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Designing Colorful Summer Containers

An easy way to add color to an entryway or patio is with a container full of flowers. You can get ready made combos at the garden center, but making your own lets you choose plants that can survive our challenging summer weather. By grouping a “Thriller, Filler, and Spiller”, it’s easy to make professional looking pots.

So what do I mean by Thriller, Filler, Spiller? It’s a design guideline for choosing three plants that will make a dynamic grouping. The Thriller is a tall plant that creates vertical interest. The Spiller cascades down the side of the pot. And the Filler does just that – fills in the middle space. Searching on “thriller filler spiller containers” will yield many tempting combinations to get you going. But which ones will survive the Florida heat? Here are some ideas:

Summer Thrillers:
Cannas – Striped varieties like Bengal Tiger or Tropicana are especially striking
Grasses – Red, purple, or white fountain grass, Muhly grass, Graceful Grasses ‘Fireworks’
Angelonia – Flower spikes come in pinks, blues, purples, and white
Salvia – Taller blue varieties like Black and Blue create depth at the back of a pot
Mandevilla – Flowering vine will need a trellis to stand up in the pot

Summer Fillers:
Brazilian Bachelor’s Button (Centratherum intermedium) – Bushy tropical with blue flowers that attract pollinators
African Bush Daisy (Euryops chrysanthemoides) – Yellow flowers on a rounded drought-tolerant plant
Coleus – Colorful, patterned leaves
Pentas – Older varieties grow to two feet, use more compact varieties for smaller pots
Caladium – Large leaves for larger pots
Gomphrena – Purple, pink, or white globes
Okinawa Spinach – Purple undersides on the leaves make this edible ornamental as well

Summer Spillers:
Sweet Potato Vine – Vibrant purple or lime green leaf colors
Purple Pixie Weeping Loropetalum – Small dark purple leaves
Calibrachoa – Flowers trail over the sides of larger pots, or can be used as a filler in smaller pots
English Ivy – Dark green leaves to pair with bright flowers
Moss Rose or Portulaca – Bright flowers for smaller spaces
Blue Daze – Can also be used as a filler for smaller containers
Purple Queen (Tradescantia pallida) – Another deep purple choice


This trio of Graceful Grasses ‘Fireworks’, African Bush Daisy, and Purple Pixie Weeping Loropetalum will provide color for several seasons.

When selecting a trio, keep in mind the size of the pot. You want the plants to fill the pot, but have room to grow. For very large pots, you might want two or three fillers.


This large pot has multiple fillers and spillers.

Group foliage plants with one or two flowering selections. And choose a spiller that will contrast with your container – use bright leaves like Bright Ideas Lime Sweet Potato Vine against a dark container.

No containers? These suggestions all grow great in the ground as well. Pair them up in a sunny garden bed for summer-long color. With the “Thriller, Filler, and Spiller” technique, it’s easy to design like a pro!

This blog post was written by UF IFAS Extension Orange County Master Gardener, Mary Ann Pigora, class of 2017. The UF IFAS Extension Orange County Master Gardener Volunteers play a crucial role in the outreach of UF IFAS Extension.