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4 Steps to Creating Winning Combinations

Proven Profits


4 Steps to Creating Winning Combinations

There's an art to selecting the right plants for your combinations — plan ahead, and follow a few well-established techniques. Your customers will thank you if you do!

By Dan Foster, Grower/Product Line Manager

Senorita Rosalita
This combination — Fired Up — shows a pleasing selection of warm colored plants.

When we develop combinations, we try to balance several factors that will not only make them successful for our grower customers, but also for their customers – the end consumers. One question we always consider is: If these plants will look good together on Mother's Day, will they continue to look good on the Fourth of July and after?

We rely on a four-step selection process that creates balanced, beautiful and successful combinations. By thinking beyond the finish date and considering consumer success, we can determine which combinations will work the best for growers and home gardeners.

1. Select plants with similar sun or shade requirements. Plants that grow well in the greenhouse may not perform the same by the time July rolls around. Even though most gardens have a mix of sun and shade, combinations that mix full sun and full shade varieties will have difficulty succeeding. 

Senorita Rosalita
PROVEN WINNERS® 2013 National Combination is Velvet Skies.

To help consumers, we include color-coded labels with our combinations. Yellow label combinations are for "Sun to ½-day shade," and purple label combinations are for "Shade to ½-day sun." By displaying these labels prominently on our containers it's more likely consumers will find the right combination for their needs.

2. Always reference vigor ratings. Vigor ratings are one of the most important elements we consider. It's a system of ranking the growth speed of plants on a scale from 1 to 4. Our low vigor varieties, such as Infinity® New Guinea Impatiens have a vigor rating of 1, while our fastest growing varieties like Supertunia® Vista Bubblegum are rated as a 4. All of the annuals and perennials in the "Four Star Plants & Program Catalog" are listed with their vigor ratings.

We pair varieties within one vigor rating of each other when designing our combinations. For instance, if you're planning a combination using one of the Superbells® varieties (which have a vigor of 3), you can pair it with any varieties that have a rating of 2, or any varieties that have a rating of 4.

3. Consider the growing habit and select accordingly. Many growers select a symmetrical pattern for planting – typically alternating varieties in a pattern that all have similar habits. This creates beautiful combinations that are balanced and look the same from all angles. Many consumers prefer this style when selecting hanging baskets.

Senorita Rosalita
This “floral style” arrangement features cool colored plants in a thriller, filler, and spiller format.

A more challenging option is what we call a "floral arrangement style," which uses "Thriller," "Filler," and "Spiller" varieties to create three levels of height. method to match plants to a container. In some cases, these are designed for containers along a wall and they are not necessarily symmetrical. Thrillers in these combination styles are often along the edge of a container, with Spillers in the center, and Fillers on the opposite edge. Because these make a dramatic statement, this style is often used for larger upright containers.

4. Work with the color wheel. My rule of thumb is to try to match plants either in the "cool" or "warm" colors together. An excellent example of a cool color combination is the PROVEN WINNERS® 2013 National Combination "Velvet Skies." A great warm color combination is "Fired Up."

In contrast, combinations that combine both warm and cool-colored plants can be striking and interesting, but can be difficult to achieve a comfortable balance. It takes a practiced eye to find a good combination that works. An example of this is "Santa Belle." The cool blues of Lucia® Dark Blue Lobelia contrast and complement the warm colors of Superbells® Yellow Calibrachoa and Tukana® Scarlet Star Verbena.

Santa Belle
When done well, contrasting colors of warm and cool colored plants can be balanced, as they are in Santa Belle.

By choosing wisely, you can create combinations that give customers season-long beauty. When that happens, we all win.

Dan Foster is a Grower/Product Line Manager at Four Star Greenhouse. For more information about selecting plants for winning combinations, click here or contact Dan at

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