As our summer annuals begin to wane and container plantings start to lose their luster, it is time for a change. Planting fall containers is best done by mid-October, with at least 6 weeks left before our first frost so they have some time to root in and fill out before winter sets in.
In addition to the traditional components of the fall container—mums, asters, pansies, and violas, grasses, cabbage, and kale; the following are hardy, perennial, or evergreen plant suggestions to try for beautiful autumnal combinations that will also extend into the winter. Plants used in your fall/winter container plantings may or may not be the plants you want to remain there next summer. If you prefer to use your containers for annual plantings of seasonal color then these hardy shrubs and perennials can be transplanted into your garden/landscape next spring. If your intent is to plant a container that has year-round interest and is to be more permanent, this should be considered when choosing plants.
The 3 basic elements for large container plantings are:
For smaller containers, a combination of two of the three elements works well too.
Use quality potting soil at planting time. This is a great time to change out your soil from the summer; soil becomes “tired” over time and loses its ability to hold and release moisture in addition to becoming devoid of nutrients. At the bare minimum, refresh the top third of the container with fresh soil or remove all and mix compost or worm castings into old soil before replacing into container; we recommend G&B Potting Soil.
Soil breaks down slowly in cool temperatures, therefore nutrient availability is less reliable. It is important to add fertilizer to the soil at planting time and supplement during the growing season as needed/directed. We like Osmocote or G&B Organic Rose & Flower Food as slow-release nutrition and G&B liquids for more rapid uptake.
Rain will provide the majority of your container planting’s water needs (once it begins to rain regularly), unless it is under eave or porch cover. If rain does not water your container, it will need to be done at least weekly (more at the beginning when plants are young), but this depends on the plants used, sun exposure, and size of container. In general, container plants need about half as much water in the winter as they do during summer months (remove drainage saucer so it doesn’t fill up with rainwater and waterlog plants). If we receive a winter storm warning or if temps are predicted to drop below freezing, it is helpful to be sure that all container plantings are well watered before it freezes. Some may also benefit from extra protection during extreme weather; cover with frost cloth, burlap, sheets, or blankets. You can wrap the pot with bubble-wrap for insulation, then cover with a sheet or blanket.
Specimen Shrubs for Containers (Thrillers)
- Full Sun/Partial Sun: Buxus sempervirens ‘Graham Blandy’, Ilex ‘Dwarf Pagoda’, ‘Sky Pencil’, Beanpole Yew, Japanese Plum Yew, Euonymus ‘Green Spire’, upright Rosemary, Equisetum (containers only, can become invasive), Camellia sasanqua ‘Yuletide’ or other variety, Lemon Cypress
- Shade: Japanese Plum Yew, Mahonia ‘Charity’, ‘Soft Caress’ or ‘Narihira’, Camellia varieties, Dwarf Hinoki Cypress, Dwarf Canadian Hemlock, Acanthus/Bear’s Breech, Fatsia japonica or Fatshedera
Perennial, Evergreen, or Semi-Evergreen Mid-Level Plants (Fillers)
- Full Sun/Partial Sun: Euphorbia/Spurge varieties, Heaths and Heathers, Heuchera/Coral Bell varieties, Bergenia, Liriope, Black Mondo Grass, Carex varieties, Dusty Miller
- Shade: Hellebore varieties, Bergenia, Wintergreen, Sword Fern, Heuchera/Coral Bell varieties, Korean rock fern, Alaskan or Autumn Fern, Liriope, Black Mondo Grass
Low-Growing Shrubs for Containers (More Fillers)
- Full Sun/Partial Sun: Lonicera ‘Lemon Beauty’, ‘Baggeson’s Gold’, ‘Twiggy’; Nandina ‘Moyer’s Red’, ‘Wood’s Dwarf’ (et al.), Pieris ‘Little Heath’; Osmanthus ‘Goshiki’; low-growing Euonymus varieties; Juniper ‘Pancake’, Abelia
- Shade: Sarcococca, Salal, Dwarf Vaccinium, Pachysandra, Leucothoe
Perennial, Evergreen, or Semi-evergreen Trailing Plants (Spillers)
- Full Sun/Partial Sun: Creeping Jenny (regular, golden, chocolate), Vinca Minor, Vinca Major ‘Expoflora’ or ‘Maculata’, Sedum ‘Angelina’, Kinnikinnick, Wire Vine, Ajuga
- Shade: Vinca varieties, Creeping Jenny varieties, Lamium
*If container planting sits against the house with sun exposure from only one direction, it is best to rotate the container monthly to prevent the plants from growing towards the sun.
Don’t forget to add bulbs for early spring color!