Quick-growing plants for container gardens

Story and Photos by Courtney Keck

I’m sure you’ve heard the terms filler, thriller, and spiller when it comes to container gardens. A filler fills the space, a thriller draws the eye, and a spiller balances out the other two. In combination, they make for very attractive displays. 

Container gardens are an easy way to add excitement to an otherwise simple space. Permanence not being a factor, they also allow for change when you get tired of the same plants. Now that it’s time to plant container gardens, you may be wondering about plants that could fill a container quickly, provided a little tender loving care is included. Here are some to think about.

Dichondra ‘Silver Falls’ is an annual that can fill up a container in weeks. It’s also a great plant to tolerate heat and drought, and does not like moist soil – understandable once you learn that it’s native to the desert regions of Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona. It will tolerate some shade. It can be used solitarily or in combination with other plants. 

‘Silver Falls’ dichondra has silvery foliage that will fill out and spill over any container in a matter of weeks.

Sedum ‘Lemon Ball’ might fill your fancy, as well. Just like the name implies, it has a chartreuse lemon color that surely stands out. Just like ‘Silver Falls’ dichondra, it needs little water. By the way, don’t confuse little water with no water at all. You’re sure to disqualify it from the fast fillers category because it won’t grow rapidly without needed water. It looks great in a container by itself, with other plants, or in the garden. If you want it to survive the winter, plant it in the ground in a sunny location on the south side of the house.

‘Lemon Ball’ sedum is combined with a yellow Chrysanthemum in this container. It really stands out on this concrete front porch.

 If you like grasses, try using ruby grass (Melinis nerviglumis) as a fast filler in a container. It boasts beautiful pink plumes that turn white as they mature. It’s a moderate water user that does best in a sunny location.

Ruby grass sits in front of another container of coleus (Solenostemon scutellarioides) in this picture. It’s a perfect filler for those that love ornamental grasses and a pop of color.

My next fast filler is blanket flower (Gaillardia x grandiflora). The flowers come in various hues of red and yellow, depending on the cultivar. It prefers full sun and does not tolerate wet feet. If you’re looking to attract pollinators to the landscape, this is a plant to achieve that goal. 

Here is ‘Mesa Yellow’ blanket flower in a container with Ajuga, Gerbera, and Cordyline ‘Red Star’. You can see how well it fills out the container, and it’s a little bit of a twist to the usual selection of container plants.

Yarrow (Achillea spp.), Gerbera daisy (Gerbera jamesonii), dusty miller (Senecio cineraria), and Sedum all qualify as fast fillers in containers. Some of these are good substitutions for the mundane selection of container plants. Yarrow species are perennial plants that require full sun and do not tolerate wet feet. You may place them in an area that doesn’t get as much sun, but you will be left wishing for more flowers. They come in an array of flower colors from pink to red to yellow, and even white. They’re also good plants for pollinators. Gerbera daisy blooms are large, as you may know. These come in a variety of colors, such as orange, yellow, white, red, and pink. They do prefer moist soil, but do not tolerate wet feet (few plants do tolerate wet feet). Dusty miller is a perennial plant, although it’s often used as an annual bedding plant. It is prized for its attractive silvery foliage. It can handle full sun or partial sun, and likes moist soil. As for sedums, there are many different kinds to choose from. They are great for those that forget to water occasionally, or may neglect their plantings. They’re succulents, so do not need a lot of watering. They also come in different hues of green from bluish to reddish to yellowish. If you’re lucky, your sedum will flower for you, providing added interest.

Here is a combination of yarrow, Gerbera daisy, dusty miller, sedum, and Liriope in a container.


Other fast fillers include, but are not limited to:
Amaranthus (Amaranthus tricolor)
Basil (Ocimum basilicum, many cultivars)
Canna (Canna x generalis)
Cosmos (Cosmos bipinnatus and C. sulphureus)
Flowering tobacco (Nicotiana alata)
Joseph’s coat (Alternanthera ficoidea)
Licorice plant (Helichrysum petiolare)
Pincushion flower (Scabiosa atropurpurea)
Polka-dot plant (Hypoestes phyllostachya)
Rex Begonia (Begonia Rex Cultorum hybrids)
Salvia species
Spider flower (Cleome hassleriana)
Strawflower (Bracteantha bracteata)
Sweetpotato vine (Ipomoea batatas)
Wax begonia (Begonia semperflorens-cultorum)
Wishbone flower (Torenia fournieri)
Zinnia (Zinnia elegans)

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