How to Design a Fall Container Garden

How to Design a Fall Container Garden

Blend Flowers and Foliage for Seasonal Decor
by Naomi Mathews

In our fast-paced, ever-changing world it seems nothing is allowed to remain static for very long. Clothing styles and colors change from one year to the next with hair styles soon following suit. We finally have our homes decorated in charming hues of country blue, dusty pink, and seafoam green after being stuck in shades of avocado green and gold for years. Then, just as we sit back and relax "country style," the whole world seemingly decides to change home decor colors to forest green, deep burgundy, and navy blue.

Pick up most any gardening book or magazine and you will notice that even gardeners tend to keep up with current color trends. This isn't to say that following the latest fashionable color trends is a bad thing -- not at all! But alas! Changing the color scheme of a perennial flowerbed is not as simple as painting a house or its rooms a different color.

Enter now another change of seasons, when Thanksgiving and Christmas beckon us for yet another set of tapestry colors. Sometimes it really does seem there is no end to keeping up with trends. What's a homemaker or a gardener to do?

If you're a gardener, take heart!

There is an easy, perhaps even a subtle way to "blend with the trend!" It's called "Container Gardening" -- and is quite possibly the fastest growing trend in the world of gardening today.

The art of container gardening has been chronicled in tomb paintings in Egypt thousands of years ago, so it is hardly a new concept. Most of us have likely had (or still have) grandmothers and great-grandmothers who raised many different kinds of plants in decorative pots, commonly called "houseplants."

Ever since the explosion of the commercial bedding plant industry over the past 25 years, growing plants in containers has proven to be highly successful. Both experienced and novice gardeners have found it much easier to transplant healthy seedlings into containers with sterile potting soil than growing plants from minuscule seeds.

Thanks to the fashionable art of container gardening, you too can easily blend with the trend--and the changing seasons! It just takes a bit of creative planning, but not a whole lot of hard work. Simply planting a fabulous blend of foliage and flowering plants in containers will both accent and complement your indoor decor.

Creating Planters to "Blend with the Trend"

Select indoor containers wisely

Choosing containers to fit the various sizes of your indoor plants is very important. Container sizes can vary from windowsill-sized pots to show off miniature African violets, or to very large containers that can hold a 4-foot palm tree.

If you plan to hang your container, it's wise to choose one that is fairly light weight, rather than one that is heavy clay or terracotta. For indoor planters, you MUST use planters having suitable "drip trays" to catch any excess water leakage. If you plan to hang a container, this is even more critical. Water dripping from your planter onto your floor could prove very damaging. The same holds true if you decide to place it on a table or pedestal. So look for indoor containers with attached drip trays, just to be on the safe side.

Fortunately, suitable indoor containers are readily available in a host of sizes, shapes, materials, and colors to match most any decor. If you don't have any luck finding the exact color to match your decor, why not buy one (or even several) that you can paint yourself? If you have a flair for painting and decorating, you can get as creative as you like!

Soil is of the essence

A peat-based potting soil is usually the best for growing plants in indoor containers. Most commercial brands contain excellent slow-release fertilizers and special gel crystals to help the soil retain water. Fill your container to within 2 to 3 inches of the rim, as this will leave enough space for your plants' rootballs.

Choose contrasting foliage and flowering plants

Whether your indoor container will hang from the ceiling or perhaps sit on an elegant pedestal, you will want it to have splendid eye appeal. This can be accomplished by blending foliage plants of differing colors, textures, and leaf structures with plants having trailing and upright growth habits. In addition, choose one or two bright flowering plants for showy color spots.

Plant artfully and carefully

Before planting your new plants, first arrange them in or around your container while they are still in their small pots to see how they will fit the best. A good rule of thumb is to plant the tallest upright foliage plant in the center of your container first. Next, plant the shorter and more compact flowering plant to one side of the center plant, near the edge of the container. Leave enough space between these plants to allow for growth spread.

Next, plant those plants having trailing or semi-trailing growth habits. Plant these around the outer edges of your container, again leaving space between plants for adequate spreading and trailing.

Always remove new plants from their nursery pots with care. Never remove them by pulling on their tender stems. Gently loosen or untangle the bottom inch of each plant's roots before carefully spreading them out in your container. This helps give them a better start in their new home. Additional potting mix can be added later, ensuring that the soil covers the roots of each plant. When your planting is finished, the soil should be at least an inch below the rim of the container.

A Colorful Holiday Season Planter!

Coleus (C. hybrids) "Rose Wizard"
For a fabulous foliage plant with glorious color, choose "Rose Wizard" as your center upright foliage plant. You will only need to plant one coleus for this Holiday bouquet. This outstanding hybrid coleus is an excellent container plant. It grows from 8 to 10 inches in height with beautiful leaves 3 to 4 inches long. As its name implies, this variety sports a brilliant rose in the center of its leaves of creamy white edged in pale greens.

Pinching off the tiny tips of the new coleus leaves after planting them will encourage more foliage growth. Any small flowers that appear should also be pinched off as they develop. Doing this regularly also promotes additional foliage growth. Coleus plants thrive in a location with partial shade, as their foliage colors become even more outstanding in soft light. "Rose Wizard" is without a doubt a favorite variety for indoor containers because of its remarkable foliage colors. As Christmas approaches, your "Rose Wizard" will blend beautifully with your indoor holiday decor.

Kalanchoe (blossfeldiana)
This unique flowering plant is a superb choice that will present a bright, cheerful Holiday appearance in your container. It bears tiny 1/4 to 1/2 inch blossoms of either red, coral, yellow, orange or gold. Kalanchoes have thick, waxy leaves ranging from 1 to 2 inches and prefer a minimum of four hours of sunlight daily. Fall is a great time to purchase blooming Kalanchoes from garden centers or nurseries. For this bouquet, choose the variety having festive bright red blossoms.

Since its masses of tiny four-petaled blossoms only last for about a month, consider planting it in your container without removing it from its nursery pot. Simply plant it, pot and all, in the soil near the outer edge of your container. Plant it deep enough so that the rim of the nursery pot is covered with potting soil. One Kalanchoe should be sufficient for this bouquet to provide great color through the Holiday Season. After its blooms are spent, you can easily remove it without disturbing your other plants. Consider placing a small pot of bright red wax begonias in its place for a continuing bright color spot.

Piggy Back Plant (Tolmiea menziesii)
This old-fashioned plant is another great choice to blend with your indoor seasonal container bouquet. It is both a spreading and trailing plant having long-stemmed lush green leaves. Although it only grows to about 8 inches, it can spread from 10-15 inches. At the base of its long leaves the Piggy Back produces additional miniature plants. This delightful plant is sometimes called "mother of thousands" because of this unique growth pattern.

Plant your Piggy Back near the outer rim of your container, and perhaps on the opposite side of your Kalanchoe. This will give it room to both spread and cascade nicely over the edge, and also allow space for its "babies." Piggy Backs like to have moist soil and will also thrive in the peat-based potting soil along with your other plants. Indirect lighting is preferred, and it does well in filtered sunlight, making it a good companion for this indoor seasonal bouquet.

Goldfish Plant (Nematanthus gregarius; N. strigillosus; N. wettsteinii)
Goldfish Plants are actually members of the gesneriad family. The are appropriately called "Goldfish Plants" as their unique flowers really do resemble tiny tropical fish with little mouths. These adorable little flowers hang brightly from lancelike leafy stems that often trail from 1 to 2 feet in length. There are several species of this interesting trailing plant and any of them are superb choices for hanging containers. They all have similar flowers, primarily orange-red to reddish-yellow in color. Some varieties, such as N. wettsteinii, may bloom almost continuously. Most other varieties, however, bloom only intermittently during the year.

Since this is a trailing plant, you will also want to plant it near the last outer rim of your planter, giving plenty of room to trail and spread. Goldfish plants also like indirect or filtered sunlight and should be kept fairly moist.

If you find you need additional plants besides the four listed here, consider adding a bright colored potted pansy or a colorful primrose. When their blooms are spent and your foliage and flowering plants have begun to grow and spread, you can remove these filler plants.

Shortly after Thanksgiving, our thoughts begin to turn toward decorating for the Christmas Holidays. To add a bit more color in keeping with this very special season, consider adding a few sprigs of holly to your indoor container. Its bright red berries and deep green foliage are sure to put you in a great Holiday mood.

And don't forget to hang the mistletoe on your Holiday Seasonal Planter with a festive red ribbon. You never know who will meet you there when you least expect it!

About the Author

Naomi Mathews also writes a column on Butterflies.

About this Author