Fall Container Plant Ideas

colorful mums in natural planters
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Fall Container Plant Ideas

Create Seasonal Gardens by Changing a Few Plants to Revitalize Containers for Fall

Container gardens are easy to construct if you remember these three words: thriller, filler and spiller. These refer to the types of plants that you will use to give your container a beautiful balanced look. The thriller is usually the tallest plant. It is placed in the center of the pot and should be impressive as it rises above the other plantings. This could be tall, airy grass or a dracaena with its sharp pointed leaves. You could also use a small evergreen or a hibiscus.

Consider using a beautiful kale plant and start extra organic seeds for your containers as well as the vegetable garden. If your container is going to be placed in a corner or up against a wall, you can choose to place the thriller plant in the back of the container rather than the center. Once you have decided the placement of the thriller, it is time to add the filler. A filler is the plant that will basically fill the rest of the space. It is usually a medium height plant, or it can be several different plants.

In fall, the filler could be chrysanthemums in fall colors, asters, ornamental cabbage and other plants that tolerate the cooler temperatures and emphasize the rich colors of the season. Finally, slip in some spillers. These are plants that will soften the edge of your container by hanging over the side. These can be ivy, sweet potato vines or even sweet alyssum.

If you want to have a grouping of different size containers, make the largest the focal point and then surround it with smaller pots. The smaller pots can feature just a single plant that echoes the larger container. For example, if there is a chrysanthemum in your large container, plant a single chrysanthemum in the complementary color in the smaller pots. An alternative would be to use different plants but in the same color as the larger container.

Adding Filler to Your Containers

Don’t forget to add interesting seasonal elements like fall gourds and pumpkins to your groupings and even in the containers. Today, pumpkins are available in miniature sizes and in white or grey, as well as the traditional orange. Gourds come in all different colors and can range from the colorful Turk’s Turban to small single-color gourds that have smooth skin to extremely warty texture. Another popular fall tradition is Indian or Flint Corn. This is the colorful dried corn that we see in the fall decorations. The ears of corn come in full size cobs and also miniature versions perfect for tucking into a fall container. All of these can be grown in your own garden from vegetable seeds.

Another plant material that is often overlooked is dried plants. If you have a hydrangea bush, the flower heads are very easy to dry and use all winter. They also can be very effective tucked in an outdoor container. The same is true of interesting branches. Red dogwood branches will look great with fall colors and can be left through the winter for the holiday season along with evergreen branches.

Evaluate your summer container gardens. Sometimes, they can be transitioned into the fall by just changing one of the existing plants. Remove the petunias and replace with asters. Replace zinnias with ornamental cabbage. Change the look of your container by wrapping it with burlap or birch bark. Put your pot in a harvest basket or even a wood crate. Put the containers around a straw bale. Bring the fall harvest season, Halloween and Thanksgiving into your groupings.

Plants to Add to Fall Containers

Here are some favorite container plants for fall. All can tolerate cooler temperatures, and some will even tolerate a frost.

1. Chrysanthemums

Nothing says fall like mums. They are available in all the richest golds, purples, bronzes and reds. Mums are available in many sizes every fall, but you can grow your own. The small plants that are available in spring will be huge in the fall if you pinch them back every couple of weeks or so. Pinch the end of the stem if it has a blossom trying to form and also to encourage the plant to form lots more branches. Stop pinching back around July 4th and allow the plant to form blossoms. It should flower in September.

2. Asters

These flowers are also associated with fall. They come in beautiful purples and lavenders. There are asters that grow very tall so check your label to be sure your aster is container appropriate. Asters have the added benefit of being one of the last nectar-producing flowers for the pollinators.

3. Ornamental Cabbage

These plants have become very popular for gardeners looking for plants that tolerate cold. The ornamental cabbage comes in many color combinations with rosette-shaped heads. The colors are actually intensified with the cold, and this is a plant that will tolerate frost.

4. Grasses  

There are many grasses that will work well in a container, including the tall Purple Fountain Grass and the Blue Fescue. The Fountain Grass will give a soft texture, height and movement with the slightest breeze. The Blue Fescue is a shorter medium height grass which has good contrast between its spiky blue texture and the softer plants around it. These are just two of the many grasses you might want to consider.

5. Heuchera

Heuchera or Coral Bells is a great perennial that does well in a container. It comes in leaf colors that range from the deepest purple, almost black color to a lime green. There are also many multi-colored variations to choose from.

6. Black-Eyed Susan

Black-Eyed Susan is a daisy-like flower that has golden petals surrounding a deep brown center. These hardy perennials are great in the garden, but also do well in the container. Black-Eyed Susans are easy to grow from seed.

7. Geraniums

Don’t give up on your geraniums at the end of summer. If you continue to deadhead them, they will reward you with blooms well into the fall. They are not frost-tolerant however, so protect them from an early frost or remove them for next year.

8. Oxalis

This is a plant with black to purple leaves. It has a nice mounding shape, making it a great filler. This is a plant that also will do well in a shady location. A bonus is that it can be wintered over indoors.

9. Pansies

This is a flower that is usually associated with spring in the north but is used successfully throughout the winter in more southern states. Pansies will even survive an occasional snow. The flowers come in many colors — from purple to orange to white. They are great for the fall container garden.

10. Sedum

This perennial is an easy-care plant that many gardeners have enjoyed for years. They are not often seen in containers though. The sedums have great flowerheads that look great even in the winter when the plant is dormant and the flowerheads have dried. Use them in your fall container garden and enjoy them in your winter garden also.

11. Verbena

This is a flower that is usually considered a summer plant, but it actually can tolerate temperatures below freezing. Verbena come in many colors, including the purples of fall.

12. Millet

This is a tall plant that also has an interesting seedhead. The purple millet is great as a focal plant in your container.

13. Snapdragons

Snapdragons are one of the cold-tolerant flowers that you should consider for your containers. Snapdragons come in a wide variety of colors including the color of candy corn, perfect for your container garden at Halloween time.

14. Kale

 There are a few vegetables that are not only attractive enough for a container garden but also very cold-tolerant. Kale is one of them. Kale comes in many colors of green to dark purple leaves and will survive freezing temperatures. Bonus: Start from organic seeds as this plant is completely edible and actually improves in flavor after exposure to the cold.

15. Swiss Chard

 Choose the Swiss Chard “Bright Lights” and you will have a plant that has multi-colored stalks topped with beautiful leaves. Plant the vegetable seeds directly in the container. Remove the stalks for eating and more will replace the stalks removed. This edible plant is cold tolerant also.

16. Coleus

This is another plant that is grown for its colorful foliage. The color range is from dark reds to greens and pinks, plus innumerable multi-colored options.

17. Sweet Alyssum

Alyssum is a very cold-tolerant plant that is covered in flowers. This plant grows in a mound and could be a filler in your container, but planted on the edge of the container, it also will spill over the edge. Alyssum is available in white, but you might want to consider the purple variety for your fall container garden.

18. Lamb’s Ear

This silver white plant has a velvety soft texture to its leaves making a great contrast to the fall flowers that are also in your container.

19. Celosia

This is a perennial that comes in three different forms: the unusual cockscomb, the plume with soft feathery flowers and the wheat. Some celosia is very tall so check the variety you want for height. Celosia will bloom even in the cooler temperatures of fall; however, it will not survive a frost. Colors range from deep red to orange and magenta. These flowers look great in the container. Added bonus: They are great as dried flowers.

20. Hens and Chicks

Hens and Chicks are an alpine plant that can tolerate very adverse conditions. They will grow well in a container. This is a succulent that has a larger mother plant and will then develop the smaller “chicks” around the perimeter of the main plant. The Hens and Chicks plant can tolerate cold, but it will stop growing and go dormant in the cold.

21. Ajuga

Ajuga is most often grown as a ground cover, but it also looks great as a filler in a container garden. The leaves of the ajuga range from green to a dark glossy deep purple. The ajuga flowers with a spike of purple flowers. Ajuga is very cold-tolerant and can even tolerate frost.

22. Ornamental Peppers

These plants are grown as a decorative plant, not for food. While you can eat them, the flavor is likely to be disappointing. You won’t be disappointed in the beauty of this plant in your container garden. The peppers will grow upright on the end of each stem. The color of the peppers change as they mature and range from shades of red, purple, black, white, yellow and orange. There are often multiple colors on each plant.

23. Stock

Stock is a favorite in the cottage garden and is believed to have been brought to America by Thomas Jefferson for his gardens. Besides having a beautiful flower, the stock is appreciated for its intense scent. This flower is happiest in the cool of spring and fall. Stock is related to the cabbage family and is very cold- tolerant and will withstand even a frost or two.

24. Osteospermum

This plant loves the cool weather and will stop blooming in the heat of summer. It will resume blooming in the fall when the temperature drops. The daisy-like flowers are held above the foliage and come in a number of colors including purple, orange, blue and lavender.

25. Dusty Miller

This is a great plant for the container and can take the cold of fall and even winter. This plant has silver white foliage that is heavily lobed or even lacy depending on the variety. It is a great contrast in texture and color to the rich flowers of autumn. 

Whether you plan on changing over all the plants in your containers or just a few, planning for fall will revitalize your containers and welcome fall with a refreshed display of cold-tolerant flowers. Download the From Seed to Spoon app to know when to start your seeds to rejuvenate your container gardens.