How to Plant a Modern Hanging Basket With This Easy Formula

Wondering how to design the perfect hanging basket of flowers for your yard? The “thriller, filler, spiller” formula makes it easy to create a beautiful arrangement.

All you need are these three types of plants, plus the right hanging planter to match your modern home.

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The Thriller, Filler, Spiller Formula

Thriller, filler and spiller are the three plant styles that work well together in a hanging basket or container.

The thriller is your taller, eye-catching plant. The filler is a mounding plant that fills in the arrangement. And the spiller is a cascading plant that grows over the sides of your hanging basket.

Thriller, filler, spiller - the easy formula for planting hanging baskets

It’s not a hard and fast rule, of course. There are attractive arrangements with just one or two types of plants. But using all three types pretty much guarantees a showstopper.

Annuals vs. Perennials in a Hanging Basket

When I first started gardening, I was all about the perennial plants that come back year after year, as opposed to annual plants that die at the end of the season. Perennials are clearly the better deal, but over time I’ve started to see the value of both.

The other day my husband Eric said just because something isn’t permanent, doesn’t mean it’s not valuable. We weren’t talking about plants—it was more of an existential crisis situation—but this sentiment is 100% true in the garden.

Petunia, lobelia and African daisy annuals

Even though annual plants will die at the end of the season, they tend to grow and flower much faster than perennials. This and their affordability make them a popular choice for hanging baskets. So when it comes to flowers, you’ll want at least a few annuals.

How to Style Your Hanging Flower Basket

Here are the easy steps for planting a hanging basket with thrillers, fillers and spillers.

Start With a Modern Hanging Planter

There are a lot of ugly planters out there. Avoid them. Choosing the right planter will set the style of your hanging basket.

I’ve had good luck finding modern planters at Target and Amazon over the years. Here are some that would work well for a mid-century or modern house.

And these kitty watering globes aren’t planters, but how cute would they be popped into a hanging basket for some sweet style?

Add Your Thriller Plant

Toss a few handfuls of soil into the bottom of your planter, then set your thriller plant in the center. Spiky grasses work well as thriller plants, and some tall flowers can work, too.

I used golden variegated sweet flag. It’s a perennial, so I’ll transfer it to the garden at the end of the season.

Try one of these thriller plants.

  • Sweet flag, or another ornamental grass
  • Geranium
  • Celosia
  • Fern (good for shade)

When you’re choosing your thriller, filler and spiller plants, it helps to hold them next to each other to see if they are complementary.

Thriller, filler and spiller plants for a hanging basket

Related: Favorite easy-care flowers that bloom in spring

You may want to stick with all warm or all cool colors, like my purple and blue hanging basket. Another popular combo this time of year is red, white and blue.

Surround With Filler Plants

Fillers will probably take up the bulk of your hanging basket. Place a few filler plants around your central thriller. You can use all the same type of filler, or a couple of varieties.

African daisies make great filler plants

I chose light purple African daisies and purple petunias, placed in turn around the sweet flag grass. The shades of purple are pretty together, and they contrast nicely with the grass.

Here are some colorful filler plant options.

  • Petunia
  • African daisy
  • Calibrachoa
  • Chrysanthemum
  • Pansy
  • Begonia (good for shade)

Complete Your Hanging Basket With Spiller Plants

I’m partial to the graceful, cascading look of spiller plants and have been known to make many a basket stuffed with nothing but spillers. Maybe it’s because I’m obsessed with lobelia, the last plant in my arrangement.

You can see the delicate lobelia just starting to spill over the sides of my hanging basket. In a couple more weeks it will go wild.

Modern hanging basket with lobelia spilling over the side

Tuck a couple of spiller plants against the edges of your basket. Then fill in any remaining gaps in the planter with soil. Remove spent flowers or dead leaves, water the plants, wipe down the outside of your planter and hang it up!

Try one of these attractive spiller plants.

  • Lobelia
  • Sweet potato vine
  • Creeping Jenny
  • Sweet alyssum
  • Bacopa (good for shade)

Modern Hanging Basket Style

Hanging basket for a mid-century modern house

A well designed hanging basket will provide a pretty focal point for your porch or patio. You might also like these ideas for decorating with houseplants.

6 thoughts on “How to Plant a Modern Hanging Basket With This Easy Formula”

  1. Awesome job on the Thriller, Filler, Spiller hanging plants,,(purple is my favorite color!!) We bought a sweet potato vine hanging plant on clearance last summer at Lowes and that thing just went crazy for months..loved it..and it got little tiny flowers on it. I had 7 hanging plants in the spring that all came back from last year and now we are down to 4.. 3 are lantanas which do well here. We had triple digits heat in May and that was brutal to the hanging plants and some of our other patio plants (unusual to be that hot in May.) Would love to go plant shopping and do your method ……eventually. Love what Eric said just becasue something isn’t permanent doesn’ t mean its not valuable..very wise! And..lastly I think you need some of those whimsical kitty watering globes! 😉

    • That dang Vegas sun! Meanwhile we are 62 degrees here on this Portland July day. 😀 I love the sweet potato vine, bet that looked great. And I think I do need those kitty watering globes. I don’t have any watering globes yet, and those ones were made for me!

  2. I love your take on the hanging basket. I was actually going to add a few hanging baskets to my garden this year but it was a challenge to find plants this year. I will just have to apply this technique next year.

  3. It’s so pretty! I love your step by step instructions. Maybe one day I’ll have a home where I can do this.
    I had no idea a hanging basket had flowers with the names thrillers, fillers, and spillers.
    I love spillers too. I’d be like you and definitely make sure to have lots of spillers. I love that look.
    Great post! Makes me want to break out of NYC or maybe at least get an apartment with a fire escape I can hang plants and flowers on. Or maybe just maybe I could get a backyard in this city? One can dream!😉

    • Thanks Lauren! Yeah I’m all about the pretty spillers. Love them in the hanging baskets and all over the yard.

      A hanging basket would be great on a balcony or fire escape someday. Or maybe you can do a low light one indoors with ferns and houseplants. And I’m rooting for the NYC backyard for you! 😊♥️


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