Plants for Railing planters


Hi there!

I’m in Toronto and would like to plant some flowers in railing planters (the iron kind with the coconut fibre). The planters get sunlight in the morning/early afternoon. I’ve never really tended to flowers regularly so I’m looking for easy maintenance flowers/leaves that would do well in those kinds of planters. And I’m also wondering if:

-I should plant from seed
-transplant already flourished flowers from pots
-can I put some of my herbs in those planters or are they too small?

Thank you so much!



Your railing planters will look lovely with lush flowering growth and a mix of herbs. It is too late for seed, but all our local nurseries have mounds of fresh annuals coming in each day to fill your planters. When searching for plants, try to find ones that look lush, not wilted nor with too many broken branches. These should be pruned out if you find any when you get home. Most will be in bloom, so you can find what you are looking for in the colours that you like. Always check the tags – the plants with tags that indicate full sun or full sun to part shade should do well in your planters.

Preparation of your rail planters is fairly simple, starting with the coir mats. If there is soil in them left from last year, dump it out into your garden. The soil is spent, that is the nutrients have been used up by last year’s plants. Give the coir mat a good washing to rid it of more soil, then soak it before putting it back in the rail basket. The mat fibres will expand, and prevent too much new soil from spilling through. Next, add soil meant for hanging baskets or pots. It has moisture retaining properties as well as organic matter. Don’t fill too much yet – you need to get the plants in there too!

Choosing plants. You have decent sun on your railings, so your choices for annuals are very good. Most people who put up planters will go by the method of “thrillers, spillers and fillers”.

The thrillers are usually a spectacular plant that grows upward and has showy flowers – stock or even flowering tobacco are lovely, and they have scent in the evening. If you work during the day, that might be a consideration as you may only have time to sit on your deck in the evening. Coleus come in spectacular colours these days, and though we pinch out the flowers, the foliage make for dramatic backdrops for the other flowering plants.

The spillers are those that drape over the front our around the basket. These may include Bidens, a prolific yellow daisy shaped flower, Lobelias, delicate blue flowers and Million bells, that look like small petunias, self deadhead and come in many colours.

The fillers are those that go between the thrillers and spillers, and can include herbs. Parsley, chives, French tarragon, lavender, and thyme are good for a basket. A curly parsley would add an almost fuzzy structure to the pot, the chives and tarragon would add height.  If left to flower, the chives have pretty pink flowers to add to the colour. Lavender has the lovely purple blooms, but the whitish stems add a contrast in colour as well. Thyme comes in standard green, but it also comes as a variegated plant too, including silver thyme ( white and green) and golden thyme (yellow and green). Both taste of thyme, but add a bit of colour.

Situate your plants in a pleasing shape, usually the thriller in the middle to ends, the spillers around the edge and the rest packed around the basket. Packing the plants fairly close together provides instant beauty, so don’t be afraid to stuff them in. Add more soil where needed to fill holes. Water well.

Finally, these types of baskets tend to dry out. Daily watering is likely a must to keep the soil from drying out. As the basket is a confined space, regular watering every 10 days or so with a liquid fertilizer (follow directions) to keep the plants healthy. Deadheading – that is removing the spent flowers from some of the plants will keep them blooming.

More to the point – have fun with mixing colour and form. Check out the nurseries and garden centres and see what you find that would grow will in a rail basket and in the sun you are fortunate to have.