Combination containers follow an easy formula

Published 5:36 pm Monday, May 15, 2023

By Eddie Smith
MSU Extension Service

I don’t think there is anything more inviting or beautiful than a colorful combination container prominently displayed on the deck, porch or patio.

I recently visited Bud and Blooms Greenhouse and Gardens in Wesson, Mississippi, looking at some of their beautiful combination containers. These elaborate containers come in all shapes and sizes, and they might seem challenging for the home gardener to make.

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But anyone can put one together if you remember the following ingredients: thriller, filler and spiller.

Thriller plants add height and excitement to the container. Red Star cordyline with its sword-like, dark-burgundy leaves makes a great thriller plant.

Papyrus is my personal favorite thriller plant choice with clusters of hundreds of thread-like rays at the top of its stems. These rays are actually called umbellate inflorescence.

Prince Tut papyrus is a nicely compact form of Egyptian papyrus. It is about half the height of King Tut papyrus and has the same large clusters of thread-like rays on the ends of its stems. It is a fun and interesting plant without being overwhelmingly huge. With shorter stems than King Tut, Prince Tut is quite sturdy and less likely to have stems flop.

Using a dwarf canna lily or banana plant is another way to provide the height and interest you need from a thriller plant. Both canna lilies and banana plants have varieties with different leaf colors. Canna lilies also have different flower colors.

Filler plants take up the middle space in the combination and fill out the arrangement. Coleus is a great choice as a filler plant, as its kaleidoscope of colors adds beauty and appeal.

I also like to use begonias as filler plants in my combination containers. There are multiple varieties to choose from, all of which have their own unique beauty. If you use a begonia, it is easy to find a variety to complement the other plant selections in your container.

A spiller plant’s main role is to sprawl out and over the container to soften its edges and tumble toward the ground.

A good spiller like potato vine cascades over the sides of the container. Verbena also makes a great spiller plant. These flowers comes in a wide variety of colors on strongly trailing stems that flower all summer.

I cannot forget to mention petunias and calibrachoas as spillers. With so many color choices, they add interest and beauty as they cascade over the sides of the container.

So, if you’re ready for an easy do-it-yourself project, find a large container you love and remember thriller, filler and spiller. Combining one of each of these plants will provide color and interest to your patio all summer long.

If you do not want to make your own combination container, you can always purchase a pre-made one at your local nursery or garden center.