Celebrate the Fall Season with Easy Container Plantings

Pots of snapdragons, violas, and asters dress up a doorway.

After a long, hot summer in the South, I breathe a sigh of relief when temperatures finally drop into the seventies. This means I can once again spend long hours in my garden, moving plants, planting the last of cool season vegetables, and getting those chores done that I have put off since August.  It is my favorite time of year, and what better way to celebrate this beautiful season in the South, than with a few new flowering plants.

October is on the horizon, and soon I will be able to plant violas, pansies, and accent plants to add color to beds and containers. Living in Georgia (zone 7B), I don’t rush this transition, because we will certainly have some days in the 80s before the cold finally arrives in November, and I don’t want my violas and pansies to stretch in hot weather.

What I can do now, is a bit of planning, and possibly some shopping for woody plant material to go into containers. I need to have a sense of where I am going with fall projects so that once I get to the garden center I will stay on course, which means I will not overspend this time around. (There are, of course, days meant for wandering through the store at leisure, looking for a treasure or two, but that is a daydream that can wait.)

Here are the questions that I typically ask myself as I’m thinking about new color for fall:                                                                                 

  1. What existing container plantings could use some color for the cool season?
  2. Where can I add small temporary containers around my property where they might enhance what is already there?
  3. How much money do I want to spend?
  4. How much time do I have to complete these few projects in the coming weeks?

My First Project: I have an evergreen pieris (andromeda) in a container grouping visible from my family room. (What I see out this window is an important consideration for me. Plan your own color projects where they will make sense for you.)

I want some blooming plants, a trailing vine or two, and maybe something that will bloom in late winter also.

Here is my shopping list:

5 violas in a soft color (I will wait to see what my options are at the store, but I like pale purple or blue tones for winter.)

10 hyacinth bulbs, white

3 trailing evergreen periwinkles (Vinca minor)

3 lacinato kale

Here is how I will complete the planting and care for plants over the next six months:

I will place the small kale plants, chosen for their interesting texture, at the base of the shrub, and then add the violas evenly around the container. The periwinkle vine will be tucked in three places at the edge of the container so it can trail over the sides as it grows. (It can stay in the pot for many seasons.) Last, I will insert the hyacinth bulbs carefully between the other plants, but this could wait until October or November. I will feed the violas with a liquid organic feed to give them a good start, and deadhead them through the winter, feeding them again whenever we begin to have some mild days in late February or March.

My Second Project:  Next month I will also pick up snapdragons to plant, three or five to a pot, in smaller containers that I can add at my front door and back porch. Once they stop blooming in late fall, I will sink the pots into the pea gravel inside my fenced garden where they will rest all winter. I will set them out again in spring, giving them a bit of fertilizer once I see new bloom spikes forming.

Four-inch pots of asters are another plant I like to pot up for a short-time color display in fall. I enjoy the cheerful blooms, and once they have stopped flowering, I’ll set them in a sheltered area so that I can add them to a garden space in the spring, or give them to a gardening friend.

‘Illumination’ vinca is a colorful trailing plant, perfect for cool season containers.

Another Container Idea to Try in Your Garden

If I was starting from scratch with a new container planting, I might use one of my favorite flowering shrubs for part shade, a white-flowering loropetalum, ‘Snow Emerald’. Unlike other varieties of this woody ornamental, this cultivar enjoys a bit of shade during the day.  I love the subtle and elegant spring blooms that look a bit like tiny ribbons covering the green foliage. It blooms a bit through the fall as well, so in my mind, it is a great candidate for a container planting for the cool season. I would pair it with coconut swirl violas, another favorite in shades of violet blue and white, and perhaps the diminutive daffodil ‘Tete a tete’ for sunny blooms in late winter.

I’ll be back soon to share a few other fall gardening ideas.

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