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Mix it Up! 11 Cool Containers That Break the Rules

Think “the more the merrier” when you create your spring containers by mixing up annuals, perennials, tropicals, and houseplants. By Karen Weir-Jimerson

The More the Merrier

Who says only annuals go into summer containers? Break that rule this year when you create your summer containers. When you widen your planting palette to include annuals, perennials, tropicals, and houseplants, you create custom containers with personal panache. Here are 11 containers that mix it up -- with lovely results.

Get more container-gardening ideas with our free idea book!

Beautiful Excess

THE MIX
Annuals:
1 Pentas, Gaura, Verbena
Tropicals: 1 Curcuma, 1 Mandevilla

WHY IT WORKS
More, more, more! More leaves, more flowers, more textures! This container simply gushes with horticultural enthusiasm. Start with a high climbing vine (mandevilla) and fill in the base with a mix of annuals and tropicals that will perform like crazy in summer’s heat. It’s a recipe for a great looking container that will keep get bigger, more leafy and flowery, all summer long.

PLANTING TIP: Make sure to group plants with the same water needs in the same pots.


Hanging Pretty

THE MIX
Annuals:
1 Petunia, 1 Thai Basil, 1 Nemesia
Perennials: 1 Carex, 1 Variegated Oregano

WHY IT WORKS
It’s all about textures and colors! And in this beautiful basket there are two variegated plants of different leaf shape, size, and texture (carex and variegated oregano) combined with three purple flowering plants (petunia, nemesia, and basil). Working with a color theme (yellow-and-green variegation) PLUS purple flowers is an easy way to create a custom look by just plugging in plants. So easy.

PLANTING TIP: Hanging baskets need a little lift (tall plants) as well as some overhang (cascading plants), in order to look full. So when planting a basket, make sure you have a least one tall plant to create height and several hanging plants to create length.


Purple Passion

THE MIX
Houseplant:
1 Dracaena
Bulbs: 3 Cannas
Annuals: 4 Purple Salvias, 2 Purple Sweet Potato Vine 

WHY IT WORKS
Purple-flowering salvia paired with purple-leaf sweet potato vine create a layered and tonal effect. Salvia’s heart-shape green leaves offers a green respite between the cascading sweet potato vine and the high-rising purple salvia flowers. The variegated dracaena adds yet more elements to the mix: height, texture (spiky leaves), and color (yellow and green). The backdrop of tall cannas creates a pink halo effect.  The green/blue container provides a light background for the purple sweet potato vine.

PLANTING TIP: Big houseplants, such as dracaenas, make ideal “thriller” plants in a container. At the end of summer, just pop them out of the pot, repot them, and bring them indoors.


Dollop of Color

THE MIX
Annuals:
2 New Guinea Impatiens
Perennials: 1 Heuchera, 2 Creeping Jenny

WHY IT WORKS
Light and dark foliage looks so fantastic together -- and a-hard-to-beat combo is chartreuse creeping jenny and chocolate brown heuchera. But no container can live on contrast alone, so a little dollop of bright pink New Guinea impatiens does the color trick.

PLANTING TIP: Perennials make beautiful container plants, and can be planted in the ground at the end of the season so you can enjoy them there or dig them up and replant them in containers the following year. Some perennials can be overwintered in perennials if they are well protected in colder climates.


Light and Dark Contrast

THE MIX
Perennials:
1 Phormium, 2 Bidens
Bulbs: 2 Dahlias, 1 Tuberous Begonia
Annuals: 1 Sweet Potato Vine, 1 Calibrachoa

WHY IT WORKS
Contrast always draws in the eye. In this container, the dark (almost black) dahlia foliage is backed with the spiky leaves of a dark phormium. Large orange dahlia flowers float above the container. Additional color is provided by bright yellow bidens and calibrachoa, as well as the trailing chartreuse leaves of sweet potato vine. The brown-orange-copper container makes the yellow/green flower and foliage pairing really pop.

PLANTING TIP: Purple and chartreuse are trendy colors that garner attention -- and look stunning in a pot together. 


Thriller, Filler, Spiller

THE MIX
Perennials:
4 Sedum, 4 Chrysanthemums
Annual: 1 Purple Fountain Grass, 4 Fiber Optic Grass

WHY IT WORKS
There’s a reason that the phrase “Thriller, Filler, Spiller” is so often used to describe a successful container planter. Here, the thriller is a showy red grass that makes a frilly topknot for the planter. It waves its beautiful blades overtop a snug grouping of orange chrysanthemums (red and orange are a hot combo for fall planters). To cool off at the edges is a sweet mix of light green sedum and airy fiber optic grass.

PLANTING TIP: Plant for seasonal color with containers. Pop out flagging annuals and replace with blooming chrysanthemum for a fall fix up!


Opposites Attract

THE MIX
Perennials:
1 Phormium, 4 Ivies

WHY IT WORKS
It’s a classic case of opposites attract. The tall, spiky purple leaves of phormium stand at attention while the fluffy draping tendrils of ivy make a cascading lather of foliage at the base of the planter. Pairing plants with different colors, textures, and growth habits is an easy way to create drama in a container.

PLANTING TIP: Phormium comes in a wide variety of colors -- from nearly black to purple to variegated greens, yellows, and pinks. A perennial in zones 9-11, phormium can be used as an annual in cooler areas. Because these plants like sun or partial shade, they can be paired with plants that swing both ways, such as ivy. 


Bright Lights

THE MIX
Houseplant:
1 Polka Dot Plant
Annuals: 1 Dianthus, 1 Dusty Miller
Perennial: 1 Lantana

WHY IT WORKS
Hanging baskets bring eye-level color to porches and patios. And in this basket, there’s lots of look at. The blocks of bold color (yellow, red, white) are offset with spotty white-and-green polka dot plant (aka a really adorable houseplant). You just can’t go wrong with color -- and planting a block of several (just one plant each) in a small container makes a bold statement. Add a series of three of the same container in a row (say, hung up along a front porch), and you have baskets with color that really stands out -- and provides from-the-street curb appeal.

PLANTING TIP: Get a filled-in-look by planting close together. As summer heats up, annuals will spread out, making baskets lush and beautiful. 

The Kitchen Sink

THE MIX
Perennials:
1 Delphinium, 1 Foxtail Asparagus Fern, 2 Creeping Jenny
Annuals: 2 Dianthus, 2 Coleus, 2 Begonias
Tropical: 1 Ti Plant, Majesty Palm Frond 

WHY IT WORKS
When you are looking for a big statement, such as an entryway container or a focal point in a garden, think big and bold. In other words, add everything but the kitchen sink. In this container, there’s a little something for everyone. Ti plant reigns at the top of the flower heap with her hot pink foliage. Delphinium adds remarkable splashes of blue. Fill-in players are foxtail asparagus fern and the ever-reliable creeping jenny. Finally, (and for a little dramatic flourish), a clipped majesty palm frond! 

PLANTING TIP: When combining annuals, perennials, and tropicals, make sure all plants have the same light needs.


Green Theme

THE MIX
Houseplants:
2 Cyclamen
Annuals: 6 Viola
Perennials: 2 Foxtail Asparagus Fern, Variegated Ivy 

WHY IT WORKS
Variations on the theme-of-green: this combo creates a quietly sophisticated window box. Little splashes of white from the cyclamen petals and the frosty variegation on the cyclamen and ivy leaves add highlights while the soft lavender and yellow single-petalled violas add sweet pastel notes to the mix.

PLANTING TIP: Don’t overlook adding houseplant beauties, such as cyclamen, to containers and window boxes to add a depth of texture and surprise. Leafy variegated houseplants include Chinese evergreen and dracaena.