pots of thriller, filler spiller combinations with color pots that take one flower and allow it to stand alone.
Plant your garden in a variety of different containers to add visual interest and personality to your outdoor spaces. Get creative! In addition to using traditional pots (which come in dozens of options), think outside the box. Wagons, wine barrels, wheelbarrows, even watering cans—the possibilities are endless.
The popularity of low-maintenance succulents has grown steadily over the past few years. Succulents survive well on hot patios and don’t require frequent watering or deadheading. In addition, they’re a great way to add different textures, sizes and colors to your outdoor space. Try a single agave or rubber plant in an attractive terra cotta pot, or a mix of eye-catching varieties of succulent in a larger, shallow pot.
Another trend we’re seeing homeowners jump on is planting with Pantone’s Color of the Year in mind. Viva Magenta is the choice for 2023 and garden centers will most likely be featuring a wide variety of flowers in this shade. Take advantage of this trend and create the most stylish garden in the neighborhood.
Phil Steinhauer is Owner of, and a Landscape Architect for, Designscapes Colorado, a landscape architecture and design/build/maintenance firm based in Centennial, CO. View their profile or contact them at 303.721.9003.
Content for this article provided by Designscapes Colorado.