Contain your excitement for spring!


Proven Winners’ Religious Radish coleus and Mojave Red portulaca.

I just don’t think you can ever plant too many flowers. There’s something about having lots of beautiful flowers around your house that just makes it feel more like home. And with spring in the air, we often can’t resist the urge to add some color to our world.

Whether you have limited space or are trying to do something a little more creative around your garden, containers are the solution. Container gardens provide seasonal color and allow you to add more variety to your garden despite space limitations.

Before running off to the garden center, you need to consider these five things for successful container gardening.


Proven Winner’s Supertunia Giant Pink petunia, Graceful Grasses Fireworks fountain grass, Graceful Grasses Toffee Twist carex and Pequena Rosalita cleome.

The container

The size of the container matters. As a general rule, the larger, the better. If the container is too small, you won’t have enough soil volume to support the plants and give them room to grow. Also, look for a container with drainage holes so the roots don’t sit in water. I love a classic terra cotta pot, but they are a little fragile, so keep in mind they’ll have to be stored in winter before the temperatures drop below freezing to prevent cracking. Have fun with your containers. Pick ones that are right for the plants but also match your personal style.

Quality soil

You need a good organic garden soil that has been blended for container gardening. It should maintain moisture and, at the same time, drain well. When you squeeze the soil in your hand and release it, the soil should crumble, not clump. You can even find soil formulated for container gardens with fertilizer included. You need to make sure your plants are well fed, and fertilizer is the key. It’s like a daily vitamin for your plants because it helps them perform to their full potential. Begin by applying a controlled release fertilizer at the time of planting. Then, mid-season, apply a water-soluble fertilizer to increase your flower power.

Walters’ Avalanche feather reed grass and Proven Winners’ Dolce Backcurrant coral bells and Intensia Star Brite Phlox. photo by Kelly Quinn

The plant

Now that you have the container and soil ready, it’s time to choose the best plants for your container garden. You can use any color combination you like, but to create visual interest, I like to use the “thriller, filler and spiller” structural concept. You start with tall “thriller” plants which add a vertical element to the combination. If your container will be viewed from one side, plant the thriller in the back. If it will be visible from all sides, stick it in the middle. Some of my favorite “thrillers” are switchgrass, angelonia and coleus.

Proven Winners’ SunPatiens Orange impatiens.

Next, use more rounded plants as fillers to give the container the look of abundance, such as lantana, spurge and sunpatiens.  If the thriller is in the back, place the filler flowers in front of and around the thriller in a U-shape. Otherwise, place them all around the thriller.

Finally, “spillers” go in. These trailing plants soften the edge of the container and balance the height of the thriller. I like to use sweet alyssum and petunias. Depending on how your container will be viewed, plant a couple of spillers in the front or use several spillers all around the edge of the container.


Proven Winners’ Sweet Caroline Raven sweet potato vine, Suertunia Black Cherry petunia and Senorita Rosalita cleome.

Now it’s time to water your plants. You want to make sure you’re watering the soil and deep soaking the roots of the plants and not just spraying water over the foliage and the blooms, which can create a breeding ground for disease. That will be no good for the plants and no fun for you. Knowing when to water is also important. This may seem a little basic, but it really works. Simply stick your finger in the soil. If it feels dry, it’s time to water it. Also, remember that just because one pot needs water, it doesn’t mean they all do. Differences in pot and plant sizes will determine how quickly a pot dries out. To take the guesswork out of watering, you may consider self-watering planters. I use TruDrop by Crescent Garden around the farm.

Now you can head to the garden center with a plan. Pick out pots and plants that you love, take them home and get your hands dirty. Armed with these simple rules, your container gardens will be the envy of the neighborhood.


P. Allen Smith, an author, television host, and conservationist, has a passion for American style. His show “Garden Home” airs on AETN-2 Create TV. Check your local listings for “Garden Style.” Smith uses his Arkansas home, Moss Mountain Farm, as an epicenter for promoting the local food movement, organic gardening and the preservation of heritage poultry breeds. Tours may be booked at