Fill garden gaps for pennies

Nothing stops me in my tracks more than when I’m looking at a garden jam-packed with color and texture and come across a spot of bare soil. It puts a screeching halt to well-planned flow. 

Gaps in the garden happen because the plant that was supposed to be growing there didn’t, or perhaps because other plants didn’t fill the space it was expected to. Sometimes these gaps are temporary, such as when a shrub hasn’t yet filled its allotted space. 

Whatever the reason, there’s plenty of time to remedy the situation and by mid summer you can have a gap-free garden without having to make another trip to the garden center.


Reseeded annuals, which pop up in little clumps around the garden, are perfect for filing holes in the garden. Most of them transplant well if watered in quickly, and the clumps are thinned to the strongest seedlings.

nicotiana alata 'lime green

Nicotiana alata ‘Lime Green’ offers chartreuse color that works with anything in the garden.

In my garden there is always some Nicotiana popping up somewhere and although I have no idea what size or color will come from the seedlings, which are undoubtedly a mix of any number of potential parents I grew the previous year, almost any of them will work in holes anywhere but the very front of the border.

Now is also the time of year when I start to find Verbena bonariensis seedlings or tiny plants of its more charming cousin Verbena officinalis ‘Bampton’, both of which work as excellent fill-ins. Jewels of Opar (Talinum paniculatum) is always the last reseeder to show up and I try to save some space for it around the garden.

These bright chartreuse Jewels of Opar were all self-sown seedlings that popped up around the garden. I transplanted them amongst some annual salvia for a gorgeous effect.


You probably won’t have a lot of reseeded annuals popping up if you’re an over-achieving weeder or heavy mulcher, y, but there are several annuals that can be sown directly.

My go-to fill-in annual is nasturtium, which has the benefit of working in almost any sun condition and filling in large areas. The pea-sized seeds are easy to pop in the ground and will produce a large mound in several weeks. Be careful to buy a mounding variety rather than a one with a trailing habit.

Nasturtiums, which handle a wide variety of exposures, make a perfect little mound to fill a hole in the garden.

Zinnias and cosmos are also good annuals to direct sow for some additional color. Keep thea seeded area moist for a couple weeks through germination and seedling infancy but once they get going they won’t ask for much other than occasional deadheading.


If a bit of foliage is needed, quick-growing edible plants will fill in an area and add a bit of surprise.

If you have vegetables that need thinning, consider trying to transplant thinnings to the garden to fill a few gaps. Parsley will add feathery texture and kale can provide a bold statement. Or perhaps consider the shiny leaves of Swiss chard for fabulous texture.


Purple-leafed basil fills a hole at the front of the border perfectly. Sure you can eat it, but if you want to just admire its good looks, that’s OK too.


Most perennials won’t appreciate summer division, but some tougher varieties such as catmint (Nepeta), Ajuga, Lamium and others will probably bounce back with some extra care.

If you do decide to divide perennials in the hotter months, try to do it on a cooler, overcast day. Most perennials will benefit from cutting back the foliage to reduce the strain on the roots, and of course make sure to water them in well after transplanting and for a few weeks after.

Ajuga (this is ‘Chocolate Chip’) is a tough perennial that makes a great hole filler at the front of a border. Cut it back a big and water it in well if you’ll be dividing in summer.

`What you fill a gap in the garden with isn’t as important as just filling it with something. Consider it your chance to get creative and keep that design flow going.


Erin @ The Impatient Gardener

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