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Colorful Containers that Shine in the Fall

Grow beautiful container combos for the fall season. By Doug Jimerson

Autumn Hues

Wow!! That’s all we could say when we saw this gorgeous hanging basket brimming with peachy nemesia and bright yellow pansies blooming atop a cushion of violet lobelia. And to finish things off there’s a lovely mix of  blue scaevola and silver dusty miller. All of these horticultural overachievers thrive in cool temperatures and will add a visual punch to your porch, patio, balcony, or garden beds.

TIP: Pinch, pinch, and pinch some more. If your plants start to get leggy and produce long scraggly stems, cut them back. A good haircut especially in mid-summer promotes more compact growth and more flowers. Plus, your plants really won’t mind a bit.

Tried and True Trio

Cool temperatures have never stopped pansies from putting on a great show. In fact, pansies come in so many sizes, shapes, and colors you really don’t have to grow anything else. Here, for example, a trio of low ceramic planters are packed with fresh-faced bundles of pansies in different shades of blue and violet. It’s a simple, yet beautiful display of one of Mother Nature’s easiest plants that always performs well during cool seasons, even in the South.

TIP: Feed generously. Annuals like to eat (probably why I relate to them so much). These plants need energy to produce a never-ending cycle of flowers so offer them some liquid general purpose fertilizer every other time you water.

Foiled Again

Did you ever notice how brightly-colored flowers look even bolder when paired with a silver or gray foil? That’s because silver and gray-leaved plants help set off the colors and textures of other flowers. Here, for example, plum-purple calibrachoa, blue scaevola, and red geranium are interplanted with silver dusty miller which makes the flowers look even brighter than they already are. Dusty miller really doesn’t flower very often, but it more than holds its own in this mixed container. 

TIP: Don’t forget to water. Container grown plants dry out quicker than those growing in garden soil. On windy or warm days, give your containers a good drink every day. Water until you see moisture running out of the drainage holes in the bottom of the pots.

Thriller, Filler, and Spiller

If you’ve never heard about the classic container design concept of thriller, filler, and spiller here’s an example of a perfectly designed pot. In this large container the “thriller” or big focal point plant is a tall, graceful papyrus. Surrounding it you’ll find two “filler” or mounding plants in the form of blue pansies and red tuberous begonia. And finally, the “trailers” in this pot include blue lobelia and chartreuse creeping Jenny. All together they create a layered, choreographed look.

TIP: Select the proper lighting conditions. If you are growing sun-loving annuals make sure they get at least 6 to 8 hours of direct sun a day. Shade dwellers will be just fine with anything less.

Petunia Paradise

Until I moved to Florida I never really understood how cold tolerant petunias can be. When I gardened in Iowa I always pulled them out in the fall. But, then I started seeing them for sale in Tallahassee during the Christmas season. I thought that was just crazy. But, I soon realized that petunias thrive almost all winter long in my Zone 9 garden and will keep producing flowers well into the fall as far North as Minnesota and Maine. These pink petunias mixed with dark blue lobelia, for example, were planted last summer, yet are still blooming their heads off even when the nightly temperatures were super nippy near Lake Superior.

TIP: If an unexpected frost does threaten but it looks like the forecast indicates it will warm up again, simply move your containers to a protected location for the night. Or, cover them with a light sheet or blanket. Do not use plastic, it won’t protect your plants from the cold.

Tropical Fantasy

Just because an annual plant is tropical in nature, doesn’t mean it will fold up it’s tent at the first blush of cool weather. This spectacular pot, for example, contains Persian shield, lamb’s ears, baby’s tears, alocasia, and white New Guinea impatiens and is still going strong on a street corner in Minneapolis in early September. It’s a great combination that will keep on going until a hard frost ends the show.


Foliage and Flowers

Mixing foliage and flowering annuals together is a wonderful way to enjoy constant color from spring till late fall. In this narrow planter, a carpet of red-leaved coleus holds forth under a forest of purple-flowering Verbena bonariensis. It’s a lovely combination on a calm day, but every time the wind blows the show gets better as the wiry stems of the verbena dance and sway above the coleus.


Sublime Simplicity

When working with annual flowers, don’t get too caught up in complexity. Some of the prettiest planters I’ve ever seen were super simple. Here, for example, is an all-pink petunia planter located on the steps of a lighthouse in northern Minnesota. It overlooks Lake Superior and is constantly buffeted by winds, yet it looked so fresh and inviting I could not resist taking a photograph. A lot of folks walked right by it, but I thought it was special enough to take a second look.