Fall Containers Extend the Season

  • Difficulty Rating: Beginner


Fall Containers Extend the Season

After a dreary summer in which much of the U.S. braved extreme temperatures and withering drought, isn’t fall simply luscious? Don’t you wish you could just bottle it for later when the cold winds blow?

highlight the season by adding autumn plants to containers

You can highlight the season by adding autumnal plants to containers like this one above. The plants within it are tropical, but the colors whisper of cool, sunny days and blue skies. In the south, many tropical plants last until the first freeze so you still have time.

Everything in the garden seems lit from within. At summer’s end, plants are rejuvenated by the change. No longer is the sun directly overhead; light plays upon mature leaves.

Copper plant

If your garden has bare spots due to shrinkage or death from the heat, place a pot of mature flowers in empty spots. I have three, terra cotta containers I insert in my front border for color for this very reason. I find their warm shade of orange comforting, and it’s too hot in the south to use terra cotta in summer. Try unique containers like old, enamel wash tubs; galvanized, metal, stock tanks; stately urns or even baskets. A special container is part of the allure.

Fall’s palette of red, brown, amber, soft green and orange is perfect for containers too. Use this fruitful color scheme to your advantage. Choose rich shades that inspire drama.

cannas and coleus

In the south, planting fall containers is a tricky balance. We are still warm, usually until late October, so you can plant mature specimens of coleus, crotons and other tropical plants in September. They will thrive until a freeze. Successful containers are all about arrangement. Tall plants go in the center, or at the back. Mid-sized plants surround them, and then trailing cultivars dangle over the edge.

fireworks grass

Tall grasses appear majestic even when the weather turns nasty because they fade to light brown, but retain their structure. Dark ‘Purple Majesty’ millet would be an excellent tall choice. Many trailing perennials and annuals work great in fall containers. Lysimachia nummularia ‘Aurea', (golden creeping Jenny) is very cold tolerant and the prettiest shade of lime green. Ajugas, like ‘Chocolate Chip,’ also have some cold tolerance in pots. Sometimes, ajugas even overwinter where I live.

Once temperatures cool, choose colorful kales and cabbages as fillers because they will last throughout winter in the south. Perennials like Heucheras (coral bells) actually perform better in fall than in our hot summers. If you want your plants to last all winter, your arrangement should be two zones colder than your USDA zone. Potting soil in an unprotected container gets a lot colder than the ground.

Raised beds are containers too. Dress them for the season. Choose annuals and perennials perfect for cool weather like pansies and colorful kale. We now have access to ornamental vegetables like dinosaur kale, ‘Lacinato', a true blue, and purple-veined ‘Redbor’ kale. I love the color kaleidoscope of Angel™ ‘Amber Kiss’ viola shown below. Antirrhinum majus 'Montego Red' (snapdragon) would look great in a pot with this small but mighty viola. I’m also excited about ‘Delta Tapesty’ pansy. What color!


Pumpkins, mums and all the harbingers of fall can be a fun way to show off a seasonal change. The Dallas Arboretum has great ideas for decorating with pumpkins, and their containers are fabulous examples of garden scenes on a large scale. Travel to your local arboretum or botanic garden for cool season inspiration.

pumpkins, mums and harbingers of fall

With milder temperatures, autumn is a time we can embrace, but it’s fleeting. So, let’s plant or replant our containers now using the colors of the season as our cue. It’s one way to capture the essence and abundance of fall.