Early this summer I planted sweetpotato vine (Ipomoea batatas) in a pot, expecting to divide it several times during the growing season. Three months later, it was only a foot long. Needless to say, I was underwhelmed.

Basket of Million Bells

Bring some trailing color – and maybe even a few hummingbirds – to your hanging baskets and containers with million bells.

Photo Credit: James H. Schutte

Window boxes

Million bells spill over the edge of window boxes, too.

Photo Credit: Lane Greer


In cool blues and purples, trailing lobelia bears hundreds of tiny flowers.

Photo Credit: Lane Greer

Petunia basket

Huge hanging baskets prove that pink and purple petunias rule.

Photo Credit: Lane Greer

The cool thing about trailing plants is that they can bring elegant drama to containers and hanging baskets without costing a lot of money. Even just having one planter on the patio or balcony overflowing with brightly colored blooms can create great impact.

Some common trailing plants often used in containers, like sweetpotato vine and vinca vine (Vinca major), are well-suited to hot and humid summers. But what about those regions where summers aren’t as steamy? Enter these easy-to-grow trailing annuals, worthy of any container garden nationwide during the growing season:

Petunias (Petunia) and million bells (Calibrachoa) are great plants for container gardens. Almost all of the large containers I’ve seen contained one or both of these plants, including hanging baskets in Victoria, Canada, and huge baskets in Lake Oswego, OR. Available in almost every color, petunias are extremely popular because they’re so easy to grow. Their smaller-flowered cousin, million bells, comes in similar shades, but the range of colors is slightly smaller. (Million bells look great in rock gardens, too.) Both species bloom all summer, even when temperatures are really warm, and I’ve talked with several people who, like me, have noticed that you can attract hummingbirds with the flowers of million bells – a bonus!

Another summer-long bloomer, trailing lobelia (Lobelia erinus) is available in white, blue and purple. I planted lobelia in both a pot and a hanging basket one summer; the hanging basket looked stunning, while the pot was so-so. In other words, give lobelia room to spread out, and it’ll really shine.

I planted silver licorice (Helichrysum petiolare) late in the season and saw it grow 3 feet in one month. What a performer! The fuzzy, gray-white foliage combines well with almost anything, so use it in all your containers. There are also yellow variegated types of this plant available.

Although the flowers of parrot’s beak (Lotus berthelotii) are produced sparingly, its marvelous blue-gray leaves make up for the lack of blooms. These flowers are fascinating, though – they’re dark red with tints of orange and are sharply crooked like a parrot’s beak. They unfortunately tend to get buried in the foliage, so keep your eyes peeled if you want to catch them.

Finally, I recommend nasturtium (Tropaeolum). Try growing it from seed – children love to plant it because the seed is large and the plants grow quickly. The flowers of this container plant are usually bright orange or yellow, but my plants had some captivating dark red flowers, too. There are lots of nasturtium choices: tall ones with larger flowers, dwarf ones that mound, trailing plants and variegated forms (which I prefer because the foliage looks great even when the plants aren’t in bloom). Nasturtium tends to fill available spaces, so use it by itself in a pot or mix it with other plants – it’ll grow into any shape. And when you want a pick-me-up in your salad, snip off a leaf or flower – nasturtium has a wonderful peppery taste.

You don’t need a lot of gardening space or a huge budget to create big garden impact. Thanks to the beauty and interest of these easy-to-grow trailing plants, you can bring rich-looking elegance to your planters and hanging baskets – and without spending a fortune!