how to design a planter – 5 easy steps


The garden nursery in springtime is truly my happy place. It’s bursting with colours and beautiful smells and it’s full of possibilities. The gardeners and fellow patrons are extra chipper and full of smiles. I just love it. I always get too excited and over-shop and overspend.

I don’t usually have a plan for what I’m going to plant in my planters. I like to go with the flow and talk to the gardeners about what’s new and interesting, and let their advice lead me. This approach is fun, but as a result, some of my plants don’t make it. There are a few rules about what should be planted with what, and how.

This year I needed a plan. We’re moving overseas mid-summer and sadly our shipping container cannot be full of plants and dirt.

I did a lot of research on how to make a solid planter plan to save time and money. Here’s how…

Step 1. Pick your container(s) before you buy
The great news about container options is that there are no rules. Anything can be a planter container if it can hold soil. It’s best if the container has holes in the bottom for drainage, but if you select plants that don’t require a lot of water, it’s not crucial. Garden stores have lots of options, but they can be pricey. Buy and sell sites, like Facebook Marketplace, are a great place to look for planters for minimum dollars.

If your planter will be close to a public space, concrete containers are great. Heavy = hard to move and steal. Metal containers give a cool industrial vibe, but will corrode over time so keep that in mind before you buy.

Once you’ve picked your container, place it where it will go once planted and note how the sun hits it throughout the day. You don’t need to get too detailed. It’s important that you know if it will get full sun, partial sun, or full shade before you buy plants.

Step 2. Fill with Soil
There’s not much to think about when it comes to the soil for planters. Most store-bought potting soil will work just fine. If the planter will be living in an exposed wet spot (open to the elements in a wet climate) you want to get soil with Perlite (those little Styrofoam balls) to improve aeration. Otherwise, even the least expensive brand will do fine.

If you have a large container, you can fill the bottom with rocks to save money on soil

It’s recommended that you remove 6’’ off the top of the soil each year and replace it with new soil. The soil in the pot will last about 5 years before it gets gross and you need to replace it.

Step 3. Choose Plants
There are endless plant possibilities so I’m going to break it down into helpful tidbits.

Start with plants that have the same sunlight requirements.
Plant labels include sunlight exposure symbols to help – see below. Choose plants with the same requirements to be planted together.

Perennials and Annuals
Annuals die in the winter, whereas perennial roots will come back year after year. Annuals are usually brighter in colour and less expensive to buy because they only last for one season. Perennials will be your friend for a few years, but they require more care. You may need to bring them indoors in the winter months to keep them going.

I love a planter with a mix of perennials and annuals. Mixing them gives you the best of both worlds; the rich green colours in the perennials and the beautiful brightness of the annuals. As the annuals die you can replace them with new plants.

Colour Combinations
I don’t like to get too methodical about colour selection because many many colour combinations are stunning. This is where you can let your creativity run wild. However, if you’re overwhelmed by options and are experiencing decision fatigue (I’ve totally been there), here’s what to do; Pick colours that are opposite to each other on the colour wheel – complementary colours. This will create a beautiful colour combination without fail.

Texture
Playing with texture is a fun way to jazz up your planter. Think about the size and shape of the leaves. Needles vs. broadleaf. Soft and delicate or sturdy and strong.

If the planter will be close to a light source, say a porch light in the evening, think about the shadows the leaves will cast. The shadows cast by Tropical Ferns, for example, are so beautiful and will have you feeling those beachy vibes!

Step 4. Get your hands dirty and plant!
This is the absolute best part! Secretly I enjoy gardening simply so that I have a reason to play with dirt 🙂

Planting Tip:

Use a Hand Trowel. They cost around $10 and will save you a ton of time (and wasted soil!).

Start with the largest plant. Usually planted in the middle and slightly to the back of the planter. Work your way around the larger plants with the smaller filler plants.

When planting try not to disturb the roots. If you’re sticking branches or decorations in the planter, try not to stick them into a root mass.

Don’t overfill your planter. Remember that plants will fill out as they grow. You can fill planters with spring and autumn plants because they have a shorter growing season, but summer planters should only be filled with 2/3 of plants to allow for space to fill out.

Out of the box Ideas

  • Use veggies! Kale is stunning in a planter, as well as being a superfood. Leeks, garlic, and cabbage are beautiful options too!
  • Edible flowers would be so fun to experiment with. I love the idea of using flowers from a planter to garnish salads and cocktails throughout the summer.
  • Filling a planter with only one kind of plant, or a series of planters, gives a cool and modern vibe. Lavender is a low-maintenance plant and looks great in this style.

I would love to see what designs you come up with, please share!

Happy growing!
Sarah xx

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