Combine centerpiece plants with colorful companions for captivating containers

Here are four easy tips for designing beautiful, long-lasting pool, porch, or front-entry pots.

  1. Choose litter-free plants, or at least plants with minimal droppage, so your ground and pool are always clean.
  2. Select cold-hardy ornamentals or palms so you don’t have to protect from frost.
  3. Use professional-grade potting mix.
  4. Choose complementary plants that like the same growing conditions.

When creating pots to enhance your pool, porch or front entryway, it’s best to start by examining plants at a garden center. It is much easier to work with available plants than to try to design your pot in your head. Be adventurous with your selections, and trust your instincts when putting your combinations together.

Choose at least three different plants for each pot. Start with your centerpiece, which will be the tallest plant in your arrangement. Once you’ve decided on your centerpiece, look for smaller, complementary plants. Place them next to your centerpiece to ensure a visually appealing design. Be sure your companion plants share the same growing conditions – like water and light – with your centerpiece. Lastly, select a trailing or mounding plant that will complement your combination.


For low-light centerpiece plants, I love using a lady palm, cat palm, banana-leaf or fiddle-leaf ficus, zz plant, alocasia or sansevieria. For sunny locations, tall, sturdy grasses elevate a combo, cordylines add deep burgundy foliage, Italian cypresses enhance Mediterranean decor, and palms and musas convey a tropical feel.

Shrubs aren’t just for landscapes, so consider them as well. Even a metal topiary is stunning and can be used in lieu of your centerpiece plant.


For companion plants, add bold color. I often use assorted crotons or coleuses because they’re great for low light and sunny locations. Bromeliads are beautiful for low light, as are caladiums and Rex begonias.

Sunny locations open up many options. You can select a nice flowering perennial that is always blooming, like penta, geranium, golden shrimp plant, diamond frost or crossandra. Colorful foliage, like Persian shield, dwarf copper leaf or Joseph’s coat, also makes a great companion.

Lastly, add your trailing or mounding plant. For sunny to part shade, I often use golden creeping jenny, creeping wire vine, sun rose, sedum, vinca vine, licorice or potato plant. For low light, consider pothos, spider plant, creeping wire vine, variegated English ivy, vinca vine, peacock spikemoss or plectranthus.


When assembling your pot, always remember to use a good potting mix that has the word “professional” on the bag. The few extra dollars will go a long way, and your plants will love you for it.

Make sure there’s a hole in the bottom of your pot for proper drainage. If the pot is larger than your head, you will need to drill a couple extra holes.

Consider “pot feet” to raise the pot off your floor for easy cleaning, or a plant stand with casters for easy movement.

Line the bottom of your pot with river rocks for proper drainage, and so the dirt doesn’t run through. Fill it up with soil and place your centerpiece in first, then add your companion plants, and finish with your trailing plant.

During the holidays, you can switch out your companion plants with either a mum or a poinsettia with ease.

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Shelly McKinney is the owner of Elbow Creek Garden & Gift in the Eau Gallie Arts District. Elbow Creek is a part garden center, part boutique, offering beautifying home and garden gifts, as well as gardening workshops. For more information, visit