Classic Color Combinations


The keys to success with patio planters and pots of all sizes are:

  1. Designing with the thriller, chiller and spiller concept in mind. The “thriller” is a plant chosen to “wow” you, to attract attention.  The “spiller” is the plant that cascades over the edge of the pot, providing a softening effect, and the “chiller” is the plant that fills in the space between the two.  Don’t get discouraged if you don’t have all 3; 2 out of 3 will suffice in most cases.


  1. Using classic color combinations. Monchromatic colors that are opposite or adjacent each other on the color wheel, such as blue and yellow or orange and yellow tend to provide great appeal.



  1. Keeping the soil medium moist, not soggy or dry. A happy medium works best for most plants, especially if a quality potting mix of Canadian peat, vermiculite and perlite was used at planting time.  Using a screwdriver or your finger to test for soil moistness is important, as it’s nearly impossible to tell from just looking at the soil surface.
  2. Monthly fertilization. On average, a half rate of soluble “flower fertilizer” or “houseplant food” applied once a month provides for healthy growth.  Be sure to apply fertilizer products to soil that has been pre-moistened to avoid foliage burn.
  3. Maintaining adequate air flow in the canopy. This starts with good spacing at planting and removing plants or plant parts to allow small gaps between plants.  In some cases, a solid mass of closely spaced plants will be successful, but more times than not, foliar diseases such as powdery mildew develop as a result of the leaves not drying out periodically.


John Fech
Horticulture Extension Educator at Nebraska Extension
John Fech is a horticulturist with the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and certified arborist with the International Society of Arboriculture. The author of 2 books and over 200 popular and trade journal articles, he focuses his time on teaching effective landscape maintenance techniques, water conservation, diagnosing turf and ornamental problems and encouraging effective bilingual communication in the green industry. He works extensively with the media to extend the message of landscape sustainability, making over 100 television and radio appearances each year.
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