Create a Festive Fall Container Display

Create a Festive Fall Container Display

Almost without warning, the cool days and progressively colder nights of autumn are beginning to take their toll on your once brilliant blooming container displays. This is especially true if you live in northern regions where the four annual seasons--spring, summer, fall, winter--are respected.

Your container's flowers have served you very well during the lazy days of summer, brightening up your balcony or patio with their blazing colors and aromatic fragrances. Colorful summer visitors such as butterflies, bees, and hummingbirds have had their fill of sweet nectar from the lovely blossoms that graced your containers. Even they know that it's time to seek warmer climes where they will find new nectar sources until spring returns.

Nothing will make your patio, balcony, or front porch look more dismal than containers filled with faded or dying plants. Now is the appropriate time to remove the summer annuals from their containers that won't survive winter in colder northern regions. These plants can be placed in your compost pile for use as great mulch the following spring. Before placing your spent plants in your compost pile, however, make certain they are not diseased or infested with insects. If they show any signs at all of disease or insect infestation, dispose of them either by burning them or placing them in your trash for disposal.

Must your containers now be emptied of their soil and stored until spring? Worse yet, must you have only the barren dirt that held your dazzling summer flowers to feast your eyes upon during drab winter days? Not at all! For it is now that you can begin to take your creative container gardening to the next step.

Select containers that suit your location and personal preferences

There are really no "etched in stone rules" about which types of containers should be used to create delightful fall displays. Using some of the containers that held your spring and summer displays will serve several purposes. You will already have your favorite containers on hand, they will likely fit nicely in the same locations, and it will be cost effective if you don't need to purchase new ones. The same soil used for summer displays is usually appropriate for most fall container plantings, with minimal amendments.

Perhaps you had either a lovely windowbox, or several large wooden planters that sat on your patio, and maybe rustic wooden half barrels flanking a wide stairway. Other containers may have been terracotta urns, troughs, or pots, durable plastic pots of varying sizes and shapes, or even hanging wire or moss baskets. Any or all of these can be transformed into creative and festive fall containers.

Even if you didn't plant spring or summer containers, you may now find yourself in the mood to create some festive fall containers to brighten up your patio, front porch, or other drab areas before Old Man Winter arrives with gusto. A trip to your local garden center will prove rewarding to find containers of every size, shape, color, or material to suit even the most discriminating gardener.

Also, don't forget to look for some unique containers you may have stored in your garage, attic, or basement such as buckets, tubs, old wooden crates, or maybe even your grandmother's favorite old breadbox. Some of these may be just waiting to be useful again, and could serve as superb fall containers and great conversation pieces at the same time.

Helpful soil criteria for fall plantings

"Nitty-gritty dirt" tips

For any plant to thrive, whether in containers or gardens, using the proper kind soil is critical. As previously mentioned, most soils used for summer containers can also be used in fall planters, with some amendments. Keep in mind that fall planters do not require as much water as summer thirsty summer container plants, whereas summer soils need to be lighter, yet able to hold moisture. Fall soil needs to be richer in nutrients and perhaps a bit more dense. Summer potting soil can be rejuvenated by adding a mixture consisting of four parts of commercial potting soil (which contains perlite or vermiculite), and one part each of sand and peat moss or compost.

It is not recommended to use ordinary garden soil in containers. Garden soil often contains diseases or noxious insect larvae that could eventually devastate your beautiful plants.

Appropriate plant attributes for successful fall containers


Container Gardening

This 32-page booklet is part of Storey Publishing's Country Wisdom series. In this informative booklet you'll learn:

- How to select containers
- How to choose a good potting mix or make your own.
- How to plant and care for your container gardens.
- How to create beautiful hanging baskets and windowboxes.
- Which plants are best for containers.
- And more!

There are many varieties of plants that will transform your containers into festive fall delights. When deciding what types of plants to choose for your fall containers that will last until very cold winter temperatures arrive (possibly longer), some attributes to look for include:

  • Evergreen varieties, hardy or semi-hardy to your zone
  • Compact, small to medium shaped plants
  • Trailing or cascading plants
  • Plants of dissimilar heights
  • Free-flowering plants
  • Variety of foliage textures and colors
  • Plants that produce bright colored berries in the fall

There are so many delightful plants suitable for festive fall displays that it can literally boggle your mind. Since all gardeners have personal preferences about plants and containers, the final choice of plants here will be left to the reader. However, if you simply don't have a clue about what to plant for starters, the autumn display suggested below may spark your creative juices.

  • First, a few simple guidelines about choosing great plants will help get you off to a great start.
  • Purchase your plants at a reliable garden center or nursery
  • Select only high quality plants that appear disease and pest free
  • Choose plants suited for the type of soil in your container
  • Select plants of appropriate size to fit your container
  • Group your plants using no more than four or five varieties
  • Buy plants that complement one another

A Festive Terracotta Planter Springs to Life for Fall!

English Ivy (Hedra helix)

It seems that wherever you see planters of almost any kind, you will also see various species of ivy mixed with the other flowers or shrubs. Ivy has long been a favorite of gardeners everywhere because of its very nature. English Ivy is evergreen and thrives in all climate zones, making it especially desirable for use in fall planters. Its deep green leaves are very showy, having three to five lobes 2-4 inches across. English Ivy also likes smaller spaces in which to grow, which is another plus for using it in autumn planters.

You will want to plant ivy along the outer edges of whatever type of planter you choose to use. If a windowbox is used, plant the ivy on both ends and across the front. Ivy has a very natural trailing habit, yet needs little if any pruning or training once planted.

English Ivy (H. helix Goldchild')

A very showy ivy that will add a warm color to your fall planter is Goldchild' with its variegated leaves of softer greens and creamy white to yellow colored margins. This variety can be mixed with the dark green English Ivy, giving a great foliage contrast to your planter. Its smaller to miniature sized leaves are superb for use in planters as they are slow- growing and won't take over the entire pot. They are very carefree and require very little attention once planted. Also quite cold tolerant, they should thrive in your fall planter throughout the fall and mid-winter season.

Fall-flowering Heather (Calluna vulgaris or Erica vagans)

Certain species of heathers are excellent choices for autumn containers. The Calluna vulgaris and Erica vagans come in many varieties. Tiny blossoms of deep pinks and reds will add great color to your festive fall container. Their free-flowering branches have brightly colored foliage. The heathers can be interspersed between the ivy of your choice, or both types of ivy, lending a wonderful variety of foliage and color. Another plus for using fall heathers is that when they have finished blooming at the end of the fall season, you can simply transplant them to a spot in your flower bed. Since they are evergreen, they won't mind being transplanted in late fall.

Skimmia (japonica) Rubella'

For the brightest color spot in your fall container and a superb companion plant for both the ivy and the heather, choose several Skimmia Japonica. This lovely evergreen sports dense foliage bearing spikes of dark red flower buds during late autumn. In winter months, female plants bloom in clusters having delightful fragrant blossoms. The leaves of skimmias also add great fall interest in that they are very aromatic, and are very lustrous.

Although male Skimmias sport larger blossoms than female plants, they don't produce any berries. Only female Skimmias produce berries, so you will need to plant at least one male plant to pollinate the female plants. The bright red berries of the female Skimmia Rubella' will be the highlight of your festive fall container. Skimmias also like to grow in slightly acid soil, making them superb companions for the heathers and ivies of your choice.

Ornamental Cabbage (Kale)

Should your fall planter need a bit of extra color or more filler plants, ornamental cabbages (kale) will be the perfect final touch. Their colorful tightly nested leaves of grayish-green with white centers, or green with purplish centers are very striking. Ornamental cabbages are fantastic as an alternative to flowers in planters. They can withstand cold temperatures, and should last throughout late fall and early winter. They also make a great conversation piece because of their very unusual colors.

There are many other plants and small evergreen shrubs that are suitable for fall containers. Those outlined above may give you that "jump-start" that you need to brighten up your outdoor fall decor. The four seasons each have their own special time of showing off their beauty and splendor in Mother Nature's vast garden. You as the gardener can let your creative mind wander when choosing plants and containers for your festive fall display. When you have completed planting your special autumn garden, do take time to enjoy it as the season progresses, and before Old Man Winter descends!

Copyright by Naomi Mathews. All Rights Reserved.

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Naomi Mathews also writes a column on Butterfly and Hummingbird Gardens

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