Peg Bier, Merrifield Plant Specialist
Containers are changeable, moveable and groupable, but most importantly, enjoyable. They can be tailored from formal to naturalistic and anywhere in between. As the weather cools and we welcome the fall season, I always get excited about playing with plants in containers and combining annuals and perennials that I can enjoy immediately and even into winter.
This year, I’m creating fall container gardens to include a few tender annuals for fall color, plus biennials and perennials that are attractive and will take you through the winter. These arrangements will last for two seasons: the annuals can be removed when the frost takes them, leaving space for your biennials and perennials to grow.
Here are a few of my favorite plant selections that combine beautifully in fall containers:
Perennials: (1) Schizachyrium, (2) Gaura, (5) Dusty Miller, (8) Aster, (9) Juncus, (11) Euphorbia, (12) Mums; Annuals: (3) Crested celosia, (4) Ornamental pepper, (6) Calibrachoa, (7) Petunia, (10) Celosia ‘Intenz’ (13) Calibrachoa
Perennials: (1) Heuchera (coral bells), (2) Carex, (3) Schizachyrium ‘Standing Ovation’, (4) Fern
If you love your fall season annuals, you can easily lengthen their life span by covering your containers with lightweight frost cloth when frost is predicted. Depending upon the weather, this can take your fall annuals into November in our area.
Clockwise from top: Juncus ‘Blue Arrow’, Kale ‘Redbor’, Pansy, Lysimachia ‘Aurea’ (creeping Jenny), Celosia ‘Intenz’,
The vibrant, plume-like blooms of annual celosia, graceful height of juncus, and earthy texture of kale combine beautifully to thrill the eye in this container. Bloom-rich pansies help to fill the space, while the bright greens of creeping Jenny work to pull your eye down the container with its graceful spill. Annual celosia will die back with frost, leaving room for the rest of these plants to fill in through the winter. All of these plants are sun loving and require a minimum of 5 to 6 hours of sun per day.
Clockwise from top: Cryptomium (Japanese Holly Fern), Lysimachia ‘Aurea’ (creeping Jenny), Sedum ‘Angleina’, Pansy, Heuchera (coral bells)
The erect fronds of cryptomium add height and thrill the eye in this container and will provide beautiful evergreen foliage throughout the seasons. The variegated foliage of perennial heuchera and abundant blooms of pansies fill the central space while perennial sedum and creeping Jenny spill over the edge of the container. This tonal color palette is beautiful in part shade to full shade conditions. All of the plants here prefer to avoid the heat of the afternoon sun.
Clockwise from top: Pumpkin tower, Ornamental peppers, Sedum ‘Lemonball’, Pansy, Carex
One of my favorite tactics in designing fall containers is to add height and tons of seasonal interest using a tower filled with small pumpkins and gourds. The fall colors of bright orange and yellow lead the eye down the tower into a base filled with contrasting foliage and blooms. In the base, variegated pansies and ornamental peppers fill the space while carex and sedum spill over the edge of the container. To transition this container into the holidays and winter months, simply remove the ornamental peppers that will die with the frost and spray your pumpkins and gourds shades of gold, silver and bronze.
Caring for Your Containers
Here are some basics that assist in winter hardiness for plants and pots:
- Size matters. Containers that are at least 14” in diameter increase your chance of success as higher volumes of soil improve the roots protection from the cold. I have had good luck with both well-fired pottery and ceramic containers when they are placed on a deck, patio or elsewhere on a piece of slate.
- Remove any saucers before winter. If the water collects and freezes, it will break the pot.
- Lightly fertilize with a slow release fertilizer, such as Espoma plant tone or Merrifield Flowering Plant Food. Heavy fertilization will encourage too much growth as winter approaches.
- Though I rarely water in winter, if your containers are in full sun you may need to water if the soil is not frozen.