Annual Flowers for Containers in Sun or Shade

Bradford Greenhouses Blog

Now with the warmer weather it’s time to start thinking about your window boxes, planters and hanging baskets! Planted with a variety of annual flowering plants, these mixed containers can give you months of colour on your front porch, patio, deck or yard.

Usually when planting a mixed annual container there are three categories plants fall into:


– Plants with an upright, bushy or mounding growing pattern that will fill the space above the planter and provide colour. These are planted between the spillers and thrillers, usually towards the middle of the container.


– Trailing plants that will spill over the edge of the container. They make the planters look extra full and lush and extend the interest beyond the rim of the container. These should be planted around the rim of the container so they can cascade over the edge easily.


– A taller plant to provide a focal point of interest, as well as height and drama. These can be dracaenas or grasses, or even taller tropical plants or shrubs, such as oleander, mandevilla vine, or hibiscus. These taller plants should be planted in the centre of the pot if it is meant to be viewed on all sides, or at the back of the pot if it’s going to be against a wall or in a corner. When planting up a hanging basket, most thrillers are too large to fit beneath the hanger, simply substitute with more spillers and fillers.

Choosing Plants for Your Container

The first thing to figure out is where you planter is going to go. This is important because for the best results you need to know how much sun your container will receive. If the spot receives direct sun for 6 hours or more, it is considered “full sun”. 4-6 hours of direct sunlight would be “part sun”, and finally less than 4 hours of direct sunlight would be considered “shade”.

Why is this important?

Different plants have different light requirements, so if you happen to choose a shade loving begonia for a full sun site, it’s likely going to get scorched by the sun. Likewise if you plant a sun loving geranium in a dark, shaded corner, it’ll stretch out and strain to find the light it requires. However, there is some wiggle room, many flowers can be kept happy in the middle ground. Most full sun plants will be quite happy with just morning or afternoon light, so long as it’s more than 4 hours and likewise most shade loving plants can tolerate some sun; but not an entire day’s worth (less than 6 hours).

Once you know how bright your spot is you’ll be able to know what plants will flourish in that situation. There are fillers, spillers and thrillers available for sun, shade and everything in between.

Here are some examples of annual flowers that would be suitable for sun and shade, though there are many, many more varieties available.

Sun Planter

Blue Salvia provides the height and focal point of this sun loving container. Yellow marguerite daisy and red geranium fill the centre of this pot. Wave petunias and creeping jenny trail over the edge of the pot making this container look especially lush.


Petunia Cell Packs

Petunias are very versatile in containers, with both upright and trailing varieties as well as a wide variety of colours to choose from!


– Upright petunias, marigolds, portulaca, euphorbia, geraniums, celosia, snapdragons, bidens, nemesia, Angelonia, and diascia.


Scaevola (fan flower) is an excellent, drought tolerant plant for full sun.


– Scaevola, Calibrachoa (or million bells), wave petunias, trailing verbena, bacopa, sweet potato vine and even Thunbergia (black eyed susan vine) are a few colourful spillers for a sunny container.

Sharp Looking Ornamental Grass

“Red star” Dracaena is a great thriller for a sunny spot. It adds both height and colour to a planter.


– There are so many options! Dracaenas, purple fountain grass, and millet are some great grassy options. A larger tropical plant can also be a dramatic addition. Oleander, hibiscus, mandevilla vine, lantana, banana, canna lilies and even palm trees are all sun loving options.

Shade Planter

A ‘Gryphon’ Begonia makes for a dramatic centrepiece to this container. New Guinea impatiens add colour to the middle of the arrangement. Dichondra argentea ‘silver falls’ spills over the edge of the container extending the interest beyond the rim of the pot.


Begonia Unstoppable Upright

Begonia “Unstoppable Upright” adds some colourful blooms to a shade loving planter.


– Heuchera (or coral bells) and coleus are two very colourful foliage plants that’ll help bring some colour into a shady spot. Wax, rieger and dragon wing begonias are all great options for shade. Browallia, impatiens, lobelia and torenia are a few more flowering options for a shady planter.

Fuchsia purple

Fuchsias produce colourful pendulous flowers on trailing stems.


– English ivy loves a shady spot and also comes in many colours and variegated forms. Creeping jenny (lysimachia nummularia) and Jade Frost lamium are a couple more trailing foliage plants for shade. For something flowering, try trailing lobelia or fuchsias.

Coleus Burgandy Green (Large)

Coleus have exceptionally colourful leaves and are available in many different forms.


– Elephant ears produce huge leaves, making them a great focal point in a shady planter. A large begonia, or tall coleus can also provide a taller focal point.

These are just a few examples of annual flowers that would work in a container in sun or shade, but there are countless options available. Don’t be afraid to mix it up and try something new. The advantage to planting your own containers is you are able to choose exactly what flowers and colours make up the end result. Another advantage to containers is if you find the flowers aren’t doing well in one spot, the whole planter can be moved into a sunnier/shadier position.

One thing to remember with container plants is that they will dry out faster than plants grown in the ground. They therefore require more watering, especially in hot, sunny weather. They may need to be watered daily through a hot, dry spell.