How to Choose Plants for a Planter – Southern Patio

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Sweet Potato Vine Hanging Over Planter

By:  Chelsea Lipford Wolf

So you found a beautiful planter you love. And now you’re wondering which plants you should plant in it. Using plant tags as a guide, here are some simple tips on how to choose plants for a planter, both inside and outside your home!

The overarching goal is to choose plants with similar needs within each container. That includes comparing their required amount of sunlight, watering needs, and whether they thrive inside or outside.

Full Sun vs. Part Sun

For obvious reasons, plants will be grouped by their sunlight needs in the nursery when you’re out shopping. And as reinforcement, plant growers help us out and include their sunlight needs on the plant tag. Yes, some plants will be able to survive in conditions other than what their tag specifies. But if you want them to thrive, then it’s best to follow along!

Example of Plant Tags

To gather plants for an outdoor container garden, you’ll want to consider where the container will live in your yard and how much sunlight that area gets most days. There are many more plants available that require full sunlight than partial sunlight or shade. Full sun is generally 6+ hours of sunlight whereas partial sun is 4-6 hours of sunlight and shade is even less! (See more on indoor vs outdoor plants below!)

Choosing Plants for Outdoor Container Garden

When selecting a container for outside, look for ones that have UV protectors, like this Birchwood Whiskey Barrel (seen here), so you don’t have to worry about them fading after one season in the sun!

Thrill Fill Spill in Whiskey Barrel Planter

Water Needs

OK, so you have plants with similar sunlight needs. Now you need to compare how they like to be watered.

For instance, some plants, like succulents, prefer to be well-watered and then have the soil totally dry out before being watered again. (Click here to read more about caring for succulents.) While other plants grow better with soil that is watered more frequently to keep it consistently moist (though not soggy). Their tags will either say moderate watering, ‘water every 2-3 days’, or something similar.

Indoor vs. Outdoor

Another thing to consider when selecting plants (or a planter!) is whether they’ll be kept inside or outside. Depending on the climate of your area, there can be a big difference between the temperature and climate inside our houses and that outside.

Blue Ana Pot for Inside Plants

Indoor plants have a low tolerance for cold and fluctuating temperatures. They do best staying between 60ºF and 80ºF. And so they usually can’t thrive outside throughout the year, especially in areas that experience a drop in temperature during winter. Plant growers (again) make it easy to identify which plants are suitable by including the hardiness temperature, or the lowest temperature a plant can tolerate, on the plant’s tag!

So then, can you grow outdoor plants inside? The general answer is probably not! Seemingly direct sunlight indoors is actually diffused through your windows’ glass. It’s not the same as the real thing outside! Therefore even the brightest and sunniest of rooms will probably not provide enough sunlight to meet most plants’ needs.

Head inside the greenhouse to find plants labeled at ‘Houseplants’ for your indoor plant fix. All the guidelines above still apply! And be sure to pick up a planter with an attached saucer to protect the surface where it’ll live.

Thrill, Fill, Spill

Now, this is the fun part! Incorporating a plant that thrills, a plant that fills, and a plant that spills are an easy way to add variety and texture to your container garden! And this technique is a great way to make it look full and fabulous. What good is a container or planter without some fabulous thrown in?

Starting with the thrill-look for tall plants like grasses, snapdragons, or salvias (pictured below). Again that plant tag comes in handy! It can tell you the mature height of the plant so you know if it’ll grow a lot or only a little taller.

Adding Thriller Plant to Container Garden

For the filler, look for a plant that will fill your container and add interest. A medium height plant or mounding plant will fill in the majority of your container and connect your thriller and spiller plants. Some examples include coleus, impatiens, begonias, and kalanchoes.

Adding Filler Plant to Container Garden

Lastly, your spill plants won’t grow very high but will spill over the edge of the planter. Some favorites are creeping jenny and sweet potato vine (pictured below).


Now is the perfect time to refresh your planter and container gardens! And when you do, share your creations by tagging Southern Patio on Facebook or Instagram (@southernpatio1)!

Check out some other planter project ideas!

Time-Saving Gardening Tips for Having a Green Thumb

Topiary Trees – How to Plant in Pots and Planters