Container Gardening in Ohio: Thrillers, Fillers and Spillers

Young woman holding a container of flowers

For many of us, springtime in Ohio means digging the gardening tools out of the garage and making a visit to our local greenhouse or nursery. While I’m more of a vegetable gardener myself, Marina has offered to walk us through some basics of container gardening in Ohio.

Container Gardening in Ohio: The Basics

First things first. There are some initial considerations when choosing the plan for your container. Where will you place this container? Will it be in full sun or open shade? Will the container be viewable from 360 degrees or it will have a front and back side, up against a wall or railing?

An example of a finished container used for container gardening in Ohio.
An example of a professionally finished container. Note the grass in the center of the pot (thriller), mulitple plants mounded around the center (the fillers) and the petunias trailing over the side of the pot (the spillers).

It’s helpful to consider all of these factors as you decide on a a plan for your container. Ultimately this will influence the type of plants you purchase and the composition of your planter.

Thrillers, Fillers and Spillers

Now it’s time to assemble your container. You’ve likely seen the hanging baskets and containers put together at your local nursery. They look so full, so professional. Let’s see if we can help you to get that same look in your own planters.

Every professional pot has three elements: a thriller, a filler and a spiller. Marina has put together a video series for both our Instagram and TikTok accounts with examples of selections for each category, but we’ll cover the general idea here as well.


Every good plan has a starting place and you’ll begin constructing your container with a thriller. The thriller will take it’s place in the center of your container.
A thriller, as the name indicates, is the main event, the showstopper. It’s a tall plant that commands attention at the center of the planter.

An example of a professional pot for container gardening in Ohio.
Another example of a professionally assembled container.

If you’re looking for greenery at the center of your composition, you might go for spike or Mexican grass, both of which are very popular. Looking for a pop of color as the star player? Either a Dahlia or Helianthus are good selections to bring both height and color to your planter.

Examples of Thrillers

Spike, grasses, Helianthus, Dahlia, Gaura, Gerber Daisy, Salvia, Angelonia, Elephant Ear, Coleus, Cleome, Celosia


As advertised, fillers act to fill up the bulk of the space in your planter. This is where professionally assembled containers get that signature full look.

Lobelia is a good choice for a filler. It’s a full flowering plant available in white, purple and two shades of true blue. Nemesia, available in many colors, and Sunbini, which offers a bright yellow flower, are also good choices for your filler.

Petunias can act as either a filler or spiller in your Ohio container gardening.
I love the big colorful blooms on these petinias.

My favorite fillers are Petunias. Not only do they also work as a spiller, but the plant offers large, colorful blooms in a variety of colors. It’s great because the color is evident to passersby from the sidewalk to the porch.

Examples of Fillers

Euphorbium, Petunias, Sunbini, Nemesia, Bidens, Brachicomb/Brachyscome, Oxalis, Fiber Optic Grass, Heuchera, Lobelia, Lantana


The final component in putting together your container is choosing a spiller. A spiller is planted around the ends of the container and spills over the edge of the planter.

One choice for colorful spillers is Alyssum. It’s available in both purple and white and has a sweet smell. This is nice if your container is near a door where you enter and exit frequently.

A great example of a colorful Ohio container garden.
This pot features sweet potato vines in both green (on the left) and purple (on the right) as spillers.

If you’re looking for more greenery or a leafy look spilling over the edge of your planter, you may consider sweet potato vines. Available in both green and purple, the foliage provides large leaves that trail over the edge of your planter.

Marina’s favorite are Millionbelles. Not only will these cascade over the edges of your planter, but they are available in a variety of colors. One note, if you plan to include Millionbelles in a hanging planter, you’ll want to give them a quick trim occasionally. This will help them grow fuller and prevent them from getting too twiggy.

Examples of Spillers

Millionbelles, Vinca Vine, Sweet Potato Vine, Silver Falls (Dichondra), Portulaca, Alyssum, Creeping Jenny, Verbena

Container Maintenance

By this point, you should have a professional looking container assembled. You’ve invested a little bit of time and a small chunk of money in your creation by this point, so you’ll want to take care of your investment.

You’ll want to develop a watering schedule. If your container is full sun, you’ll need to water it at least daily. And, depending on your selection, make a plan to deadhead the flowers at least once weekly to keep your creation looking its best.


Our state is amazing, no matter if we’re exploring Ohio’s attractions or exploring our own back yards. Thanks for joining us today in FindingOhio.

If you’re looking for more information about container gardening, the extension office of The Ohio State University has an excellent article on container gardening basics. And if you’d like to start Marina’s video series, click through to the first video in her TikTok series.

Check back often as we’re posting articles about our wonderful state every week. And, as always, we appreciate you sharing our content to your social media. We want everyone to know about our amazing Buckeye State!