By Ken Lain, the mountain gardener
Many summer container gardens are looking a bit worn and tired. The beginning of October is the time to change from heat-loving summer flowers to the autumn beauties that take us into winter.
I like to bring a seasonal splash of color to our home’s entryway by mixing and matching eye-popping blooms with rustic grasses and foliage. This simple touch-up turns fading container gardens into stylish fall fashion spots.
To extend your gardening pleasure into next year be sure to add some fresh potting soil to your containers before putting in these plants.
Cheery Classic Chrysanthemums – Nothing ushers in autumn like mums. I like to see them slipped between the coleus in summer pots for a big show of color. Although most gardeners expect them to be in top form much longer, mums look good for about three months. As with most autumn flowers, mums are less expensive than spring bloomers. So think of them as annuals and feel no guilt if you choose to replace them after those three months of enjoyment. All mums pair well with boxwood, salvias, ornamental cabbages, and kales.
Inexpensive terracotta pots planted with mums blooming red, yellow, and orange echo the season’s warm color palette. Add a pumpkin and gourd or two, and your house could qualify for the front cover of any garden magazine! A quick and easy design idea is to pile on the pumpkins, nestled right into potted mums in decorative containers.
Sunny Marigolds– Use marigolds as you would mums for great autumn color. They are happy in pots and/or in the ground.
The sun’s lower angle causes the ribs and veins of ‘Red Giant Mustard’ marigold to glow from white to chartreuse creating a striking contrast to its dark maroon foliage. ‘Bonanza Harmony’ marigolds bring a burst of autumn orange and yellows to a fall container.
Use ‘Angelina’ Sedums to tie together this cool weather arrangement. For instant gratification, plant these so closely to one another that foliage is touching foliage. This technique leaves no bare spaces in the planter, quickly giving the composition a finished, mature look.
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Show-Stopping Autumn Window Box – ‘Dwarf Alberta’ spruce can be the focal point for a larger, deeper window box that needs a touch of fall. Add kales, pansies, and violas for fall colors and textures. For a bit of romance, plant English ivy to cascade over the sides of the box.
Charming Green Window Box – Shades of green window boxes can be planted with white caladium, ‘Key Lime Pie’ heuchera, and ‘White Nancy’ spotted dead nettle. To add a variety of textures choose from holly, fern, ivy, and light pink periwinkle.
Stair Step Violas – Containers filled with ‘Penny Red’ violas will warm up any entryway. Group them up your steps to give the display a vertical boost of character. Violas bloom later than any other flower, thereby extending their color well into winter.
Stacked Violas – Using two galvanized buckets in graduated sizes, plant the smaller bucket with violas and parsley. Tuck additional violas and creeping Jenny around the edges of the larger one. Then stack the small bucket on the surface soil of the larger planted bucket. Simple but beautiful.
Fiery Ornamental Plumes – Use ‘Blonde Ambition’ grama grass to add a bit of drama to a container garden. In a border, its vertical shape creates an inescapable exclamation point. The golden seed heads combine well with the texture as well as the color of burgundy coral bells. This great plant combo is not only beautiful, but it’s also easy to grow and is autumn tough.
Dramatic Pansy Container – Follow our rule of “thriller, filler, spiller” for a container that’s guaranteed to impress. A cone-shaped, evergreen arborvitae works perfectly as an attention-grabbing “thriller”. To brighten up the look of your container, “filler” the pot with multicolored ‘Pandora’s Box’ pansies, and have a variegated English ivy “spiller” over the sides for a dramatic accent.
Relaxed and Inviting Boxwoods – A row of boxwoods appears to stand at attention leading guests to the front door. Boxwoods also are perfect in pots, look good all year long, and are the nearest thing to no maintenance.
Decorative Edible Greens – The strikingly lovely foliage of collards is a beautiful, unexpected choice to fill containers. Swiss chard has a similar look and feel. Mix and match the two plants in groups of pots to keep plenty of fresh kitchen greens on hand all the way through fall.
Hardy Succulents -You won’t find any plants better adapted for growing in pots than succulents. Mostly native to arid regions, succulents store water in their fleshy leaves, stems, and roots enabling them to resist drought. Consider planting a combination of ‘Red Stem’ portulacaria with echeveria and ‘Amazon Mist’ sage. They make an unexpectedly striking mix.
Watters Garden Center has in-house design and plant services. For even more design ideas ask one of our professionals for help.
Free Gardening Classes are hosted here at Watters Garden Center every Saturday morning at 9:30. Each is fun, filled with truly local advice, with lots of local gardeners asking the right local gardening questions. Take a look at the entire Fall class schedule.
Until next week, I’ll be helping local gardeners here at Watters Garden Center.