Colorful container gardens that won’t break the bank

In Lifestyle by LynnLeave a Comment

I love colorful pots filled with brightly colored annuals spilling over their sides but sometimes those pots can be a little spendy leaving not much money for the plants.

You can create some amazing displays by using inexpensive thrift store baskets, buckets, and even handbags instead of the usual plastic, stoneware, or terra-cotta, letting you put more of your budget into the stars of the show.

Anything  that can hold a bit of soil can become a planting container. If it is solid like a bucket or handbag simply drill or punch a few holes in the bottom to allow for drainage. If you are going to use baskets for your planter I suggest that you line them with a bit of plastic (simple grocery bags will do) that you’ve slashed a couple of slits to assure that water doesn’t end up sitting at the bottom. Just be sure to fold the edges down beneath the rim so that it can’t be seen.

If you are using wire baskets or bird cages you can line them with sheet moss or cocoa mat, adding a plastic lining to keep them from drying out too fast.

A few “planter” ideas:

  • old tooboxes
  • brightly colored handbags, using their handles for hanging
  • old colanders work well for sedums
  • old wooden shoes
  • Rubber boots, child sizes are great for hens and chicks and other sedums
  • Cowboy boots
  • High heels, the taller the better,fun in the flower garden
  • Baskets of all kinds are usually only a couple of bucks at the local thrift store
  • Rusty old Tonka trucks
  • Old tricycles with baskets
  • Old chairs with bottoms removed using moss lined chicken wire for planting basket
  • Brightly colored Trader Joe shopping bags work really well and will stand nicely once filled. You can fill the bottom third with large gravel or rocks to use less soil and really add stability
  • Old milk cans, roasters, and enamelware coffee pots

Planting the pots

One of the  best ways to plant your container is to use the tried and true “thriller, filler, and spiller method” . This simply means that you start with your “star” of the show or thriller. This should be something tall like a  bright red geranium, a colorful osteospermum, snapdragon, Dahlia, or decorative grass.

Some more favorite Thrillers:

  • cordyline, burgundy or chartreuse
  • purple fountain grass
  • caladiums
  • canna lily
  • asters
  • cosmos
  • salvia

Next comes the fillers. Any medium size plant that does just what the name implies, fills in around the thriller. Verbena, zinnia, strawflowers, marigolds, euphorbia, guara, sage…. anything can be used as a filler if it doesn’t overpower the thriller.

Some more favorite Fillers:

  • begonias
  • coleus
  • lantana
  • heliotrope
  • geraniums
  • gerbera daisies
  • gazania
  • huechera
  • alyssum

Every container needs some spillers. Spillers can even be used just by themselves, cascading en masses over the edge. Bright blue lobelia of course tops my list coming in all the shades from purple to deep blue, soft blue, white and variegated. Spillers can be chosen for their flowers, color, foliage and texture. Oregano and thyme make great spillers and who can resist rubbing the leaves to enjoy their herby fragrance. Sweet potatoe vines from chartreuse to deep purple-black. Ivies also make great spillers. Having more than one variety of spiller can really add a lot of pizazz to your combination.

Some more favorite Spillers:

  • sweet potato vine
  • petunias
  • lobelia
  • fuchsia
  • bacopa
  • calibrachoa
  • wirevine
  • creeping jenny
  • nasturtium
  • sedum

Sometimes if you have groups of containers of the same type it works well if you plant one with tall thrillers, another, with your medium fillers and a third with spillers in a cluster.


Color theory

I have found that bright warm colors really pop in sunny spots where as cool tone blues and pinks really work well and show up best in dappled shade. For example, bright red geraniums with purple petunias and white bacopa can hold their own in bright sun where as the more pastel combinations in the same circumstance tend to wash out a little. Just the opposite in the less sunny spaces the pastels really come to life.

Whites, combined with different tones of greens, and textures can be quite dramatic.

Color combos:

add a third color to each of these combos and watch the magic happen!

  • Different shades of the same color
  • reds and blues or purples
  • reds and chartreuse
  • yellow and blues
  • pinks and purples
  • orange and purples
  • white and chartreuse
  • purple and lime
  • blue and pink
  • pinks and reds
  • blues and purples
  • pale pinks with blue green
  • yellows and greens

Quick tips for container success

Syndicated columnist and “Container Wars” host Marianne Binetti offers these additional tips for successful container gardening:

  • Plants in containers require extra fertilizer. For beginning gardeners, slow-release plant foods are excellent: you apply once at the beginning of the season. Worked into the top inch of soil, the fertilizer is released in small amounts each time you water.
  • In our wet climate, adequate drainage is a must. Elevate the container using pot feet (available at garden centers), or arrange plastic bottle caps under the container to create space for air flow and drainage.
  • Watering needs may vary, depending on the type of container you select. For example, small clay pots require more water; plastic or foam pots retain more moisture.


So now that you know what to do, let’s get busy! Remember anything can be a planter! Let your imagination run wild!

I used to feel bad about using perfectly good baskets to fill with dirt and leave outside in the elements, however spending 1.99 on a basket that will last a couple of seasons is a no brainer and the joy that it brings totally worth it. Besides, after I’m done with it it can become one with the compost pile.

Happy planting!

Hmm… I wonder if the “Bearded One”will miss those boots.



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