Container Gardening for Pollinators


One of our customers recently mentioned that she’d like some pointers on container gardening for pollinators. She explained that she lives in an apartment complex and, with only a small balcony for plants, needs to maximize the utility of each and every planter.

We reached out to one of our colleagues in Sarasota who lives in a similar environment. She provided the following tips and advice, which we hope will help you make the most of whatever outdoor space you have.

  • Plan for the space you have and select appropriate plants

    Containers gardening can be thrilling, but planning is essential: do you want year-round interest in one pot, or do you have enough room on your balcony to move pots around so the visual interest is always front and center? Can you increase your area by going vertical (either by using your railing to hang planters, using walls and/or ceilings to hang baskets, or using different height plants or plant stands to take advantage of available floor space)?

    Once you’ve decided on your approach to your containers, select plants that work well with each other both aesthetically and physically. If you plan to combine multiple species of plants in one pot, it’s especially important to make sure they have similar sun and water requirements. Additionally, it’s really important to make sure your pots are big enough to contain all of your plants and that the pots will be big enough to contain the plants for at least a couple of years.
  •  Design your container garden

    A fairly common container garden planting technique relies on a concept known as “thriller, filler and spiller.” This approach is based on using the following types of plants:

    • A thriller is a dramatic plant with height. An example might be one of our native grasses (e.g.,Muhly grass (Muhlenbergia capillaris) or purple lovegrass (Eragrostis spectabilis)) or a perennial like spotted horsemint (Monarda punctata). If your planter will be seen from all sides, you can put the plant in the middle of the pot; if you plan to have your planter in a corner, put the thriller in the back of the pot.

    • A filler is typically a shorter plant that you use to make the pot look full. Examples include skullcap (Scutellaria spp.), sunshine mimosa (Mimosa strigillosa), and pepperweed (Lepidium virginicum).

    • A spiller is a trailing plant or vine that will hang over the side of the plant. Twinflower (Dyschoriste oblongifolia) falls into this category.

Within this framework, it’s time to select the colors you want to combine, recognizing that different color combinations will evoke different emotions. For instance, a red and yellow color combination will bring a vibrancy to your balcony, while a white and green combination will typically provoke a sense of calm. It’s also important to consider not just the color of the flower, but also the color and texture of the leaves

  • Remember the pollinators

Given the goal of providing for pollinators, it’s important to include nectar sources and, if you’re specifically interested in butterflies, food for caterpillars in your containers.

  •  Proven combinations

Some balcony-proven container combinations include:

    •  Purple/Lavender/White Combination for a large planter
            Thriller: Buttonsage lantana (Lantana involucrata)
            Filler: Skullcap (Scutellaria spp.) and forked bluecurls (Trichostema dichotomum)
            Spiller: Twinflower (Dyschoriste oblongifolia)


    • Wildlowers for a medium sized planter
            Thriller: Purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) and blazing star (Liatris gracilis)
            Filler: Tickseed (Coreopsis lanceolata)
            Spiller: Canadian toadflax (Linaria canadensis) and Maypop (Passiflora incarnata)


    • Herbs for a small railing planter
            Thriller: Hyssop (Agastache foeniculum)
            Filler: Dill (Anethum graveolens)
            Spiller: Nasturtium (Tropaeolum spp.)

Of course, we’re always here to help you select the right combination of plants and we would also be happy to help you select the right container to showcase them in. Just stop by and visit! We’re open Tuesday-Friday from 11am-5:30 pm; Saturday from 10am-5:30pm and Sunday from noon-4pm.

Hope to see you soon!