Bring fall to your front porch when you fill a whiskey barrel planter with a seasonal assortment of bold foliage and intense blooms. In the landscape, when leaves turn red, yellow, purple, and our favorite, orange, it’s a response to changes in temperature and increasingly longer nights. Plants receive this signal and stop producing food, causing the chlorophyll in the leaves to break down. Without chlorophyll, the bright yellow, red and orange pigments in the leaves are unmasked and give the leaves their fall color.
Take inspiration from the trees and plant a container with a mix of annuals and perennials, shrubs, grasses, herbs and even succulents. Here’s how we created this container.
A successful mixed planter pulls in a variety of plants, textures and colors. However, they will all need about the same amount of light and water, so check plant tags. The container shown will perform best in full autumn sun. In the Garden Center, walk beyond the annuals and perennials and look for ornamental grasses, small shrubs, herbs and succulents that will play nicely in a container.
The no-fail formula for container design is a snap to remember: Thriller-Filler-Spiller. Thrillers give height, fillers bring body to the center and spillers cascade over the rim of the planter, softening the edges. Put them all together and you have a colorful display with texture and movement.
Fall Planting Favorites
Ornamental grasses are a natural choice for a fall container thriller. Purple Fountain grass (rubrum) has deep red stems and plumes that sway in autumn breezes. This grass is a tender perennial and will not reliably return in spring in areas colder than USDA Hardiness Zone 9. Look for the best ornamental grass for your region. More thrillers: gardeners in warm climates can use bromeliads in bright yellows and reds, or small palm trees. In colder areas, you can use small evergreens like boxwoods and arborvitae.
For fillers, look to small shrubs like barberry (‘Orange Rocket’ has crisp orange foliage), hydrangea and lorapetalum (‘Purple Pixie’ and ‘Jazz Hands’ are perfectly petite). Select a filler and look for similar colors in other areas of the Garden Center, like the ‘Jazz Hands’ lorapetalum and ‘Purple Ruffles’ basil (pictured above). More fall fillers include perennials like gaillardia (blanket flower), coreopsis, coneflower and black-eyed Susan. For a shade container, look to hosta and heuchera. Fall annuals include coleus, pansies, violas and late-season zinnias.
Spillers are the surprise element in the composition. Consider stalwarts like English ivy, creeping Jenny and sweet potato vine, but keep an eye out for sedums and succulents that will punch up your displays.
5 Plants for a Whiskey Barrel
1. ‘Jazz Hands’ lorapetalum. Dwarf lorapetalum is winter hardy in zones 7 to 10 and low maintenance once established. This shrub grows well in containers and as a groundcover in a mass planting.
2. Zinnias. Whether from seed or seedlings, annual zinnias are practically perfect. Easy-growing, good-looking until the first frost and all with bright blooms in the colors of late summer and early fall. When the frost nips them, just toss them on the compost pile and fill in your display with a more cold tolerant annual like pansies.
3. Red hot poker (torch lily). Perennial tritoma is a pollinator magnet and makes fine cut flowers, too. Keep red hot poker outside in your container to liven up purple fountain grass as it becomes established. Plant red hot poker in the garden when it’s finished blooming in the container.
4. Purple basil. Herbs offer fragrance, texture and culinary usefulness. Look to tender lettuces to fill in here, too. As the weather cools down, replace with flowering kale and flowering cabbage.
5. Sedum. Proven Winners’ ‘Lemon Coral’ sedum is delightful as a groundcover and also tucked into containers for a bright bit of texture. Lemon coral sends up a flower in late spring and is hardy in zones 7 to 11.
Tips for Fall Container Planting:
Watering and fertilizing are not as important in fall as in spring, so make sure your potting soil is fresh and fertile. Good quality organic potting mix will give your plants the best start. You want a potting soil that is well-draining, but also holds water for plants to get nourishment. You can mix your own with equal parts organic potting soil and compost, either purchased or from your compost pile.