How To Plant Pots For Maximum Impact - The TFS Method -

How To Plant Pots For Maximum Impact – The TFS Method


Let it be said. Pots of plants will add to your landscape tremendously if done right. Unfortunately, most people are unaware of how to get the right mix of plants for a showy display that will turn heads. That's why we want to show you how to plant pots and how to do it for maximum impact.

how to plant pots for maximum impact pinterest image
Pinterest Pin It Image

Before we get into the correct method, it helps to know what "not" to do and, as much as it hurts us deeply, we've seen lots of people this mistake.

What you don't want to do is purchase a hanging basket of plants, say geraniums, and transpant it into a pot.

We'll be the first to admit that if you do this, your pot of geraniums will look good and if the plant is loaded with blooms, it could even look great. However, we're talking here about maxium impact, not just "look good." There is a difference.

Sometimes you'll see hanging baskets composed of multiple plants that do in fact look fantastic. This would be the scenario when it's OK to transplant everything as is into your own pot.

Can you see the theme here? One plant or one type of plant is NOT the way to get maximum impact. For that, you need a mix of plants. This is where the TFS method comes in.

Let's go over that now.

How To Plant Pots Using The TFS Method

I'll bet most of you reading this article haven't heard of the TFS method. It's not a term coined by us, but we like it and always keep it in mind when we are creating a display of pots.

What is the TFS Method?  You'll want to pick out 3 types of plants to use in your pots... and they are....

thrillers fillers spillers image the secret for planting pots

What does this actually mean? Inquiring minds want to know!



Thrillers are plants that will have a big impact. They are usually larger and taller. Sometimes they have beautiful flowers but sometimes not. You can have a thriller plant that makes an impact with it's foliage too.

Thrillers are usually planted in the center of a round pot. If you're planting wall boxes, or other long planters that have a front and back, you will want your thrillers to be centered and to the back of the planter.

Examples of thrillers we've used before include... geraniums, dalias, spikes, mandavilla vine, cockscomb, small shrubs that we can plant later such as leyland cypress, holly and more.

In the image to the left, you'll see red salvia planted in a pot as a thriller.  This is just one example of a plant that will do well in a pot placed in a sunny location.



Fillers are plants that, like the term says, fill the lower area of the pot. You would obviously use low growing plants for this purpose. Plants you would use in your gardens as ground cover make good fillers.

Ajuga, creeping jenny, and sedum are examples of plants that make good fillers.

In the image to the left, notice the thriller is geraiums and the white flower used as a filler is alyssum, a beautiful combination.

Also notice that the the lines between thrillers, fillers and chillers are blurred in this pot.  Both plants are serving all 3 purposes.

That's why when you are learning how to plant pots, you always want to keep in mind that rules can be broken and often are if the results are pleasing to the eye



Spillers are plants that will hang down the sides of the pots. Many people don't think of planting spillers when learning how to plant pots and this would be a mistake. Spillers complete the look.

Examples of plants used for this purpose include sweet potato vine, lantana, petunias (which, BTW, can be a filler as well), fusia (which can be all 3), and much more.

In the example image, this pot is a great example of all 3 types of plants.

Notice the spiller used here on the right is varigated ivy, a plant that we use a lot in our own pots that does well in almost any location.  The multi-colored leaves add to the variety in the pot.

Also notice how each plant has it's own texture and color.  In the middle is an ornamental grass, a plant that most people probably wouldn't think of as a thriller in a pot.  Here it looks great.

Variety Is The Word When It Comes To Potted Plants

Another important factor to consider that will make your pots stand out is by using a variety of plant colors and textures.
This not only applies to pots but to your gardens as well.

Pots With Plants Of Different Colors


If you want us to tell you which colors or combination of colors to use in your pots, we can't do it. This is because it's up to you and your imagination.

There is no right or wrong way to do it. It all comes down to your personal preference and what look you're going for.

Your theme could be multi-colored, such as using many colors of zinias as the thriller. On the other extreme, you could plant 1 or 2 colors that have an impact - say bright red geraniums as thrillers and dark purple petunias as spillers.

Have a look at this image to the left.  This is a striking window box of bright purple - all 1 color.  Here, the purple is simply magnificant.

Textures Matter


When using a variety of plants, be sure to pick out ones with different textures. This usually comes naturally because for the most part, different plants have different textures.

For instance, zonal geraniums have large, showy flowers. You could mix them and with the small blue dainty flowers of lobelia as fillers and the large bright lime-green leaves of sweet potato vine as the spiller. A great mix of plants.

In the image to the left are a few different textures which look good.  However, we wanted to point out that the thriller flowers are not that thrilling.

In the back are a variety of begonias that are usually quite showy and larger.  It could be that this basket was newly planted, or it could be that the begonias are not doing as well as they should.  Either way, this pot could be improved with taller plants to the back.

This illustrates perfectly how sometimes,  plans that seem perect don't work out as intended.  It's OK.   It's the part of gardening that makes it both interesting and fulfilling as well.

The Style Of Pot Matters

Another important factor that comes into play is the size and style of your pots. It's always more pleasing to the eye to pick plants that go with the pot.

For instance, if your pot is rustic and made out of sticks, using native plants or ornamental grasses would be a good idea. On the other hand, if you're pot is tropical in nature, you'd want to use tropical plants.

In addition, in larger pots you can use several plants, some thrillers, fillers and spillers. However, in smaller pots you may not have to room to include several varieties. In this case, you'll want to choose plants that serve multiple purposes. For instance, a thriller that can also be a spiller, or a plant that can be all three things.

How To Plant Pots By Using Inspiration

The best way to get ideas for your pots is to model examples. Visit your local garden center (and we don't mean Home Depot or Lowes). We're talking about actual garden centers that specialize in plants. Most of the time they will have already planted pots for sale. Pick out a few you like and look at them. Which plants did they use?

Usually the hanging baskets or pots of preplanted plants will use individual plants that are available for sale in the garden center. Ah hah, you say!

You could actually buy the individual plants yourself and and plant them in your own pots. Voila. Instant impact! Now, why would you want to do this when you could just buy the same pot already planted?

One reason, you'll save money. Buying the planted pot from the store means you're not only paying for the plants, but the pot as well. If you already have your own pot, you'll be saving money by just buying the plants to put in it.

An even better option though is to use the pot in the store as inspiration for your own. Notice the plants the store has used. What are the colors of flowers? How about the foliage? What is the mix of thrillers, fillers and spillers?

Next, browse the store to find similar plants and use those instead.  Experiment by placing pots of plants next to each other until you find a mix that you like.

The Soil Matters

Learning how to plant pots is really not that hard. We've talked about the plants, but there is one other thing to consider, and that is the soil.

What type should you use? Simple. Use potting mix.

There is a difference between potting mix and garden soil and they should not be used interchangably.

Potting mix contains elements that are specially formulated for pots - things such as moss, bark, perlite, vermiculite, and compost. You'll be surprised to know that what it doesn't contain however, is soil.

Soil is not sterile and can carry fungus and other bacterias, whereas the ingredients of potting mix are combined specifically to grow plants in containers. It contains fertilizers which give nutrients to the plants, as well as aerators, to keep the soil light so it doesn't compact around roots.

Because of this, it can be more expensive than garden soil, which is another reason you wouldn't use it in your gardens, only your pots.

Be sure to use potting mix in your containers and garden soil in your gardens.

Pots And Drainage

Have you ever seen a pot of plants sitting in water after a rain? We have, at one of our clients homes.

Did you know that some pots do not come with drain holes? Did you also know that all pots need drainage?

As unbelievable as this sounds, some pots do not come with drain holes. Since they are absolutely essential, we can only surmise it's to save money from the manufacturer.

The lesson: always look for a drain hole in your pots and if it doesn't have one, you'll need to create one. Use a drill to make a hole in the bottom of the pot.

Another thing we do to help with drainage is to place small stones in the bottom of the pot, then fill the rest will potting mix. You might also here others saying this isn't necessary, and others adding packing peanuts to the bottom of their pots. We certainly don't recommend this. You'd have to buy the styrofoam peanuts and they are not biodegradable.

Instead, gather some small stones or rocks from your outdoor area and use them in the bottom of your pots for drainage. This is what we'd recommend.

How To Plant Pots In Summary

Finally, to summarize in a nice, tiddy list, here's our simple guide for how to plant pots for maximum impact:

  1. Choose A Pot And Saucer
  2. Use The TFS Method To Choose Plants
  3. Purchase Potting Mix, Enough To Fill The Pots Just Below The Rim
  4. Make Sure There's A Drain Hole In The Pot
  5. Plant the pots by putting stones in, soil in, planting the plants
  6. Keep Your Pots Watered

We hope you now know how to plant pots that will turn heads and be worthy of a professional.

Happy planting.

Be sure to comment below with any questions or feedback.

Please follow and like us:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Enjoy this blog? Please spread the word :)