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Tuesday, June 25, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Gardening: Well-planned pot has thrillers, spillers and fillers

Planting a container using the design elements of thrillers, spillers and fillers Make it easy to design great looking deck containers. Here a variegated grass is the thriller while sweet potato vine and million bells petunia serve as the spillers. The fillers are red geraniums. (Pat Munts / The Spokesman-Review)
Planting a container using the design elements of thrillers, spillers and fillers Make it easy to design great looking deck containers. Here a variegated grass is the thriller while sweet potato vine and million bells petunia serve as the spillers. The fillers are red geraniums. (Pat Munts / The Spokesman-Review)

With the warmer weather, it’s time to plant the deck pots.

Container size is important. Small containers are difficult to keep watered when it gets hot, and once they dry out they are often hard to rewet. My plastic deck pots are about 20 inches in diameter and height. I think I paid around $20 for each of them. Not only will they hold lots of plants, their mass isn’t easily blown over in the wind. Pots can be anything that will hold soil, so get creative with found things. Make sure there are drain holes in the bottom of the pot and if need be, use a quarter inch bit and a drill to make some. If you don’t want the water to run onto your deck, set the pot on some pebbles in a saucer

To do well, pots need to be filled with a quality potting mix. Dirt from the garden is too fine and heavy to allow good root growth and impedes drainage. Resist the urge to fill the bottom of the pot with pinecones, packing peanuts or some other material to save money or weight. This actually impedes drainage and can keep the soil too wet.

You can grow anything in a container: annuals, perennials, grasses, vegetables, berries and even small trees. Most garden designers use the concept of building a pot with thrillers, spillers and fillers. The thriller plants are usually those that will grow the tallest. In one of my somewhat practical pots, I am stringing netting on tall bamboo poles that scarlet runner beans will climb to attract hummingbirds. In another, I’m growing some 5-foot sunflowers. The third will have a cherry tomato plant for my husband to graze on. These are planted in the center or the back of the container.

The spillers can be anything that will cascade over the side of the pot. My favorite for this is chartreuse sweet potato vine, which will sprawl widely by the end of the summer. Other ideas include trailing petunias, lobelia or one of the new miniature squash plants. These will need to be planted around the edges of the container so they can drape.

The fillers are medium height plants that fill in the rest of the pot. They should not get as tall as the thriller plant but add enough weight to the planting to visually tie the spillers and thrillers together. In my case, I have some eggplant (for its pretty leaves and fruit), orange and yellow zinnias and a tropical gem called alternanthera “Purple Prince” for its dark burgundy leaves. Again, be creative.

Once your containers are planted, hook them up to a drip system on a timer. There are reasonably inexpensive kits in local garden centers and online. They usually have small dripper heads that are set in each pot. Install a battery powered timer at the faucet set to come on every day or two and you will never have to worry about your plants while you are at the lake.

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