In addition to providing patio and rooftop gardens, fall container gardening extends the season. Create a fall container garden with hardy flowering plants and vegetables that reflect the rich colors of the harvest. Bring the plants inside the first nights of freezing weather.
Fall brings big bunches of rich-colored blooms that are suitable for container gardens. Local garden centers are full of potted chrysanthemums and asters, but other blooms are available as well. Use sunflowers, which are available in a variety of small sizes and colors, thanks to hybridization. Gazania, echinacea and other members of the aster family are also in bloom. Use a dramatic “mum” for a focal point in the container. Although it’s too late to plant perennials after the fall container gardening season is over, many can be “wintered over” in a cool place if they are not allowed to dry out, or sunk in their pot in the garden and heavily mulched, and planted next spring. Pot-ready fall-flowering perennials tend to be as much as four times as expensive as younger plants in the spring and early summer.
Although the reliable coleus certainly is colorful enough for fall containers, it will begin to collapse on the first chilly day. Less water-retentive foliage comes in enough variety to provide any size or color focal point. Choose plants like crassula (jade plant), wax vine (hoya) or cyanotis (teddy bear plant) as low-lying plants. Houttuynia, polka dot plant (hypoestes) or elephant’s ear (alocasia) are upright plants with bronze or reddish foliage. Sedums are available in a wide variety of shapes and colors in addition to the common “hens and chicks." Caladiums are great for fall pots because of their colors—and because they die down when freezing temperatures set in and can be kept like any tender bulb (gladiolas and dahlias) over the winter. Many foliage plants can be brought in and kept as house plants.
Fall is the season that most grasses shine—sometimes literally. They are at the height of their growth before they go to seed, and provide a magnificent centerpiece or framing focus for pots. Choose miscanthus varieties, spodiopogon sibericus (silver spike grass) or pennisetum--grasses whose flowering lasts well into winter. Many sedges, reed and pampas grasses are also lovely long into winter. Many garden centers have a good selection of grasses that can be incorporated into a landscape after use in containers. Ornamental grasses grow in concise clumps that can be propagated by division.
Although most people wouldn’t think of planting carrots or radishes with flowers in a fall container, several vegetables put on their spectacular autumn show as the days shorten. Choose any of a wide variety of ornamental cabbages or kale. Ornamental vegetables are more expensive than those in the produce department, but their remarkable shapes punctuate arrangements with a harvest-theme emphasis.