Creating a mixed summer plant combination is like blending a dish for dinner; a recipe helps. If not on paper, a combination in mind is a good place from which to start. Some of the most popular types of plant recipes uses the thriller, filler, and spiller ratio.
Thriller plants are dramatic, either in size or in color, or both, and usually grow upright. Two types of plants used here are Canna and Hibiscus. Each type has big leaves and bold flowers; in this case their towering habits make it easy to use smaller annuals as fillers in the understory. Trailing plants are easier to see as they will hang over the edge of a pot, spilling their way downward.
Here is your way to stay gardening with a mixed summer planting for containers.
Thriller Filler Spiller Recipe for a Summer Container
Canna and Hibiscus “steal the show” with their height, like a raised hand waving in the wind. Canna and Hibiscus are called thriller plants for their ability to grab our attention.
The Canna genus is a tropical that grows from rhizomes. If you live in a colder climate north of zone 7, the tubers should be dug up and saved by packing them in mulch over winter. Gardeners love to share this plant, because dividing them prior to replanting always gives back many more than you can reasonably use. Hardy in zones 7 – 10, Canna can be found in standard and dwarf varieties and all grow colorful flowers.
Hibiscus is a genus of tropical looking plants with species that are treated as annuals and perennials, as container plants and as shrubs outside; all of which produce big full-throated flowers.
H. rosa-sinensis is a type of hibiscus that spends summer outside, but shelters inside during winter months. H. acetosella ‘Red Shield’ is only hardy in zones 8 – 11. H. ‘Maple Sugar’ is a hybrid grown for its burgundy foliage, and is even more tender; hardy in zones 9 – 11.
H. syriacus is the commonly called rose of Sharon species. It is a hardy deciduous shrub I have seen successfully grown in southeastern Wisconsin, with a little additional protection against winter temperatures.
Annuals of petunias, begonias, vincas, and sweet potato vines play the roles of fillers and spillers in this recipe.
Summer Annuals for Space and Trailing
Any petunia can fill up space in a container, but for the spiller role, the Wave petunia will give you a long trailing habit. For smaller flowers in a slightly shadier place, Calibrachoa varieties are worth a look. Superbells ‘Cherry Star’ and the newer Superbells ‘Lemon Slice’ or even the traditional ‘Terra Cotta’ brings together a variety of bold colors or soft hues into one flower. Matching these patterns to other flower colors in the mix will be a challenge, though fun none-the-less.
The foliage of sweet potato vine (Ipomoea batatas) makes an assertive filler or short spiller. The well-known lime green, Marguerite, and the dark purple leaves of Blackie are easy to find in garden centers. Lately, more deeply dissected leaves or unusual dark like ‘Sweet Carolina Bronze’ offers more choices. When deciding the number of plants, a few less sweet potato vines is a good idea.
Annuals like upright vinca rosea (Catharanthus roseus) and the larger-leaved dragon wing begonia will fill in open spaces. The annual flowering vinca withstands high heat in full sun with pretty cool colors and dark green foliage. The dragon wing begonia (Begonia sp.) has larger leaves that grow on a bigger plant, than, for instance, the wax begonia. Vinca rosea is a short plant that will get swallowed up among too many other annuals, but one dragon wing begonia will stand out in the crowd.
A mixed container combination for summer annuals fits perfectly in a garden with pots will add bold colors to the patio or larger landscape. Container gardening calls out to everyone to stay gardening.