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Ditch tired mums, add bold color with fall container gardens

November 10, 2014
 
Fresh colors in a fall planter at Gethsemane Garden Center in Chicago

Right about now, any pots or window boxes that held flowering plants are starting to wind down with the cooler weather. But that’s no reason not to get one more hurrah out of the gardening season with a pot that’s replanted for a blast of autumnal color.

"There are four seasons for containers, but fall is one that often gets overlooked, because if your summer containers look good into October, you’re hesitant to pull out the plants," says Carol Rice, manager of annual plants at Gethsemane Garden Center in Chicago’s Andersonville neighborhood. Rice creates hundreds of containers, many going beyond the usual mums and cabbage plants, to highlight the change of season.

"We’re in that in-between time when most perennials are done, but it’s too early for a winter container of twigs, berries and evergreen branches. If you want nice colors right now, the only way you’ll get it is with (fresh) annuals," Rice says. A bonus with fall container plantings is that you won’t need to water as much or fertilize or remove the spent flowers because the plants grow slowly at this time of year.

Rice creates elegant container designs that typically feature just a few varieties but several of each plant, a minimalist take that displays oomph. But customers can select from a virtual salad bar of plants to create their own color schemes with plenty of individual plants.

In the pictured example, hot-colored peppers, celosia, golden creeping Jenny, cabbage, pansies and variegated sweet flag are packed for a vibrant medley.

One of the most unusual plants in the container is the lemon cypress. "It gives the height in the back, and the chartreuse-lime foliage is always popular," Rice explains. "It looks like an evergreen, and although it’s not hardy, you can winter it indoors."

The lemon color is echoed in the trailing creeping Jenny. And while many of us think golds and reds in autumn, "It’s all about the lime-green color at this time of year," Rice says.

The leaves on the Black Pearl ornamental pepper are almost pure black, which creates another striking contrast against the peppers that slowly change from black to deep red. Except for the lemon cypress, which can often survive a light freeze, the plants shown here should be protected when frost is predicted. (To keep your fall container looking good, see Rice’s tips in the sidebar.)

Customers frequently ask Rice to suggest plants that are going to last the longest in a pot before the winter settles in, and that brings us back to a more typical choice: "Mums are a common fall container plant, along with cabbage, kale and pansies. Even in a light snow, they’ll be fine."

Featured plants:

The plants in this pot will handle full sun to part shade. Before freezing weather arrives, put the lemon cypress in a smaller pot and bring it indoors, where it can spend the winter in a sunny window. There it can grow with occasional watering until mid-May, when you can transplant it into a spring container.

Golden variegated sweet flag (Acorus gramineus ‘Ogon’). "It’s great for a pop of color and brightness," Rice says.

Intenz celosia (Celosia caracus ‘Intenz’). Spikes of vibrant color add height to the pot.

Lemon cypress (Cupressus macrocarpa ‘Goldcrest’). Adds an outstanding focal point in a fall container with its narrow, upright habit and bright color.

Chilly Chili hot pepper. (Capsicum annuum ‘Chilly Chili’). As they mature, the peppers turn from green-yellow to orange to red.

Mambo Deep Yellow pepper (Capsicum annuum ‘Mambo Deep Yellow’). A compact plant with highly ornamental peppers.

Black Pearl pepper (Capsicum annuum ‘Black Pearl Pepper’). Fantastic dark leaves contrast with the fruits.

Golden creeping Jenny. (Lysimachia nummularia ‘Goldilocks’). "This is a perennial if planted in the ground," Rice says. The trailing lime-colored leaves provide a counterpoint to the lemon cypress.

Redbor kale. (Brassica oleracea ‘Redbor’). Redbor kale turns darker purple with cool night temps. Cool weather helps kales color up

SIDEBAR: Making it last

Carol Rice shares these tips for fall containers.

Remove the spent flowers on pansies so they don’t form big seed pods. This helps them continue to flower.

Buy mums just as the flower buds are starting to show color, and they should last six to eight weeks. If we get 80-degree weather, it might not be as long.

When the temperatures start to drop into the 30s, protect the plants. If it’s a container that you can move, put it inside or in a garage or cover it. A sheet works better than a plastic garbage bag.

By the third week of November, think about planting for winter containers with twigs, berries and evergreen branches. "Get your winter containers done before the soil freezes. Once that happens, you’d have to drill the holes to stick in berry branches and twigs."

 

 


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