How to Plant an Easy Container Garden for Full Sun

Give a sunny spot in front of your house some extra warmth with planters full of thrillers, fillers, and spillers.

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Colorful container gardens are one of the easiest ways to brighten up your entryway or front porch. Even if your home is mostly neutral colors, a planter with a few blooms can perk up your porch and make your entire exterior look more cheerful. Plus, you can change a container garden with the seasons, so it's less permanent than committing to a new coat of paint on your front door. For a porch or patio that gets a lot of sunlight during the day, you want to choose plants that can tolerate the full strength of the rays. Use this full-sun container garden recipe as inspiration for your own planter!

teal planter near stone pillar with flowers
Rachel Haugo

Choose the Right Container

Especially if you're planting a container garden at the end of spring or the beginning of summer, you'll need to use a planter that has some room for growth. Larger planters can also hold more water, which your plants will need in the heat of summer, especially if they spend most of the day in the sun. Try to choose a container that has plenty of depth (at least 12 inches), so your plants' roots have room to grow.

Before you start planting, add soil to your container. Using a traditional potting mix is fine for most plants; if you're filling your planter with desert plants such as cacti, you might want to use a soil mix formulated specifically for succulents and cacti.

Choose Your Plants

If you're not sure where to start, follow the thriller, filler, spiller technique for planting your container garden. The thriller is the focal point of your container garden, so choose a large, showy plant (such as geraniums) for the center of your planter. Fillers are smaller plants that, well, fill in the gaps around your center thriller (such as double-blooming petunias and dusty miller). Finally, spillers are plants that have trailing stems that will cascade over the sides of your container (such as black sweet potato vine).

How to Plant a Container Garden

Because your thriller is the focal point of the container, plant it first. If you have trouble getting the plants out of their plastic nursery pots, gently pinch the sides to help slide out the root ball. Then, gently loosen the roots from the soil before planting in your container. Place your first thriller plant in the center of your container. If you have multiple thriller plants, start by placing one in the center, then cluster the rest of your thrillers around the center plant. Remove any dead leaves you see as you're planting.

Next, add your filler plants to the container. Try to plant them close to the thriller plants in the center, leaving room around the edge of the container for your spiller plants. If you're not sure how many plants to group together, try planting in threes; odd numbers will look more visually appealing than even numbers of plants.

Finally, plant your spiller near the edge of the container. Because the goal is to have it spill over the edges of the container, you don't want any plants between your spiller and the edge of the container, or they'll eventually get taken over. If you have any blank spots in your container after planting your spiller, add extra filler plants as needed to cover the bare patches.

How to Care for a Container Garden

In order to help your container garden thrive all summer long, make sure your plants are getting enough water. For a container garden with plants that like full sun (six to eight hours of direct sunlight every day), you'll need to water often to keep your container from drying out. For the first week or two, while the plants are establishing themselves, water every day. Then, you can switch to watering every other day or every couple of days. Pay attention to the soil in your container; when it's dry, it's time for a drink. It's better for the plants if you water them before they start wilting.

You can also fertilize your plants throughout the summer if you want; because your container garden is only meant for one season, you don't necessarily have to fertilize if you don't want to, but for some annual plants, a few doses of fertilizer helps them produce more blooms.

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