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5050 SE Stark • 503-231-5050

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Portland Nursery

Building a Container

Using Thrillers, Spillers & Fillers

Build sun and shade containers with a few quick tips! Whether you like to do it yourself, need something quick or would like a custom professional design, we have you covered.

Building containers with a combination of plants is a challenge and one that is a pleasure for every gardener. How to pick the right combination was given great assistance by Steve Silk, a contributing editor to Fine Gardening and a member of the Gardeners Gone Wild blogsite. Steve's article Thrillers, Spillers and Fillers presented an easy recipe for building stunning containers.

We've taken it a step further to provide you with the basics and the list of plants that we stock fitting into each category.

Just use our plant lists with the tips below and in three easy steps create perfect sun or shade containers and dramatic combinations in the garden.



Start with a Thriller...

Focal point - choose a plant that is big, bold, and beautiful.

It is the tallest part of the design

Use it for dramatic accents for in-ground plantings

Suggestions: Salvia 'Golden Delicious,' Kong series Coleus, Draceana 'Red Star' and Dragon Wing Red Begonia.


Add a spicy Filler...

This is the middle layer of the design

Use it to add complementary texture and color to the thriller

Great for adding color and substance around shrubs in the landscape

Suggestions: Plectranthrus 'Troy's Gold', Lantana, Alternathera, and Impatiens 'Sonic Paste.'


Finish with a colorful Spiller...

Use plants that provide trailing accents

Spillers soften the edges of the container

They tie the design elements together

Fantastic groundcovers provide great options

Suggestions: Ipomoea Marguarita, Vinca 'Illumination', Bacopa 'Giant White', and Verbena Lanai series.

Container FAQs

How many plants do I need?
Generally a 12" pot can fit six plants (one thriller, two fillers and three spillers). Some varieties are very vigorous and great for large "Lake Oswego style" baskets. Many of these varieties have the word super in the name (for example Superbells, Supertunia, Superbena).

Should I fertilize?
Yes! Annuals look much better if they are fertilized every third watering. Or to simplify, fertilize once a week with a liquid fertilizer. Alternate between an all-purpose and a bloom fertilizer to maximize growth and bloom. The easiest feeding program is to mix a starter fertilizer and slow release fertilizer in the soil at planting time.

Do all these annuals require the same amount of sun and water?
No. All of the sun Thriller, Filler and Spillers will thrive in full sun but some can perform well in partial shade as well. Similarly some annuals are more drought tolerant or water loving than others. Check the details on the plant tag to help match sun and water requirements when putting together combinations.