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GardenSMART :: 5 Alternatives to the Common Spike

5 Alternatives to the Common Spike

By Susan Martin for Proven Winners
Photographs courtesy of Proven Winners

Ready to try something new? There have never been more options to choose from when selecting a "thriller" for your container recipe. Showy blooms and bold foliage accents can elevate your container from ho-hum to high style. Here are five of our favorites. 

Be sure to click the caption below each picture to view the full container recipe, including all the ingredients and the planting diagram.

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View the Nottingham Castle container recipe.

1. Angelface® Angelonia (Summer Snapdragon)

If tall stems lined with brightly colored pink, purple, blue or white flowers all season sound appealing, consider growing Angelface Angelonia. Their verticality contrasts perfectly with mounded to trailing plants in container recipes. Southern gardeners have long grown them for their remarkable heat and humidity tolerance and being deer resistant is another perk. 

In this design, a parade of purples reigns from top to bottom with the cool blue blossoms of Angelface Steel Blue bringing just enough height to balance out the columnar container. By summer, the Superbells® Evening Star™ calibrachoa and Sweet Caroline Sweetheart Jet Black™ sweet potato vine will spill energetically over the pot's edge.

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View the Grand Traverse container recipe.

2. Graceful Grasses® Prince Tut™ Cyperus (Dwarf Egyptian Papyrus)

Prince Tut is such a versatile plant, it is guaranteed to look amazing in any container recipe you dream up. Paired with mixed colors of mounding Supertunia® petunias, it acts like a fun drink umbrella-like accent. Paired with neutral whites and soft yellows like this, it transforms into an elegant centerpiece.

Its tall, airy plumes add a playful texture to containers, fresh bouquets and pondside plantings. Standing about 30 inches tall, Prince Tut is the mid-sized cousin in the royal trio which also includes Baby Tut® and King Tut®. Though its flowers will be most prolific in full sun, it also blooms well in part shade.   

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View the Banana Joe container recipe.

3. Toucan® Canna (Canna Lily)

Transform your deck or patio into a tropical oasis with Toucan cannas. Available in a range of splashy colors, these bold plants grow quickly, adding exotic flair to large container plantings. You'll only need one canna per 16-inch pot, since each plant will mature to about 4 feet tall and 2 feet wide. Be sure to choose a substantial container like the glazed urn shown here when using such large plants.  

Vibrant yellows, oranges and reds add energy and warmth to a space. We've designed this recipe using Toucan Yellow canna as the eye-catching thriller and glowing orange SunPatiens® and Timeless™ geraniums for fillers. A black container was chosen intentionally to provide an extra pop of contrast against the vivid blossoms; using a lighter colored container would not have delivered the same dynamic impact.

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View the La Dama container recipe.

4. Senorita Rosalita® Cleome (Spider Flower)

The cleomes your grandmother once grew were lovely, but their distinct odor and thorny stems relegated them to the back of the border. Senorita Rosalita cleome and her sisters offer a modern take on those vintage favorites, featuring odorless, thornless, and non-sticky stems and foliage. Their upright bushy shape fills in the center of mixed containers quickly and fully, and their uniquely shaped blossoms continue to delight all season long.

The La Dama recipe is a complete hummingbird and butterfly buffet. From top to bottom, each component of this container recipe offers sweet nectar for beautiful pollinators. All of these flowers are heat tolerant and thrive in lots of sun, so feel free to set this container out on your sunny deck or patio and watch it shine. 

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View the Celestial Glow container recipe.

5. Graceful Grasses® 'Sky Rocket' Pennisetum (Fountain Grass)

Annual ornamental grasses like 'Sky Rocket' make popular thrillers in container recipes because they are so easy to grow and are long-lasting from spring through fall. Early in the season, this grass will look like you see here. By midsummer, you'll notice its strappy foliage is becoming fuller and fuzzy plumes will begin to appear. By late summer, the entire plant will be topped with dozens of creamy white plumes with pink overtones that last all the way through frost.

When using fountain grass as a thriller, be sure to choose a large container that has plenty of root space. Grasses tend to have extensive root systems, so they appreciate the extra leg room. Here, we've paired 'Sky Rocket' with two types of annuals that like the soil to dry a bit between waterings—a perfect match for this thirsty grass.

Explore more thrillers for container recipes:

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Patent Info: Angelface® Steel Blue Angelonia USPPAF CanPBRAF; Superbells® Evening Star™ Calibrachoa USPPAF CanPBRAF US Utility US 9,313,959; Sweet Caroline Sweetheart Jet Black™ Ipomoea USPP29378, Can5780; Señorita Rosalita® Cleome USPP19733 Can 3,290; Graceful Grasses® 'Sky Rocket' Pennisetum USPP21497

Contributor Bio: Susan Martin is an avid zone 6 gardener, garden writer and speaker who enjoys spreading her passion for plants to her fellow gardeners across North America.


All articles are copyrighted and remain the property of the author.

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GardenSMART Featured Article

By GrowJoy
Photographs courtesy of GrowJoy

Tomatoes are the most widely grown vegetable in home gardens around the world. And, everyone runs into problems with tomatoes at one time or another. By learning the most common problems, what to look for, as well as suggested solutions we can be ready for the tomato growing season. Click here for an interesting and informative article.

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