Container gardening is both decorative and practical, especially for people with limited outdoor garden space. Almost any small outdoor spot – especially decks and patios – is the perfect place for a container garden, whether it is decorative, with flowering plants and greenery, or practical and filled with vegetables and herbs.

There’s almost no limit to what can be used as a container for flowers and plants. Terra cotta and ceramic pots remain popular, but other items, such as pots and tubs, add visual appeal anywhere they’re placed. And don’t forget, window boxes and hanging baskets are also containers that can be considered.

Container gardening lends versatility and color to a garden space of any size. Containers provide focal points, and landscape designers suggest placing them at different heights for visual punch. Containers placed on either side of a front walk or driveway provide a welcome, and those placed on porches and patios add ambiance to outdoor sitting areas.

Containers don’t have to be used only by themselves or in pairs. Groups of pots, of different sizes, can be arranged on stairways and in gardens. What to put in those pots? We have recommendations from Karen Summers Welsh of Coastal Bloomers on St. Simons Island, and Dawn Hart, co-owner of ACE Garden Center, also on St. Simons.

Welsh, who’s been working in landscape architecture and gardening since 1990, says bromeliads (the family of plants to which orchids belong) are some of her favorites to use in containers because of they are eye-catching and love the sun.

Other plants that love the sun include pentas, angelonia, vinca, coleus and bush daisies, and tropical plants such as hibiscus, and with their colorful foliage, various types of gingers and the Hawaiian Ti plant.

For shady spots, Welsh likes caladium, impatiens and begonias, among others. Certain types of coleus and bromeliads are also suitable for shade or dappled sunshine.

Hydrangeas have also become a popular item in container gardens, but Welsh cautions to make sure to choose the correct type.

“We use a more florist-quality hydrangea, and depending upon their environment, they’ll last a good while,” she said. “Landscape hydrangeas aren’t as conducive to pots.”

At ACE Garden Center, we met with Dawn Hart and her assistant, Theresa Fouché, to go over the steps of putting together a container garden. Other than the pot, the three components of almost every container garden are the “thriller, filler and spiller.” The thriller is the centerpiece, or focal point, of the arrangement, with the other two subsequently filling in the pot and then spilling over its sides. Hart encourages using a variety of pots and containers, of all shapes and sizes.

Hart has a variety of plants she likes for sunshiny spots, including Cana lilies, coleus (take a look at chipotle chili pepper and spiced curry varieties), Mediterranean rose vinca, creeping Jenny and lemon ball sedum.

For shady areas, she likes Christmas caladium, lemon button ferns, coral New Guinea impatiens and heliotrope.

“There are a myriad of ferns you can use in shade gardening,” Hart said.

Begin with the center and work your way out to the perimeter of the pot.

Hart says to fill a pot halfway with dirt and arrange the plants. Then, take them out, add the center plant and pack dirt around it. Add everything else, and then make sure the soil is firm around their bases to make sure there are no air pockets.

Pots exposed to the sun should be watered more frequently than those in the shade, and people should remember to not water on top of the foliage.

“Always water in the side of the planter,” Hart said, adding that the plants should be treated with water-soluble fertilizer or slow-release Osmocote every three months. “Some potting soil contains fertilizer, but it leaches out during watering. You need to make sure to fertilize monthly to keep flowers blooming.”

Hart shared her secrets to creating stunning container gardens.

9 steps to creating a lush

1. Let the pot speak to you. What are its color, pattern and texture? Pick an aspect that can easily be repeated in your plant selection. For example, a succulent with a wavy, channeled silhouette, such as a snowflake euphorbia, might repeat a pot’s rippled texture and fluted rim.

2. Look for colors that are the same intensity – pastel or bright, and either analogous or contrasting – as that of the pot. Set aside enough of your first-choice plant to fill one-quarter to one-third of the container.

3. Check the green in the plant you choose. Is it yellow-green or blue-green? Stick with that shade of green for the rest of the composition.

4. Look for contrast in your next plant choice. This might be a color that’s the complement of the first, or of the pot’s glaze.

5. Select, tall, medium-height and low plants, keeping contrast and repetition in mind.

6. Fill the containers three or four inches below the rim. Remove the largest or tallest plant from its nursery pot and place it atop the soil, just off center. Press down on the root-ball to secure it but don’t bury it.

7. As you add plants, work from the middle outward, leaving cascades (“spiller”) for last. Push root-balls up against each other, taking care not to bruise the leaves. When you risk damaging a plant, use the blunt end of a chopstick to arrange and settle its roots.

8. Conceal exposed root-balls with smaller plants. It’s fine to set one root ball atop another. Aim for a composition with no gaps.

9. Remove soil from leaves by blowing on it, dusting with a small artist’s brush, or watering gently, which will also help settle the roots. If the new arrangement must be moved, be careful, so no plants are jarred loose. This last step will also help settle the roots. If you must move the nearly planted arrangement, do so carefully.