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Maximizing Creativity: Great Plants to use in Containers

February 2011

Whether you are an avid gardener who has never tried container gardening before—or someone who is trying to see how green their thumb really is—you may be wondering what annuals work well in containers.  Below is a list of container-friendly plants that can be found at most greenhouses or retail stores with a Lawn & Garden department. Remember when designing your container to keep the ‘Thriller, Filler, Spiller’ concept in mind (refer to the ‘Gardening with Containers’ article). 

Plant Name

Bloom Color


Habit (Use)

Purple fountain grass

(Pennisetum setaceum ‘Rubrum’)

Purple plumes, burgundy tinted foliage

Part to full sun

  Upright, arching (Thriller)

Cordyline (Cordyline)

Foliage shades of green to reddish-purple

Part shade to full sun

  Upright (Thriller)

Phormium (Phormium tenax)

Foliage colors vary; greens, reds, bronze, etc

Full sun

  Upright, spiky (Thriller)

Geranium (Pelargonium x hortorum)

Red, pink, salmon, or white flowers

Part to full sun

  Mounding (Filler)

Coleus (Solenostemon scutellarioides)

Foliage green, pink, yellow, black, red, maroon and combinations of.

Shade to sun

  Upright to mounding   (Filler)

Impatiens (Impatiens x walleriana)


Red, pink, salmon, coral, white, lavender, etc.

Shade to sun

  Trailing to mounding (Filler or Spiller)

Trailing verbena (Verbena hybrida)

Pinks, purples, reds, white.

Full Sun

  Trailing (Spiller)

Million bells (Calibrachoa)

Violet, pink, red, magenta, yellow, bronze, white

Part to full sun

  Trailing to mounding (Spiller)

Petunia (Petunia)

White, reds, pinks, purples, lavender

Full Sun

  Trailing to mounding (Spiller)

Sweet potato vine (Ipomoea batatas)

Chartreuse to green to purple

Part shade to full sun

  Trailing (Spiller)

Begonia (Begonia)

Red, white, pink, yellow, orange

Shade to Sun

  Trailing to mounding (Spiller)

Heliotrope (Heliotropium arborescens)

Purple, white

Sun to part shade

  Upright mounding (Filler)

Dahlia (Dahlia)

Available in most colors except true blue

Full Sun

  Upright (Thriller or Filler)

Golden Creeping Jenny (Lysimachia nummularia ‘Aurea’)

Chartreuse foliage

Sun to part shade

  Trailing (Spiller)

Angelonia (Angelonia angustifolia)

Lavenders, pinks, purples, white.

Full Sun

  Upright mounding (Filler)

African Daisy (Osteospermum)

Pink, purple, white, yellow, orange,

Full Sun

  Upright mounding (Filler)

Pentas (Pentas lanceolata)

Reds, pinks, white, lavenders

Full Sun

  Upright mounding (Filler)

Japanese forest grass (Hakonechloa macra)

Variegated foliage

Full sun to part shade

  Mounding (Filler or Spiller)

This is just a sampling of the hundreds of plants that can easily be grown in containers. Feel free to try whatever plants you want and let your creativity go wild! The American Horticultural Society’s A-Z Encyclopedia of Garden Plants is a great reference book containing specific cultural information for garden plants. The Green Bay Botanical Garden also has an extensive library containing books with ideas for container design and plant combinations. If you are simply looking for pictures to spark your creativity, go onto the internet and search ‘Container Gardening Ideas’.  And during the growing season, make sure to visit the garden for the latest plant introductions and trends in plant combinations!


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May 1 - 31
Daily | 9 am - 6 pm
*May 12 | 9 am - 5 pm

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June 3 | CLOSED for Garden Fair set up until 4 pm

June 3-5 | View Garden Fair hours>>

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*June 14 | 9 am - 3 pm
*July 4 | 9 am - 6 pm

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