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Boulder Landscape and Design

Building a Strategy for Your Annual Planters Early

By Jamie Overley

Adding potted annuals to your patio can transform the space and really make it an inviting area to enjoy! Spring is right around the corner and it is time to start thinking about what kinds of beautiful flowers will decorate your patios this year. Here are a several things I have learned over the years and good guidelines I try to follow when starting to make my plans.

Anticipating Time Throughout Summer

Every year I have big ambitions that this will be the year that my yard and patio will look like my own personal botanic gardens. Some years I get closer than others, but it really comes down to the amount of time I have throughout the summer to dedicate caring for my plants. I try to consider what kind of summer I think I will have prior to buying plants…. will I be home a lot and able to put some effort into maintaining my plants, or do I already have a full summer planned and need something that will look amazing without much work?

Busy Summer with Little Time?

Some easy to grow and low maintenance plants include geraniums, petunias, and marigolds. There is a reason you can find these plants at any store and they are always in abundance…. people love them and they are very easy to keep happy.

One of the most hardy and easy to grow plants are Dahlias. They come in so many different shapes and colors and keep flowering all summer long. Dahlias are hands down my winner for best easy to grow plants that bring a unique burst of color to each planter I use them in.

On any garden or planting blog they will always talk about Spillers, Thrillers, and Fillers, it is the perfect rule of thumb for large planters and always delivers well-balanced results. My favorite spiller is sweet potato vine. It grows abundantly quickly and planting sweet potato vine always makes me feel like a gardening rock star! You can find it also in a variety of colors which brings a fun dimension to your planters.

My Favorite Planter Flower Combo…

Here is my go-to foundational recipe for my planters year after year after year… the combination just always works, and it follows the Thrillers, Spillers, and Fillers guidelines. All these plants are easy to grow and are bright and full of color all summer long. If you have a smaller sized planter you can easily remove the petunias and scale down the sweet potato vine and geraniums to 2 each. With all the variations in color of petunias and geraniums, you can create different color combinations.

All these plants like sun and the Salvia Amistad attract hummingbirds which are fun to watch.

SPV = Sweet Potato Vine

G = Geraniums

P = Petunia

SA = Salvia Amistad

Tall Grass = Tall Annual Ornamental Grasses

At my previous home, I used this plant combo as my foundation for our built-in planters in the front yard. I did add a few other types of plants to bring in additional color, but you can see the bright green sweet potato vine just brings out the red in the geraniums and purples of the petunias.

Things I Try to Remember Every Spring

  1. Decide on color schemes ahead of time. Keeping within a color scheme throughout (bright colors vs pastels etc) will help keep a cohesive feel for your yard regardless of where you put a pot or planter. I recommend looking online or on Pinterest to get ideas as it is always helpful.
  • Know how much sun or shade your planters are going to get throughout the summer and buy plants suited for that space. Don’t try and force a shade plant into sun and vise versa, the plants will struggle and look unhappy all summer.
  • Don’t feel like you need to fill every square inch of the planter right away. The plants will grow throughout the season and fill in. If you plant too many plants early-on, they will suffocate by mid-summer.
  • Have a plan and a list of exactly what you need before you go to the store. Going to your local plant nursery and seeing all the bright colors is the same as going to the grocery store hungry. You will come home with way more than you need (yes, I make this mistake almost every year. Well… if I am being honest every year, I just can’t resist).  
  • Have a few extra pots handy just in case you buy too many plants!
  • Have extra soil on hand. I usually end up using more than I think I will and I HATE having to go back to the store due to poor planning on my part. Just get one extra bag of soil and if you don’t need all of it, I am sure an existing garden bed in your yard could easily benefit from new soil mixed in.
  • When to buy???? I usually buy all my annuals a couple days before Mother’s Day. If it is still cold, I still buy but will keep them in the garage or covered on the back patio until it is time to plant. Mother’s Day is the absolutely the most chaotic time to buy annuals and if you want until after, a lot the best plants are picked through and taken. So, I prefer to get a jump on it and buy my plants early, then plant at my leisure.

I hope my suggestions give you ideas and new ways of bringing some bright colors to your patio this spring.