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Each spring, I collect annuals from a variety of sources. I like to amass a whole bunch of plants with various textures, blooms, and foliage before figuring out what will go in each container arrangement. I’ll visit nurseries, my local grocery store’s garden centre, and plant sales. I grow some annuals from seed, depending on the year. And I often receive a few trial plants, too. My biggest grouping to work with is the one with container plants for full sun. I need to fill multiple pots filled for my driveway, the space by my front door, my deck, the space in front of my garden shed, etc.
Some years I choose a clear colour theme. Others I enjoy playing with multiple hues to see what I can come up with. When I’m ready, I’ll set up an old plastic patio table in my backyard with lots of potting soil close at hand, pull out all my pots that need filling, and lineup the plants, arranging them into their groups. I keep all the plant tags so I remember what did well. I also try to remember to fertilize regularly to encourage lush blooms.
Here are my favourite container plants for full sun
I love figuring out which plants will go together. I’ll sort of move them around until I settle on their permanent summer friends. I think a lot about shape and which plants will serve as the requisite “fillers, thrillers, and spillers.” I also like to sneak in some edibles, too, especially herbs, which I mention among my favourites. While most of the plants I use are annuals, I do sneak the odd perennial, like heucheras, into my container arrangements. At the end of the season, I’ll plant them somewhere in the garden so I can use them the following year or add them to an ornamental garden.
Gomphrena is a new favourite of mine. I grew Ping Pong Lavender in 2018 after seeing it the previous year at the California Spring Trials. I fell in love with the quirky, spherical blooms. They look great in cut flower arrangements and I kept a few dried out in a vase last fall.
Verbena is one of those dependable “fillers” in a container. It spreads nicely and blooms throughout the entire season. Even before all the flowers have bloomed, you get these lovely wreaths of colour. As it spreads outwards, wind the stems through parts of your arrangement, so it blends in.
I can’t remember when I discovered these heat-tolerant, self-cleaning beauties, but at least one variety of calibrachoa makes its way into my containers each year. They mound well in hanging baskets and fill in nicely in containers, cascading over the sides of the pot. Sometimes I’ll work my whole container colour combination around the calibrachoa I choose. Superbells Doublette Love Swept Double Calibrachoa are a new knockout variety that I mentioned in my list of new plants for 2018.
I used to have mixed feelings about petunias, mostly because they get so darned leggy in the heat of summer and their sticky petals require deadheading. However, there are SO many really really lovely varieties these days that I find them hard to resist. I just make sure to do the proper maintenance on them.
Plant breeders have also been working on blending some of the characteristics gardeners love about petunias with other plants. SuperCal, for example, is a hybrid combining the bigger petunia blooms with the interesting colours of calibrachoa. They are heat tolerant and their blooms don’t turn to mush after a hard rain. There are a few different types of Supertunias are self-cleaning, mounding plants that are heat and drought tolerant. I find the blooms to be super prolific and they last well into the fall.
I generally look for dahlia plants that are well on their way, but you could plant a dahlia tuber in a pot, giving it space to grow among the rest of your arrangement. Another option would be to give it a head start indoors about a month before you’re ready to plant outside. Whether you’re purchasing a tuber or plant, be mindful of how big the bloom will be. You don’t want to try to grow a dinnerplate dahlia in a tiny little pot! And be careful not to overwater.
Sneak in some edible container plants for full sun
Not only do herbs add their obvious fragrance and colour to a container arrangement, they all offer their own unique texture. I sneak herbs—parsley (flat leaf and curly), cilantro, sage (look for fun varieties, like pineapple), basil, mint (mojito, chocolate, etc.), and lemongrass.
One of my favourite tips when I’m giving my raised bed talks is to plant lemongrass in place of your spike or dracaena plant. This hardy annual loves the sun and provides that same height, but you can eat it. I dry lemongrass for herbal tea, and I pull out sprigs of it through the fall when the crockpot comes out and I start to make my favourite chicken curry.
I use a lot of parsley in my cooking, so I like to have lots of plants on the go so I’m not continuously snipping from one. This means that parsley, either flat leaf or curly, is snuck into a lot of my ornamental summer containers. And because I have so many plants, I don’t mind sharing with the swallowtail caterpillars that will appear out of nowhere to munch away.
I love growing lemon thyme in containers because of the variegated greeny-yellow leaves and it’s lemony scent. You can harvest it throughout the season and it remains nice and bushy in the pot. And at the end of the season, I’ll just pop it into the garden to overwinter.
Colour combo ideas for full-sun container plants
Burnt orange, purple, and white
Maroon/burgundy and green
Red, white, and blue or red and white
You’ll also find some great annuals for containers in these articles:
- New plants for 2019 gardens
- How to grow SunPatiens, a hybrid variety of impatiens resistant to downy mildew
- 10 plants with showy blooms