Keep the Color Going This Fall

by on November 8, 2011

Follow our steps to create a colorful and vibrant autumn container.

By: Michelle Leise

Materials
• Drill with 5/8- to 1/2-inch bit
• Pot, about 24 inches high with a diameter of 24 inches at the top
• Plastic saucer with a diameter of about 18 inches
• Trowel
• Potting soil
• Assorted fall perennials and annuals

Tips
• Put in more plants than you think you’ll need. You’ll be surprised by how many will fit and still flourish, and it’s really the only way to get a spectacular-looking container.
• Fertilize once a month and water as needed, depending on the weather and amount of rain.
• For cold climates, use pots made of fiberglass, which withstand freezing temperatures better than plastic and terra cotta.
• Protect your potted perennials during winter if you live in a cold climate. In late fall, carry the pot to an out-of-the-way location and tip it upside down with the plants and soil left in the pot. Don’t bother trimming anything—even the grasses—because the extra foliage will provide warmth and protection during the winter. The foliage will get crushed when you tip the pot over, which is fine. The plants and soil will stay secure because the roots will have combined into a single root ball. Pile plenty of straw around the pot to insulate the plants during the winter.
• When danger of frost has passed in spring, tip the pot back over, trim back the perennials, discard the old annuals, and plant new annuals in their place.
• After a perennial grows for two to three years in the container, divide it so it stays healthy.

Method
Step 1: Drill drainage holes. Drill three to five drainage holes into the plastic saucer. If the pot doesn’t have drainage holes, drill several of them.

Step 2: Choose pot and placement. Use a pot that’s sturdy enough to hold large plants and big enough to look visually balanced when you add tall grasses. Place the pot close to its permanent location so you won’t have to carry it far when it’s full.

Step 3: Fill with soil. Set the saucer into the pot (see step 3 photo) so it rests about 6 to 8 inches into the pot—that way, you won’t have to fill the entire container with soil, which saves money. Fill with potting soil until the soil is 2 to 3 inches from the top. Don’t fill to the brim or soil will spill out as you add plants.

Step 4: Group plants. Group together the plants you’re considering so you can look at the overall color scheme and see how their textures and heights work together (see step 4 photo).

For a fall planting, purples, grays, silvers, and burgundies combine beautifully, especially when they have diverse textures. Think of plants such as kale, purple fountain grass, miniature asters, mums, sedum, and licorice plant. Look to recycle summer container plants—we reused Lamium maculatum ‘White Nancy’ and Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’ from a summer pot we took apart.

Step 5: Plant selections. After you remove plants from their nursery pots, use your hand or a trowel to gently spread out roots that appear root-bound (growing in a tight circle). Mums are especially prone to this.

To get lots of color and size right away, put in healthy potted plants from a nursery and some well-established perennials that you (or a friend) have grown for at least a year or two. Ornamental grasses, for instance, will be taller and more lush if you divide them from a mature plant.

Produced by Kerin Redwanz; written by Michelle Leise; photographs by Chap Achen. Kerin Redwanz is a garden designer and owner of Shades of Green Landscapes in Red Wing, Minnesota. Michelle Leise is a freelance writer in Red Wing.

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