Most gardens start to fade as autumn arrives. The vibrant colors and activity of spring and summer are gone, and the garden feels like it’s going to sleep for a long winter’s nap. So, what do you do if you have garden containers? If you’ve planted them with summer annuals, these will soon be gone. What can you use to take their place? Luckily, there are plenty of garden plants that can be used to create stunning fall and winter containers.
Fall and Winter Focal Points
Garden containers look best when they have a focal point, a plant that really grabs attention. If you’re choosing to use the stems or berries of deciduous shrubs, there are a couple of different things you can do. You can either plant one shrub as a focal point, or you can simply gather the bare, cut branches together and insert them upright in the container in the same way you would with a floral arrangement. The stems of red-twig and yellow-twig dogwoods and contorted willow work well when used in this way.
There are a number of evergreen shrubs that look great in containers. The narrow, upright form and chartreuse color of Cupressus macrocarpa ‘Wilma Goldcrest’ provide both a focal point and a nice complement to the purple leaves of ornamental kale. Small evergreen shrubs with small leaves such as dwarf hollies and boxwood can be clipped into pyramidal shapes and balls to create an eye-catching focal point that will last through fall, into the holidays, and beyond.
Ornamental grasses look particularly nice in fall garden containers. The dark burgundy color of Perennial Red fountain grass makes a great focal point as do the tan inflorescences of Muhly grass. Phormium tenax ‘Platt’s Black’ and ‘Sundowner’ look great as focal points in containers but may not last through the winter if you live in an area below USDA planting zone 7.
Fillers to Last the Season
Choose plants to fill the void spaces around the pot. For a color scheme of yellows, oranges, and burgundies, there are several chrysanthemum varieties which can be used. Heuchera ‘Stormy Seas’ and ‘Marmalade’ combine nicely with other plants in a fall garden container. Ornamental kale varieties like ‘Redbor’ flowering kale provide a beautiful contrasting burgundy color. The fine, evergreen texture of heaths and heathers are hardy in cold winter climates, will last through the holidays, and come in a wide variety of colors, from orange to dark evergreen.
Spillers to Soften the Edges
Hardy garden plants that spill over the sides of your pot will add interest and soften the edges. Golden creeping Jenny is a golden, chartreuse color and requires very little maintenance. It grows so easily, you will probably have to trim it back by the end of the winter. Small evergreen grasses, like Mexican feather grass, turn a beautiful tan color in autumn and complement fall color schemes of orange and burgundy. Small evergreen trailing shrubs such as Arctostaphyllos uva-ursi work well as spillers and the leaves turn slightly red and burgundy as outdoor temperatures get colder.
Don’t think your plant choices are limited just because summer has passed. Browse your local nursery and you will soon see there are plenty of garden plants that are at their best in the fall. Combine these to create a container planting that will last through the holiday season and beyond.