10 Basics of Container Planter Design

You see beautiful potted plant designs in yards, at businesses and along city streets and wish that you had that kind of green thumb. Wouldn’t such a pot with those colors and that texture be beautiful in your yard or on your deck? How do those gardeners create such wonderful potted plant designs? They follow the ten basics of container planter creativity and then they let their imaginations run wild. As you begin to dream about you container planter design, it is good for you to know the basics of container planting so that your decision produces the effects you desire.


Generally you will see two styles of design with some variations among those styles. The most common style for upright containers uses the focal point, the filler and the trailer. A focal point plant stands out above the rest by being taller and/or more colorful. The focal point is the first to attract your attention. The filler plants are use to compliment the focal plant. They are good for providing the color and texture and are used to cover the bare parts of the pot. The trailer plants hang over the edge of the pot and add softness to the design. A second style of design is to use the same type of plant, in bulk, with variations to create the difference in look. It is best to use plants that are dense and will cover or fill the entire pot.

Type of Pot

Your design choice will be greatly affected by the size and type of pot that you are working with. Almost anything can be used for a container planter. First choose your plants with the size of pot in mind. A simple pot may use more exciting plants as an emphasis while simple plants may leave the emphasis on an ornate pot. Another consideration is whether your pot is an upright planter or a hanging planter. The hanging planter will require plants that have genetics for hanging rather than growing upright.


Determine the size of pot that you are planting and from that choose plants that will fit the pot. A beginning rule is to choose plants that will be two times the height for the focal plant and one and one half times the width of the pot for the filler plants. This is not a rule set in stone, but a guideline. For a quicker, complete look of your planter design, choose plants that are not too young (immature) but may be closer to the size desired for the design.

Desired Effect

Decide if your container planter will be a focal point of your landscape design or a compliment to the rest of your landscaping and choose accordingly. This may affect your choice of size and desire to blend or stand out.


The color selection is wide open. A good starting point is to choose colors to either match or compliment a landscape or home. For a mixture of colors, pick colors that are opposite of each other on the color wheel. For a more monochromatic design, pick one color and use different variations of the same color.


Some plants are chosen for their texture rather than their color. Texture is generally a factor of the plant leaves and can add an alternative option to creating a different style. Choose plants with a variety of texture and sizes of leaves for added effect to your design.

Sun vs Shade

It is important to choose plants that are adapted to the area that the container will be located. Plants are generally labeled as to whether they are able to thrive in full sun, light sun or shade. If you have a container that you can move with the seasons, you can be more flexible with your choices.

Wet vs Dry

It is also important to know whether a plant needs a lot of moisture or is adapted to a more dry soil. Do not combine plants that have considerable differences in moisture needs or your plant design will suffer from loss of plants.


Choosing plant designs can also be influenced by the season. If you are choosing a planter design with flowers, you will need to determine when the plants flower and how long. Also, some plants thrive better in cooler weather and others prefer warm or hot weather. This will determine how long your design will perform for you.


Lastly, choose plants that are available in your area or that you have access to. Also, choose plants that, from your experience, you will be able to take care of. Some are easy to grow and others may require a more a green thumb with more expertise.

The ten basics of container planting can help you get started in creating beautiful container plant designs. Fortunately for us, many master container gardeners are willing to share their ideas and recipes and with a little searching, you may find just the one to suit you. Keep the basics in mind when choosing a pre-designed pattern for your pot or planter so that you will obtain your desired results. Even if you don’t use a pre-designed pattern, you have the tools to let your imagination create a piece of enjoyment and beauty. Plant away.