As Summer annuals begin to wane and seasonal container plantings start to lose their luster, it’s time for a change! Fall container plantings help herald the slower, cooler season by adding warm, inviting tones and textural interest to entryways, balconies, and sitting areas.

In addition to the traditional components of the Fall container—Mums, Asters, Pansies or Violas, Grasses, Ornamental Cabbage and Kale—there are a host of hardy, perennial, and evergreen plants to include for beautiful autumnal combinations that will extend into Winter.

Fall container planting is best done from September into mid-October (at least 6 weeks before our first frost) so new plants have time to root in and fill out before growth slows down in Winter.

Plant Selection for Fall Containers

Plants used in your Fall and Winter container plantings may or may not be the plants you want to remain there next Summer. Even though many Fall container plants are technically evergreen, the choice to include them in future combinations is up to you.

If you prefer to tailor your container combos to each season, giving you the flexibility to change color palettes and focus on hyper-seasonal plants, then any hardy shrubs or perennials that you include in your Fall containers can be transplanted into your garden or landscape next Spring.

If your intent is to create a container that is well-suited to Fall but has year-round interest or acts as a more permanent feature, there are some excellent elements of the Fall container combination that can carry you happily into Winter, Spring, and beyond!

Fall Container Design Elements

The 4 basic elements for any large container plantings are:

  1. Thriller – a central specimen plant that acts as the hero of the planting combination.
  2. Fillers – plants that provide bulk, texture, and often flowers.
  3. Spillers – plants that introduce drama by trailing or falling over the sides of the pot.
  4. Seasonal Color – the easiest element to remove and replace, these flowering plants are short-lived yet high-impact.

For smaller containers, a combination of two of the three elements works well, too!

Thrillers: Specimen Plants for Containers

For Full Sun & Part Sun Containers:

  • Broadleaf Evergreens for Containers: Buxus sempervirens ‘Graham Blandy’, Ilex ‘Dwarf Pagoda’, Ilex ‘Sky Pencil’, Euonymus ‘Green Spire’, Rosemary ‘Arp’, Camellia sasanqua ‘Yuletide’
  • Conifers for Containers: Beanpole Yew, Japanese Plum Yew, Lemon Cypress
  • Dwarf Trees for Containers: Gingko ‘Jade Butterflies’, Acer palmatum ‘Aconitifolium’, Acer palmatum ‘Koto No Ito’, Cercis ‘Flame Thrower’, Lagerstroemia ‘Tonto’

For Shade Containers:

  • Broadleaf Evergreens for Shade Containers: Camellia ‘Yuletide’, Camellia ‘Debutante’, Mahonia ‘Charity’, ‘Soft Caress’ or ‘Narihira’, Fatsia japonica or Fatshedera, Sarcococca
  • Conifers for Shade Containers: Japanese Plum Yew, Dwarf Hinoki Cypress, Dwarf Canadian Hemlock

Fillers: Perennials, Grasses, and Evergreen or Semi-Evergreen Shrubs for Containers

For Full Sun & Part Sun Containers:

  • Perennials: Euphorbia varieties, Heaths and Heathers, Heuchera varieties, Bergenia, Senecio ‘Angel Wings’, Dusty Miller (tender)
  • Grasses: Black Mondo Grass, Carex varieties, Blue Fescue, Liriope
  • Shrubs: 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

For Shade Containers:

  • Perennials: Hellebore varieties, Bergenia, Wintergreen, Holly Fern, Heuchera varieties, Korean Rock Fern, Alaskan or Autumn Fern
  • Grasses: Liriope, Black Mondo Grass
  • Shrubs: Sarcococca, Salal, Dwarf Vaccinium, Pachysandra, Leucothoe

Spillers: Perennial, Evergreen, or Semi-Evergreen Trailing Plants for Containers

For Full Sun & Part Sun Containers:

  • Creeping Jenny (regular, golden, chocolate), Vinca Minor, Vinca Major ‘Expoflora’ or ‘Maculata’, Sedum ‘Angelina’, Kinnikinnick, Wire Vine, Ajuga, Lemon Variegated Thyme, Silver Posey Thyme

For Shade Containers:

  • Vinca varieties, Creeping Jenny varieties, Lamium

Seasonal Color for Containers

These plants provide the glorious blooms that “make or break” container combinations. Seasonal color plants may or may not last through Winter.

  • Pansies & Violas are the hardiest Winter flower and can survive snow and ice! Flowering may slow as Winter progresses, but they quickly perk up in Spring and can continue blooming until April or May. Pansies do not like hot, dry weather and bloom best in sun or partial sun during Fall and Winter.
  • Garden Chrysanthemums or “Mums” prefer the cool weather of Fall and may bloom quickly and fade if planted when the weather is too warm. Great on a covered porch or patio with full sun or at least a half day of sun, flowers last longest if protected from rain (4–6 weeks or more). Although treated as annuals, if planted in the ground and properly cared for, Mums often return and can become perennial late-season color in your garden.
  • Hybrid Rudbeckia (annual Black-Eyed Susan), Ornamental Peppers, and other Fall floral items may bloom for several weeks, and can then be replaced with the next seasonal plant like Florist Cyclamen or Primroses. Sometimes you don’t even need to plant them—you can just bury the plastic pot in the soil so it is easy to remove and replace as needed—easy as can be!
  • Ornamental Cabbage & Kale may be planted in Fall and enjoyed through early Winter. It is tolerant of mild frosts which also enhances the foliage colors. Some Kale varieties such as ‘Redbor’ are upright and may even be used as a “thriller,” while other Cabbage and Kale varieties grow as low rosettes that resemble their edible cousins, but have bright white, pink, or purple leaves. As Spring temperatures begin to warm, Cabbage/Kale plants will grow tall and form a pale-yellow flower spike before they set seed and die, so replace them as they age with the next wave of seasonal color.
  • Late-blooming perennials like Echinacea, Agastache, Scabiosa, and Salvia provide blooms in September and October and interesting seed heads for birds to forage on in Winter. Combine them with Pansies or textural plants to highlight their features.
  • Bulbs for early spring color! Adding in a layer of dormant Fall bulbs when you replant your Fall containers is an insurance policy for fabulous Springtime blooms. We love Crocus, Narcisussus, and Tulips for their terrific, low-maintenance color in the Spring!


    Planting & Caring for Fall Containers

    Soil for Fall & Winter Pots

    Use quality potting soil, like G&B, FoxFarm, or Malibu, at planting time! There are three options for reviving your soil and containers to get the most out of your Fall plantings:

    • Replace all soil—this is a great time to change out your soil from the summer, as soil becomes “tired” over time and loses its ability to hold and release moisture, in addition to becoming devoid of nutrients.
    • Remove all soil and mix compost or worm castings into old soil before replacing into container; we recommend G&B Potting Soil (or Malibu Compost and WormGro for “recharging” old soil).
    • At the bare minimum, refresh the top third of the container with fresh soil.

    Fertilizing Container Gardens

    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 or directed.
    • Osmocote or G&B Organic Rose & Flower Food act as slow-release nutrition; use at planting time and again in Winter.
    • Apply G&B liquid fertilizers for more rapid uptake to push growth or fill plants out before a party.


    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, you will need to hand water weekly at least. Water more frequently at the beginning when plants are young and temperatures are high.
    • In general, container plants need about half as much water in Winter as they do during Summer months (remove drainage saucer so it doesn’t fill up with rainwater and waterlog plants).

    Protecting Container Plantings from Extreme Cold

    If we receive a winter storm warning or if temperatures are predicted to drop below freezing, it is helpful to take extra caution to protect your Fall and Winter container plantings.

    • Make sure all container plantings are well watered before it freezes.
    • Tender plants, broadleaf evergreens, or plants with Winter blooms may also benefit from extra protection like frost cloth, burlap, sheets, or blankets during extreme weather. You can also wrap pots with bubble-wrap for insulation, then cover with a sheet or blanket.

    Pro-Tip: 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.

    Dennis’ 7 Dees Garden Centers are fully stocked with all the plants, soils, fertilizers, and pottery you need to make stunning, custom Fall container plantings!

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