Tips For Choosing Container Companions

Similar to having a great traditional garden, making attractive containers begins with selecting the right plants. Some container gardens will include plants that look great together and others have plants that help each other to grow better. These plant combos are known as companion garden plants.  You can go to your local garden center and buy already created combination containers or have some fun and design your own.

Here are some tips to help guide you in your plant selections:

Tip 1 - Mix Plants Together That Have Matching Growing Conditions

First figure the location you are going to place your finished container. Determine the lighting conditions. Will it have full sun, partial shade/sun, or shade? Full sun is considered at least 6 hours of sun.  Plants that need limited sun exposure (4-6 hours of sun) are designated partial shade/sun.  Full shade plants will grow with less than 4 hours of sun coverage.

Check the plant labels to make sure you choose varieties that have the same sunlight exposure requirements. Also, review the labels to make sure you find plants that need the same watering requirements. Don’t select drought-tolerant plants and mix them with plants that need to be watered every day. 

At recent trade shows, there have been some interesting experimental ideas of mixing edibles and flowers together.  So don’t be afraid to try different plants together that you might not have thought about, just make sure the growing conditions are the same.

Here are some mixes that you might want to consider:


Petunias & Glitz Euphorbia

Cuphea, Verbena & Calibrachoa

Sun To Part Sun:

Coleus, Impatiens & Sweet Potato Vine

Begonia, Euphorbia Glitz & Impatients

Part Shade to Shade: 

Sweet Potato Vine, Polka Dot Plant & Caladium

Hostas & Coral Bells


Lobelia & Echinacea

Coreopsis & Lavender

Echinacea & Gaura


Baby Eggplant, Basil & Petunias

Petunias, Marigolds & Pepper Plant

Tomato, Parsley & Petunias

Tip 2 – Select Plants With Similar Growth Rates

Not every plant grows at the same rate. Some plants grow very quickly, while others are limited and will not differ much during the growing season. This is important because you do not want one plant to take over the entire container.  While this can be tricky to figure out, most annual flowers grow at an “average” rate, so not one of them will take over the container when they are mixed together.  If you are new at this or don’t want to have to worry about this, you can mix 3 different colored Calibrachoa, or Petunias, or Pentas at the same time.

Another reason it is tricky to know how fast a plant will grow is that there are other factors, such as the growing conditions, soil, drainage, etc. which will affect the growth rate.  On plant labels, you might see descriptions like “vigorous”, which means fast-growing. Pair this with other plants with this same information. If the label indicates the plant is “petite” do not mix it with another plant that has sprawling on it.

If you do find that one plant starts to overtake the container compared to the other plants, you can trim it to keep the container looking equalized. Just make a note to yourself that this happened so you can see if you want to include it in your combinations next year.

Tip 3 – Use A Mix Of Different Plants

Now the fun part of creating combination containers comes into play. When we state a mix of plants we are including different textures, shapes, colors, and sizes.  Look at the plants in terms of flower and leaf shapes and smoothness and roughness of the plant surfaces.  Try to incorporate the gardening design technique of thrillers, fillers, and spillers into your container mixes.  Always keep in the back of your mind, Tips 1 and 2 when making these selections.

Tip 4 – Get The Right Number Of Plants

You want to make sure you get the right number of plants, so you don’t have to go back to the store. This tip takes into account the size of your container, the size of the plants, and how large the plants will grow.  Proven Winners has reported that a 10 – 12-inch container will hold three 4-inch pots. If you are starting with smaller plants, say a 6-pack, you will need two 6-packs to fill the same size container. If you have larger containers to fill you will need more plants. If you want your containers to look full from the start, then add more plants or start with larger sized plants.

If you have created your own container combinations, share your photos on our Facebook page.

Photos courtesy of Ball Seed.

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