Best Thriller Plants for Containers

Count on these striking plants to create eye-catching focal points in pots.

©2008, Dorling Kindersley Limited

Photo By: Image courtesy of ProvenWinners.com

Photo By: Image courtesy of Tesselaar.com

Photo By: Photo courtesy of ProvenWinners.com


Photo By: Photo courtesy of Tesselaar.com

Photo By: Photo courtesy of Ball Horticultural Company

Photo By: Photo courtesy of Bailey Nurseries, Inc.


Photo By: Photo courtesy of Ball Horticultural Company


Photo By: Photo courtesy of Tesselaar.com


Photo By: Image courtesy of W. Atlee Burpee Co.

Photo By: Photo courtesy of ProvenWinners.com

©2008, Dorling Kindersley Limited

Photo By: Photo courtesy of ProvenWinners.com

Photo By: Photo courtesy of ProvenWinners.com

Photo By: Photo courtesy of ProvenWinners.com

Focal Point Plants

Containers create a focal point for the garden and can be easily moved to change the emphasis. Choose plants with strong shapes such as cordylines.

‘Tuscan Sun’ Perennial Sunflower (Heliopsis ‘Tuscan Sun’)

Golden sprays filled with giant sunflower charm cover this plant all summer long. Butterflies, bees and other pollinators flock to flowers. This sunflower is winter hardy in Zones 3 to 9, but plants won’t survive winter in containers from Zone 5 and colder. Tuck sunflowers into planting beds for successful overwintering. As plants multiply over time, you’ll have some to add to perennial beds. Plants grow 24 to 36 inches tall and 24 inches wide.

Tropicanna Canna (Canna indica ‘Phasion’)

Embrace tropical color with a canna that brings a rainbow to containers. Pin-stripe leaves unfurl to reveal a host of hues, including purple, orange, red, bronze and green. Plants grow 5 to 6 feet tall and about 2 feet wide. Choose a big container and make sure you can keep soil moist, because canna like wet feet. Lift tubers in fall in coldest zones and replant the following spring.

Lo & Behold ‘Pink Micro Chip’ Butterfly Bush (Buddleia x ‘Pink Micro Chip’)

Tuck a miniature butterfly bush into pots to create a sweetly fragrant focal point. Flowers open in orchid pink on plants that grow 18 to 24 inches tall and wide. This butterfly bush is hardy to Zone 5. Shift plants from a pot to a planting bed in early fall in colder zones, and repot it in spring to continue using it as a container plant.

Blue Storm Lily of the Nile (Agapanthus praecox orientalis ‘ATIBlu’)

Blue is elusive in the garden, but you’ll savor it for sure when you tuck lily of the nile into a pot. Blue Storm was created to have a long flowering window — up to 10 weeks. The tuft of strappy leaves tops out around 12 inches, but flower stems soar to 30 inches. Pair this African beauty with a spiller to create a striking container garden.

‘Henna’ Coleus (Solenostemon ‘Henna’ )

This is a plant that can stop traffic — all courtesy of outstanding leaf colors. Toothed leaves offer shades of chartreuse and copper above, with a contrasting burgundy underside. The effect is beautiful. Pinch to encourage branching when plants are young. Plants grow 24 to 30 inches tall and 16 to 20 inches wide.

Endless Summer BloomStruck Hydrangea (Hydrangea macrophylla ‘PIIHM-II’)

Enjoy this classic bloomer, with its large 4-inch-wide flower heads, in a container. The strong upright form is a perfect thriller that oozes cottage charm. Plants grow 3 to 4 feet tall and 2 to 3 feet wide. The large leaves pair artfully with grassy fillers, like ‘Toffee Twist’ carex, and small-flowered spillers, like blue or pink scaevola.

‘Jester’ Ornamental Millet (Pennisetum glaucum ‘Jester’)

Tall and stately, you can count on ‘Jester’ to add a striking vertical element to container designs. Leaves emerge neon green, slowly shifting to bronze and burgundy-purple. Bottlebrush seedheads bring another textural touch to plantings. Plants grow to 42 inches tall and roughly 36 inches wide.

Volcano Purple Phlox (Phlox paniculata ‘Barthirtythree’)

Classic phlox good looks blend with disease resistance in this fragrant bloomer. Plants grow 24 to 36 inches tall and form clumps up to 24 inches wide. This phlox is winter hardy to Zone 4 when planted in the ground. Shift plants from pots to planting beds in early fall in coldest zones. Replant in containers in spring.

‘Silver Shield’ (Plectranthus argentatus ‘Silver Shield’)

Leaves steal the spotlight on this fuzzy thriller. Plants put on strong height and spread enough to create a commanding presence in a pot. Site this easy-growing annual in part shade for best growth. Pinch out flower buds as they form. Plants grow 3 to 4 feet tall and sprawl 2 to 3 feet wide.

Oso Happy Petit Pink Rose (Rosa ‘ZleMarianneYoshida’)

Shrub roses make fantastic thriller plants in containers. In warmer zones, roses can survive year-round in pots. In colder areas, plan to tuck roses into planting beds in early fall for overwintering. Small sprays of pink flowers cover plants all summer long. Plants grow 36 to 42 inches tall and wide.

Purple Fountain Grass (Pennisetum setaceum ‘Rubrum’)

You can’t miss when you draft an ornamental grass to fill the thriller role in a container. Purple fountain doesn’t disappoint. Burgundy-purple leaves add texture to designs, and the burgundy tinted seedheads beg to be touched. Plants grow 3 to 5 feet tall and 2 to 4 feet wide.

Pequeña Rosalita Cleome (Cleome ‘INCLENINRO’)

Celebrate pink with the wispy, long-blooming flowers of this dwarf cleome. It’s the ideal size for containers and offers season-long color. Blossoms beckon butterflies and hummingbirds. Plants grow 18 to 36 inches tall and 12 to 18 inches wide.

Spilled Wine Weigela (Weigela florida ‘Bokraspiwi’)

Deep purple leaves bring strong color to containers all season long. Pink flowers appear on plants in spring. This shrub is winter hardy to Zone 4, but may not survive winter in containers in coldest zones. Plan to move plants into a planting bed to overwinter, then shift back to pots in spring. Plants grow 18 to 24 inches tall and 24 to 36 inches wide.

Datura (Datura stramonium)

Look for the ornamental types of this exotically fragrant bloomer. They’re typically sold at garden centers and open flowers in shades of white, pink or purple. The plants have a tendency to sprawl; stake them to achieve a strong upright thriller-type plant form. Plants typically grow 24 to 36 inches tall and, unstaked, spread 24 to 60 inches.

Petit Bleu (Caryopteris x clandonensis ‘Minbleu’)

Draft this shrub to star in a container garden, where its blue blooms can shine. Flowers appear in late summer and linger until frost. This beauty is winter hardy to Zone 5, but may not survive winter in containers in coldest areas. Tuck into planting beds to keep this beauty alive. Plants grow 24 to 36 inches tall and wide.