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Thrillers, Fillers, and Spillers: The Best Annuals for Your Container Designs

Updated: May 6, 2021

When planting a container, there are three simple guidelines to make a super balanced and eye-catching arrangement: plant a thriller, a filler, and a spiller. What does this mean exactly? A thriller should be a plant that stands out, or thrills, if you will. This is usually a brightly colored plant that’s nice and tall. A filler is a plant that fills in any gaps in the container to give it a nice full look. And finally, a spiller is a plant that quite literally spills over the side of the container to add some interesting texture to the whole arrangement. Still unsure? Not to worry, we’ve outlined some examples of thriller, filler, and spiller plants below.

Examples of Thriller Plants

As previously mentioned, thriller plants are meant to be the taller, more focal point of your container, something that really stands out and catches the eye. Below are some examples of thriller plants.

Canna Lilies are extremely eye-catching, tropical-looking plants that are often mistaken for banana plants before they bloom. Their large leaves come in all kinds of different colors, including deep burgundy, a lovely emerald green, and even variegated. The tall flowers form clusters of delicate petals in vibrant colors like yellow, orange, red, pink, and white. As an added bonus, canna lilies are also shade tolerant, which is perfect if you have a tricky spot on your deck that receives little sun.

Dahlias produce beautiful, tall flowers that easily steal the spotlight of any arrangement. They come in every color imaginable and have over 40 varieties, including the extra-large, double blooming dinner plate dahlia, which grows flowers as wide as 10-12 inches! Because these plants are so numerous in variety, there’s bound to be the perfect dahlia for everyone.

Purple Fountain Grass produces striking purple foliage and pale, fuzzy plumes that are slightly reminiscent of cat tails. If you fall in love with the whimsical look of this plant, it can actually be overwintered in the house like a houseplant! With proper care, this is a rare annual that keeps on giving all year round.

Dracaena Spikes add an explosion of long, slender leaves to the center of your container that certainly catches the eye. This plant doesn’t produce flowers, but again it doesn’t need to as the foliage does more than enough to impress. Dracaena spikes are typically a lovely rich green color with red edges along the spikes; however, there is also a Tricolor variety that has an additional stripe of white down its center.

Examples of Filler Plants

The term filler plant is pretty self-explanatory. You want to pick varieties that grow in a way that’s going to nicely fill in your container so that there are no spaces in between plants and, therefore, no unsightly glimpses of soil. The effect will be a gorgeous full container of vibrant and healthy plants. Below are some examples of filler plants.

Begonias are great as filler plants because they generally stay nice and short, providing that optimal ‘filled in’ look. Begonias are another plant with multiple varieties to choose from, all of which have their own unique beauty. Begonias are prized for their easy growing habits and gorgeous flowers. The fact that they prefer shadier locations is an added bonus!

Coleus doesn’t produce large or showy flowers, but that’s because its dazzling foliage is more than enough. Coleus can come in eye-popping color combinations from fuchsia and lime green to cherry red and dark, nearly black, burgundy. Like begonias, coleus does better in shadier spots, so combining them with canna lilies would be a smart option.

Heliotrope grows small and shrub-like, perfect for a container filler plant. They produce groups of sweet-smelling flowers that come in dark purple, indigo, and white. The green foliage also provides interest with its pebbled and deeply veined texture.

Examples of Spiller Plants

Spiller plants give your container a little bit more depth, providing the overall look with a lovely cascading effect of gorgeous vegetation. Below are some examples of ideal spiller plants.

Sweet Alyssum is an adorable plant that provides a cascading carpet of tiny flowers that come in pale, pastel colors like peach, pink, lilac, white, and even yellow. You won’t be able to see an inch of soil with these babies!

Lobelias are lovely flowering plants that come in shades of blue, purple, pink, and even red. They are a long-blooming plant that can also tolerate shadier locations. Their growth habits are a bit more compact, but look great as a tumbling, flowery mass spilling over the side of a container.

Nasturtiums are a unique-looking plant with their lilypad-shaped leaves and colorful flowers that come in red, orange, and yellow. A fun fact about nasturtiums is that the entire plant, from the flowers to the stems, is edible! The whole plant has a spicy, peppery flavor, especially the seeds, which are often pickled and taste an awful lot like capers. Yum!

Calibrachoa is a shrub-like plant that likes to grow in a sprawling manner. Commonly known as million bells, calibrachoa flowers resemble mini petunias. The flower colors are numerous including solid colors of blue, purple, red, orange, yellow, and pink, or can also come in bicolors, striped patterns, and double blooms!

Now that you’ve been given some examples of thriller, filler, and spiller plants, you should have an idea of how you want to plan your container design. Of course, these examples happen to be a few of our favorites but are only a few of the thriller, spiller, and filler plants out there! Don’t be afraid to get creative and add your own personal flair to your container. As long as you follow the general rule of a thriller being tall and eye-catching, a filler growing in nice and full, and a spiller growing over the side of the container, you’ll be all set! Stop in and see what kind of thriller, filler, and spiller plants we have in stock.


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