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How to Compose Interesting, Beautiful Outdoor Planters

Whether you've got one pot or a dozen, good design rules apply.

Contributing Writer
Potted Flower Arrangements, Outdoor Planters with Flowers
Photography by: Linda Raymond/Getty Images

You've got a pretty new planter and some potting soil, and now you're ready to buy the plants. But with so many choices available, it's hard to know which to pick. Take a look at some of the tips below, and you'll go to your local garden-supply store confident and ready to start creating singular containers that work well with your patio, deck, backyard, or wherever you want a touch of nature.

 

Related: Window Box 101: How to Arrange a Gorgeous Exterior Display

 

Choose plants by their shapes.

An effective way to arrange plants is by using the so-called thriller-filler-spiller rule, according to the New York Botanical Garden (NYBG). "Thriller" plants should be the focal point of the composition, like vertical plants that give the container height or tropical plants that have broad leaves and bold colors. "Fillers" are smaller plants that add mass and color to an arrangement and cover up bare spaces on the sides while adding depth and fullness to the look. Finally, "spiller" plants tumble over the edges of the pot.

 

Customize color.

A simple way to figure out which colors work best with one another: Pick plants in hues you like then take a look at them all spread out on a table or in your shopping cart to see what looks best together. It's your call!

 

Think about foliage.

Foliage is an extremely important and often underrated component of any design, says the NYBG. Long after flowers are gone, foliage will continue to provide a plant with interesting contrasts and textures.

 

Related: How to Plant a Beautiful Perennial Garden

 

Consider spacing.

How you space the plants in a single container differs from planting in a garden—keep plants much closer together in planters. In fact, the NYBG says that you can grow twice as many plants in the same amount of garden space.

 

Pay attention to proportion.

Small containers call for small plants, just as larger containers call for larger plants—you'd never plant a huge tree in a tiny pot, right? A plant in a too-small container will become rootbound and will eventually dry out; in a too-big pot, the plant may get root rot. When you need to transfer a plant to a larger container, use one that is two to four inches wider in diameter.

 

Pick out planters.

Plastic is the most popular material for planters because it's lightweight, affordable, and lasts for years. Containers made of high-quality synthetics like poly resin or polyethylene come in many different shapes and sizes—it's easy to find some that reproduce the classic look of terra-cotta, wood, or clay. You can also grow flowers and edible plants in unexpected containers that work as well as traditional ones. Try: colorful coffee and olive oil cans, rusted colanders, and vintage wooden crates. Just be sure to drill drainage holes if the container doesn't already have them.