A website from UGA Cooperative Extension

by Gayle Bryan, Fulton County Master Gardener Extension Volunteer trainee

Do you enjoy art but do not feel that you have the artistic ability to draw or paint? Why not use your imagination and create beautiful floral arrangements in containers for yourself and others to enjoy?

Thoughtfully designed containers can add color, texture, and excitement to your garden! Image by the author.

A container garden is easier to plant and maintain than an in-ground garden. In addition to the satisfaction of using your creative ability, you are reaping the benefits of health and well-being that results from gardening. Gardening is also good for the environment since plants provide oxygen, remove pollutants from the air and provide nectar and pollen for insects and birds.

When designing your container, consider color, texture and interesting plant combinations that generate attention. Plants express multiple elements of art, such as form, line, shape, color, texture, space and value. Below are a few basic guidelines that will take the guesswork out of how to create a masterpiece.

Basic Supplies


Any combination of annuals, perennials and herbs will work well. Read the label on the plants you choose, making sure each container has plants that have the same basic requirements for light, water, fertilizer and temperature. 

    When choosing plants, think in threes: thriller, filler and spiller.  The thriller is the star. It should be the tallest plant with colorful foliage, intriguing shape or dramatic flowers that last all season long.  Fillers surround the thriller and add mass to the composition of the planter. Many different plants can be added as fillers.  Spillers go around the edge of the planter and sprawl over the sides. Spillers serve to soften the edges and provide a sense of grounding for the container.


    Almost anything can be used as a container. A few examples are clay and ceramic pots, buckets, wooden barrels, window boxes and metal washtubs. The container should be large enough for the quantity and size of the plants chosen, be clean and most importantly have adequate drainage holes in the bottom. Holes can be added with a drill or other tool if needed.


    Use container soil since it is lighter and more porous than other soils to allow for proper drainage. Bags of soil marked specifically for container and aboveground use are sold in all lawn and garden stores. Container soil is potting soil with the addition of amendments such as peat moss and vermiculite to improve drainage and soil structure for proper moisture control.  Potting soil includes nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium which are the nutrients required for healthy plants. Topsoil is mainly used in lawns and in-ground garden areas and does not incorporate the added nutrients and amendments required for healthy container plants.


    Slow-release granular fertilizers are recommended since they are easy to use and available for a variety of plants. Read the container to be sure it contains the necessary nutrients for the plants you have chosen.


    You will also need gardening gloves and a small hand shovel or trowel.

    Containers and planters can be many shapes, sizes, colors, and materials. Image by the author.


    Start by filling your container 2/3 full with loose container soil. Simply bump the container onto the ground lightly to settle the soil.  Add fertilizer per the directions on the packaging and mix into the soil. Thoroughly water each plant so that its roots are moist before placing it in the container. Plant individual plants so roots are set shallowly rather than deeply, and gently firm the soil around the roots.

    Start with the thriller, which should be in the center or the back (if the container is only seen from one side).  Next, add the fillers around the thriller, then add the spillers around the edges. After adding the plants, add more soil until it is within two inches of the top of the container, allowing sufficient room for water to thoroughly soak the soil and the soil not to overflow.  Water the plants thoroughly when you are finished planting. This may require a couple of waterings in succession to wet the mixture entirely.

    The container should be in the sun or shade as required for the plants you have selected.  Continue to water when the soil feels dry and add fertilizer per the label directions and plants’ specific needs.

    Through container gardening, you will realize your artistic abilities and experience the satisfaction and enjoyment of creating a floral masterpiece!

    Learn More

    UGA Extension – Gardening in Containers
    UGA Extension – Consumer Horticulture Benefits for Individuals and Families
    UGA Extension – Landscape Basics:  Color Theory
    Fine Gardening Magazine – Container Gardening Resources