Combining Flowering Plants in Pots

Bidens ferulifolia - beautiful yellow flowers planted together with other plants in the pot, summer teracce.

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Combining plants in pots is a great way to create beautiful and unique arrangements. Nearly all plant can be grown in a container, but some do better than others.

Annual flowers bloom quickly and often for months, but they must be changed out at the end of each season. Long-blooming perennials are good choices for containers; they can live on in a container for several years, but they may require a bit of extra maintenance — pruning or fertilizing.

When choosing plants for containers, pick plants that have attractive foliage for months at a time; choose plants with blooms that last a long time–at least several weeks; pick plants that have forms suitable for containers such as a striking upright habit or a graceful trailing habit.

When combining plants in pots, it’s important to consider their watering, lighting, and spacing needs. Plants with moderate drought tolerance are a good choice because it can be difficult to keep container plantings moist all of the time.

Here are some tips on how to combine plants effectively in pots; following these tips can help you create beautiful and harmonious plant combinations in pots that will enhance the aesthetic of your space.

Preparing plants for wooden containers

Choose plants with similar needs

Choose plants with similar light and water requirements. This will ensure that all the plants in the pot thrive and remain healthy. Placing plants with similar care needs makes watering and maintenance easier. Grow full-sun plants in one container and shade-loving plants in another.

Consider the season

Be mindful of the season when combining plants in a pot. Choose plants that will thrive in the current season and will complement each other in terms of color, texture, and overall aesthetic. Combine plants that bloom at the same time or have similar foliage colors.

Think about the container and potting mix

Choose a pot that complements the colors and styles of the plants you are combining. Make sure the pot has drainage holes to prevent waterlogged soil. Make sure to use a high-quality, well-draining potting mix when combining plants in a pot.

Petunias, geraniums and creeping zinnias
Petunias, geraniums and creeping zinnias

Select a focal point plant

Select a focal point plant as the centerpiece of your arrangement, such as a tall plant or one with interesting foliage. Add mid-size and smaller plants around it to complement and enhance the focal plant.

Use a variety of plants

Use a variety of plants. Mix different types of plants, such as foliage plants, flowering plants, and trailing plants, to create a dynamic and balanced arrangement. Combining plants with different heights, shapes, and growth habits will add interest to the arrangement. You can also group plants with contrasting colors or textures for a striking contrast; for example: mix silvery greens with deep greens, fuzzy-leaved plants with shiny-leaved plants, and large leaves with tiny feathery leaves.

Consider the plants’ mature size

Consider each plant’s mature size and growth habits of each plant before combining them in a pot. You want to make sure that all the plants have enough room to grow without overcrowding each other. Give each plant enough space to grow and spread out in the pot. Avoid overcrowding the plants, as this can lead to competition for resources and hinder their growth.

Group plants strategically

Create depth and dimension in the arrangement by layering plants of different heights and sizes in the pot. Group plants by height: When combining plants in a pot, it’s important to group taller plants towards the back of the pot and shorter plants towards the front. This will create a more balanced and cohesive look.

A terracotta garden planter filled with mounding impatiens and trailing lobelia.
A terracotta garden planter filled with mounding impatiens and trailing lobelia.

Consider using a thriller, filler, and spiller

This planting technique involves adding a tall, eye-catching plant as the thriller, filler plants to add fullness and texture, and trailing plants as spillers to cascade over the edges of the pot.

Follow this formulat: Plant at least three different plants–one tall and spiky, one low and trailing, and one of medium height as a filler.

Experiment and have fun: Don’t be afraid to experiment and try different combinations of plants in pots. Mixing and matching different plants can result in beautiful and unique container gardens.

Here are some suggested container plants:

Tall, spiky plants – thrillers

Common nameBotanical name
Bells of IrelandMoluccella laevis
CannaCanna hybrids
CelosiaCelosia spp.
Flax, New ZealandPhormium spp.
Salvia, annual blueSalvia farinacea
SnapdragonAntirrhinum majus
Spider flowerCleome hassleriana
Tobacco, floweringNicotiana spp.
A evergreen shrub with annual lobelias
A evergreen shrub with annual lobelias

Mid-height plants — fillers

Common nameBotanical name
Begonia, variousBegonia spp.
Dusty millerSenecio cineraria
Floss flowerAgeratum houstonianum
Flowering cabbage, kaleBrassica oleracea
Geranium, upright typesPelargonium spp.
Globe amaranthGomphrena globosa
Grasses, ornamentalVarious
HeliotropeHeliotropium arborescens
ImpatiensImpatiens spp.
MarigoldTagetes spp.
PansyViola spp.
Tuberous begoniaBegonia x tuberhybrida
Vinca, annualCatharanthus roseus
Wishbone flowerTorenia fournieri
ZinniaZinnia spp.

Low, trailing plants – spillers

Common nameBotanical name
Dahlberg daisy Thymophylla tenuiloba
Lobelia, edgingLobelia erinus
Fan flowerScaevola aemula
FuchsiaFuchsia spp.
Geranium, ivy typePelargonium spp.
LantanaLantana camara
Licorice plantHelichrysum petiolare
NasturtiumTropaeolum majus
PetuniaPetunia spp.
Swan River daisyBrachycome iberidifolia
Sweet alyssumLobularia maritima
Sweet peaLathyrus odoratus
Sweet potato vineIpomoea batatas
Verbena, trailing formsVerbena spp.
Garden patio with purslane, lobelia, petunia and rose flowers

Drought-tolerant container plants

Common nameBotanical name
AgapanthusAgapanthus spp.
ArtemisiaArtemisia spp.
Dusty millerSenecio cineraria
Geranium, annualPelargonium spp.
Flax, New ZealandPhormium spp.
Hens and chicksSempervivum spp.
LantanaLantana spp.
Licorice plantHelichrysum petiolare
Moss rosePortulaca spp.
Salvia, annual blueSalvia farinacea
Sedum, variousSedum spp.
ThymeThymus spp.
VerbenaVerbena spp.
YuccaYucca filamentos

Related articles:

Flower Gardening in Containers

Container Vegetable Gardening Guide

Choosing Plants for Containers

Planting a Container

Container Garden Care

Pot and Container Sizes for Growing Vegetable Crops

Written by Stephen Albert

Stephen Albert is a horticulturist, master gardener, and certified nurseryman who has taught at the University of California for more than 25 years. He holds graduate degrees from the University of California and the University of Iowa. His books include Vegetable Garden Grower’s Guide, Vegetable Garden Almanac & Planner, Tomato Grower’s Answer Book, and Kitchen Garden Grower’s Guide. His Vegetable Garden Grower’s Masterclass is available online. has more than 10 million visitors each year.

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