Embrace the tropics for your patio

This sun container includes the tropical Cordyline and crotons as its thriller plants, yellow lantana as its filler plant and white Diamond Frost, and pink Supertunia as the spiller plants. (Al Pierson)

A new gardening trend in recent years in our area has been the use of tropical foliage and tropical flowers in containers outside the house. These plants have been used outside for years in warm climates like Florida and California. Container gardens do not have to be just annuals, you can add in some colorful tropical foliage for more interest.

Colorful foliage like crotons, dracaena, rex begonia and calathea bring new colors and textures to your containers while blooming tropicals like hibiscus, bougainvillea, gardenia and dipladenia thrive with the heat and sun.

Try using hibiscus in the center of a large pot with annuals around it. Use Bougainvillea and dipladenia for your hanging baskets. Bonus: These blooms attract hummingbirds.

Thriller, spiller, filler

When making your containers, thrillers, fillers and spillers are the typical components of a container garden.

Thrillers are taller plants that add drama and a vertical element to the combination. Place the thriller in the back of the container if it will be viewed from one side. Place the thriller in the middle of the container if it will be viewed from all sides. Thrillers can be either tropical such as croton, angel trumpets and elephant ears or annual like Angelonia, argyranthemum (daisies) or ornamental grass.

Fillers are plants that are bushy and make the container look full. Place the fillers around your thriller if it is in the middle or in front of the thriller if it is in the back. Tropical fillers include rex begonia, calathea or Kimberly queen fern. Annual fillers include Diamond Frost, wax begonia, petunia and salvia.

Spillers are vining plants that spill over the edge of the container and are placed at the edge of the container. Tropical spillers are spider plants, wandering jew and English ivy. Annual spillers are bacopa, million bells, sweet potato vine and allysum.

Consider using crotons, dracaena, angel trumpets or gardenia trees as your thriller with lantana and diamond frost as fillers and supertunias, calibrachoa, spider plants and wandering jew as “spillers” in a sunny location.

For a shady location, use caladium and elephant ear as your thriller with rex begonia, calathea, impatiens and non-stop begonias for your filler. Add German and Swedish ivy as your spiller.

Choose the right soil

Choose your soil carefully for containers. Purchase a quality mix with Canadian peat and perlite. Avoid purchasing soil by weight, and choose from bags that are sold by volume. Soil sold in parking lots should be avoided, they are typically waterlogged and will harbor bacteria and larvae for gnats. We recommend and use Pro Mix.

Fertilize your containers weekly with water-soluble fertilizer. We recommend and use Jack’s Classic fertilizer in our greenhouses. Avoid using a high phosphorus fertilizer and choose one high in nitrogen and low in phosphorus. Too much phosphorus is toxic for most annuals.

Al Pierson is owner of Pierson’s Flower Shop & Greenhouses Inc., in Cedar Rapids.