Time for Evergreen-Style Containers

By Ken Lain, the mountain gardener

Lisa and I have been dressing up our tired, overgrown outdoor pots.  Their plants had stopped blooming weeks ago, were badly overgrown and in need of haircuts.  In just a half day of gardening we added some fresh potting soil, a few pansies, kales,and a new evergreen. WOW!  What a difference!   Once again the front of our home has an almost spring-like freshness to it.

I had to count twice, but we have over 50 glazed containers decorating the patios in the front and back yards.  Many are super impressive, but even more, need the gardener’s touch to keep that decorative style through the seasons to come.  This is especially true of some pretty plants to decorate for the holiday seasons in November and December.

Colorful Classic Chrysanthemums – Nothing ushers in autumn like mums. I like to see them slipped between coleuses in summer pots for a big show of color.  Mums look their best for about three months, although most gardeners expect them to be in top form much longer.  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 have passed. All mums pair well with boxwood, salvias, ornamental cabbages, and kales.

Dark mocha, oxblood red, and earth-toned pots planted with mums blooming red, yellow, and orange echo the season’s warm color palette.  Add a pumpkin, a 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 in with potted mums in decorative containers.

Sunny Marigolds – Use marigolds as you would mums for great autumn color. They are happy either in pots 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 deep maroon foliage. ‘Bonanza Harmony’ marigolds bring a burst of autumn oranges and yellows to a fall container.

Use ‘Angelina’ sedums to tie together this cool weather arrangement.  For instant gratification, plant the plants together so closely that foliage is touching foliage.  This technique leaves no bare spaces in the planter, quickly giving the arrangement a mature and finished look.

Show-Stopping Autumn Window Box – ‘Dwarf Alberta’ spruce can be the focal point for a window box that needs a touch of fall.  Kales, pansies, and violas are good for fall colors and textures.  For a touch of romance add English ivy which will cascade over the sides of the box.

Charming Green Window Box – Larger, deeper 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, easily extending their color well into winter.

Stacked Violas – Using two galvanized buckets in graduated sizes, fill both with potting soil.  Plant the smaller bucket with violas and parsley. Tuck additional violas and creeping Jenny around the edges of the larger bucket.  Then stack the small bucket on the surface soil of the larger planted bucket.  Simple. Beautiful.

Ornamental Plumes – Use ‘Dwarf Bunny Grass’ to add a bit of drama to a container garden. In a border its vertical shape creates an inescapable exclamation point; it brings the same punch to a container. The golden seed heads combine well, in texture as well as in color, with burgundy coral bells.  This striking plant combo is not only beautiful, it is easy to grow and 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 multi-colored ‘Pandora’s Box’ pansies, and have variegated English ivy “spiller” over the sides for a softening yet dramatic accent.

Inviting and Easy Boxwoods – A traditional row of boxwoods appears to stand at attention, leading guests to the front door. But boxwoods also are perfect for pots because they look good all year long and are the nearest thing to no maintenance.

Decorative Edible Greens – The strikingly pretty foliage of collards is a decorative, unexpected choice to fill containers.  Swiss chard has a similar look and feel. In groups of pots, mix and match the two plants to keep plenty of fresh kitchen greens on hand throughout the 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 escheveria and ‘Amazon Mist’ sage. They make an unexpectedly pleasing, striking mix. 

Fresh new evergreens just arrived at the garden center, many on the smaller size that are best used in containers and raised beds. October is harvest time at the farm for many spruce, pine, and the bigger trees, and now is the time to garden with these beauties.

Keep in mind that Watters Garden Center has in-house design and plant services.  So, for even more design ideas simply ask for help from our creative professionals.

Until next week, I’ll be helping locals create their own container styles here at Watters Garden Center.

Ken Lain can be found throughout the week at Watters Garden Center, 1815 W. Iron Springs Rd in Prescott, or contacted through his web site at WattersGardenCenter.com or  FB.com/WattersGardenCenter .