3 Design Elements for Succulent Container Plantings and Hanging Baskets: THRILLER + FILLER + SPILLER

by Lynn KirkJul 17, 2021

kalanchoe thyrsiflora


Using succulent plants in containers plantings and hanging baskets is more chic now than ever, whether for indoor or outdoor enjoyment. The reasons are many. They’re easy. They’re unique. They offer health benefits. Their niche is small places. They’re forgiving. They’re inexpensive. And succulents seem to have a lot more pizzazz than oh-so-typical philodendrons, ferns, and ivies.

So how do you start? There are 3 design elements for container planting, whether you’re using typical houseplants or succulent groupings. The 3 design elements are categorized as use of a thriller, a filler, and a spiller. Ready to hear exactly what that means?

  1. THRILLER: Here’s where the fun begins! A thriller is a plant that stops you in your tracks. It merits a second look. Perhaps its form is unusually striking, or its blooms are to die for. It could be a collector succulent, or it might simply be your favorite. Regardless, it will be the focal point of your container as it adds its own style of drama. Ideally, a thriller plant will be the tallest or broadest plant in the container, so it probably will require the most room overall. Perhaps it’s the most colorful, or the one that’s the most wild and wonderful. The thriller plant demands center stage, so quite appropriately, it’s the first one you should plant. Either position it in the center or move it to the back of the pot as a backdrop.

 Thriller succulents to consider are:

Tip: When planting succulents, never standard use garden soil. Adequate drainage is important, so start with a succulent soil mix specially amended for succulents and cacti.


  1. FILLER: Next come the fillers. These typically are smaller, more compact succulent plants tucked here and there to ensure that the container appears full and lush. Some designers will stick with one type of filler so as not to detract from the thriller. Others like to play with the fillers by juxtaposing contrasting/complementing shapes, textures, and colors. Just think of fillers as a beautiful way to eliminate empty spaces. And the good news is that most anything goes. It’s your container, so your preferences rule!

Tip: Succulents are typically slow growers, so don't worry too much about a full container or basket.

Tip: Before filling your container with random succulents, do a little research and select plants with similar sun and moisture needs. Like growing preferences will ease overall care and help ensure that your plants stay happy and healthy as they co-exist.


  1. SPILLER: No need to stick with a traditional round arrangement. That is the expected, so less than creative. Instead, add interest and dimension by including some type of hanging succulents that trail down the sides of the container. Plant the spiller succulents carefully along the container’s edge so they will spill over and dangle downward as they grow. Succulents that cascade well over time include:
  • Sedum morganianum (burro’s tail or baby donkey tail)
  • String of pearls
  • String of beads
  • Ruby necklace
  • String of bananas
  • String of nickels
  • Calico kitten
  • String of buttons
  • Hindu rope, wax plant
  • Peanut cactus . . . etc.

Tip: When the stems grow too long — or if you crave more succulent plants --- prune and propagate

With the click of a button, you can order most of these plants from Succulent Market: the country’s preferred domestic grower of succulent plants. Purchase individual plants, combinations (to help ease selection decisions!), or maximize your budget by ordering assorted succulent cuttings. Succulent Market offers more than 100 varieties, so the options for combinations are endless! In no time, you’ll receive your shipment of carefully wrapped succulents that are ready to plant. By applying the three-step thriller-filler-spiller design technique, you’ll certainly create a container or basket that will make a real impact -- a work of living art that you can’t help but love!