Green is usually the first color that comes to mind when we think about gardening. We talk about growing greens for the table, going green with organic gardening, and cutting greenery for flower arrangements. We even say we have green thumbs–unless we’ve just killed a favorite flower or let a houseplant shrivel and die.
But as the days grow shorter and the temperatures drop, a different palette emerges. The trees stop making chlorophyll, the pigment that makes their leaves look green, and other, hidden colors are unmasked. The garden takes on shades of gold, crimson, purple-red and bronze, until winter arrives and everything fades to brown. We can’t stop the seasons from turning, but we can plant moveable containers and enjoy our gardens a little longer.
Easy (See instructions below for more experienced gardeners)
Optional: Twigs from your yard or arts and crafts stores
1. Choose a container with a drainage hole, or make a hole in it. Decide where you’ll place the container, so you’ll know whether to choose plants for sun or shade. If you keep the container outside for the winter, choose one that won’t crack in freezing weather, like a poly-resin pot. Urns and other planters come in a variety of styles and colors, so you can match the traditional or contemporary look of your home. Remember that the smaller the container, the faster it will dry out.
2. Fill the planter with potting soil containing fertilizer pellets, leaving room for the plants.
3. Use a knife or your fingers to loosen the root balls, and arrange the plants in the container. Design tip: use a tall plant, like a canna with bold foliage, or an ornamental grass, in the center or back. Fill in around it with full, bushy plants. Strawflowers or lambs’ ear are good choices. Finally, tuck in some low-growing trailers to cascade over the edge. This design uses a “thriller” (the tall plant), a “spiller” (the cascading plants), and a “chiller” (the fill-in plants).
4. Add more potting soil and gently firm it over the roots. Water thoroughly. If you’re using a saucer, be sure to empty it. Roots can rot in standing water.
5. If desired, add a few interesting twigs or branches to the container.
Planting Tips For Northern Gardeners:
- When the temperatures drop, protect your plants by grouping them in a place that’s warm, such as a south-facing wall, or shield them from strong winds by moving them close to your house.
- To help protect your container during the winter, encircle it with chicken-wire, leaving a gap of a few inches between the wire and the container. Stuff mulch or leaves into the gap. Before a hard freeze, put mulch on top of the plants.
- If your winters are very harsh, transplant your plants into the garden until next spring. If possible, bury the entire container before the ground freezes, and cover it with mulch.
- Try planting hardy perennials like coral bells, sedum, ornamental grasses, lambs’ ear, ivies, and creeping Jenny. Plants in containers should be rated 1 to 2 zones hardier than your area.
Planting Tips For Southern Gardeners:
- Looking for cool-season flowers? Try pansies, snapdragons, mums, and ornamental kale.
- For fall foliage, plant coleus, sedge, purple millet, blue fescue, ajuga, and rosemary.
- Add a few fall-blooming annuals like marigolds and zinnias to your containers to draw butterflies. Annuals when die when frost hits, but they’re worth a small investment for the fun of attracting wildlife.
- Try Encore azaleas in a large container. They’re hardy from zones 7 to 10 and re-bloom in fall.
For More Experienced Gardeners: Underplanting With Spring Bulbs
Easy to moderate
1. Wait until the temperatures are below 60 degrees F before you underplant a fall container with spring bulbs. If the weather is too warm, the bulbs will sprout too soon. Use a container that’s deep enough to hold a layer of bulbs and a layer of fall plants.
2. Put some potting soil in your container. Arrange the bulbs on top of the soil, following the directions on the package to determine how deep and far apart to plant them. Add another layer of soil, leaving room for your fall flowers and foliage. Finish by planting them as described above. Want to know more about planting spring bulbs? Check out our bulb planting guide.
3. When the bulbs emerge next spring, let the foliage wither naturally, if you want the bulbs to bloom again. Otherwise, pull and compost them when the flowers are finished.
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