MASTER GARDENERS: Attractive pots for your patio

By Debbie Roland and

Emmy Ulmschneider

Master Gardeners

Have you looked at someone’s patio and wondered why their containers look so pretty? Or maybe how they decided which plants to put together in one container? The old advice was thriller, spiller, filler but like so much in our world today, we have moved beyond what was tried and true. Containers can be used effectively in a small area, as a design element, or perhaps even to grow culinary herbs.

  • Choose your container and where you will place it. Although any container can be used, all containers are not alike. The size determines how many plants you will need, how often you may have to water, and how quickly the soil heats up. The pot composition may also affect the growing conditions; everything else being equal, metal pots heat up more quickly. Be sure that your container has drain holes in the bottom. You will be surprised how many pots are sold without them. Purchase or choose a pot or that is big enough to hold at least three types of plants. When picking a pot be sure the color coordinates with the plants you will be adding.
  • Choose your plants. Be sure to think about the size of each plant when it has reached its full height and width. It is important that all the plants in the container have the same watering requirements. If you try the thriller, spiller, filler approach, you will want a tall, “thriller” plant, one or two medium-sized, “fillers” and smaller “spiller” plants which drape over the side of the container. Consider also creating a “wedding bouquet” of similar sized plants of contrasting colors. Or create drama with a one-plant container by focusing on a plant characteristic that catches your eye.

  • Prepare your container. Place the largest plant you have picked for your container in the back of the container with no soil inside. This will help you determine how much space you need to fill and how much soil you need to add to bring the largest plant to the top of the planter. Add good potting soil. Resist the urge to reuse the soil from year to year. Start off each new year with new soil.
  • Plant your plants. First, plant the tallest plant in your pot. Now add the medium sized plant materials. Finally, add the smaller filler plants to the remainder of the open spaces.
  • Water your finished container well. Water directly onto the soil and not on the leaves of the plants. Plants grown in containers dry out more quickly, especially in West Texas. Frequent watering is a requirement to keep your plants healthy so check the container regularly. If your container is near a hose bib or drip irrigation that runs regularly, consider adding a micro-tubing dripper to water your pot.
  • If you have any open spaces adding mulch will help hold the water and will keep the soil cooler. As your plant blooms it is important to keep the spent blooms trimmed off (deadheading).

Throughout the growing season, make mental notes on what plants work and what you might want to grow again. When pots go on sale at the end of the year, you can stock up for your next year!

If you have questions, call the AgriLife office in Odessa at 498-4071 or in Midland at 686-4700. Additional information, and our blog for access to past articles, is available at Click on “Resources.”