Ask a Local Master Gardener: Fall colors spruce up garden containers

  • Look for fresh autumn colors for your fall planting containers. MCT/Brian Cassella

Published: 9/6/2019 1:00:17 AM
Modified: 9/6/2019 1:00:06 AM

Q: I’d like to mix up my fall container gardens with something new this year – any ideas? —A.J., Westhampton

A: Perfect timing, A.J.! I was just at Hadley Garden Center this week and they have some beautiful fresh new plants for autumn. Other places are loading up, too.

Autumn weather turns things cozy. Along with sweaters and long-sleeved shirts, we start thinking about leaves turning golden, red, and yellow and pumpkins readying for pie and jack o’ lanterns. When planning your containers, consider nature’s color combinations along with foliage and texture options. You are limited only by your imagination.

First things first. Before getting too far along, take a moment to notice how much sun your container will get. Flowers such as asters and mums need full sun (6+ hours daily) to perform best. Others like heuchera and ferns are good in shadier spots. Check the plant label to make sure you put the right plant in the right place.

For sunny spots, you can anchor your pots with traditional mum plants then add some zing with a lacey star-leaved cabbage and fuzzy-fronded grass for interesting texture and alternating height. Mix up textures by doing one pot with smooth edged cabbage and another with curly kale. I got a couple terrific deep purple almost black pansies for tumbling over the edge of a pot in a bit of drama. Tuck in clusters of faux leaves or dried wheat stalks for interest.

When mixing in other options, consider using plants you want to put in your garden later anyway. The Sedum genus offers a plethora of container options. Larger sedums help fill the a container’s middle while their fall blooms keep pollinators happy. Trailing sedums can tumble over the edge. Groundcover Sedum reflexum ‘Angelina’ has lovely bright needle-like (but not needle sharp) foliage that contrasts wonderfully against fall’s purples and greens. Similarly, Sedum ‘Bertram Anderson’ with its dense, rich purple leaves complements warm toned mums as it gently spills over a pot’s rim. Ajuga is another good groundcover for use as a trailer. Sage and lamb’s ear (Stachys byzantia) add versatile textural interest.

For shadier locales, consider using Heuchera. Take your pick of leaf color — gold, brick, burgundy — it has them all. Tiarella, ferns, and ivy are other lovely shade additions. Tuck moss into open spots for an added grace and softness.

To extend your container into winter holiday season, plant a small evergreen such as an Alberta Spruce or Golden Arborvitae now for height and install your fall plants around it. Wind grapevine or strings of faux berries around it for interest. Come December, you can swap out the fall theme and easily add holiday greens and strings of twinkle lights. Instead of a tree, you could use white birch or other interesting branches the same way.

Have fun with this creative project, A.J.! Thanks for asking a (local) Master Gardener.

Have a gardening dilemma? Please send questions, along with your name/initials and community, to the Western Massachusetts Master Gardener Association at One question will be answered per week.


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