Thursday, September 1, 2016

Fall Container Update on a Budget

Most of my container plantings have gone the distance and are still looking good as we head into fall, but the concrete urn at the entrance to the back garden is in desperate need of an update. Back in June, the urn looked rather pretty. 

Filled with sweet potato vine, pansies and sky-blue lobelia it continued to look good well into July. Then the scorching heat and dry conditions began to take its toll. The pansies got leggy and thin despite regular deadheading and watering.

The lobelia however, managed to tough it out, and the sweet potato vine began to spill nicely over the edge of the urn. So here we are at the end of August: the front of the container still looks good, but the pansies definitely need to be replaced.

Though this part of southern Ontario has felt downright tropical this summer, the fact that this is Canada is foremost among my considerations. There are maybe four or six weeks before we get the first fall frost. Any annuals I may plant are bound to parish in the first real cold snap sometime in October. I refuse to spend a fortune to see me through a matter of a few weeks. A short season determines that this is going to be an container update on a limited budget!

Adding to this makeover challenge is the fact that the plants in the urn that survived are sky blue and lime green. Hardly the beginnings of a traditional fall color scheme! 

So I went looking for a little inspiration at a local nursery.

Who says a fall color scheme has to be orange, red and yellow anyway? This mauve and purple color scheme is really rather nice. 

The mums are familiar plant choice, but the ornamental peppers and the Celosia are a bit more novel. Celosia is a fairly versatile choice as it comes in a variety of red shades- everything from hot pink to lipstick red.

Celosia 'Dark Purple'

Celosia Intenz 'Lipstick' (on the left) and Celosia Intenz 'Classic' (on the right)

Even the ornamental peppers that come in an array of colors.

Sedum 'Neon'

Investing Longterm:

If you are tired of using Mums to make up your fall container plantings, Sedum might be a nice alternative. It is a bigger investment in the short term, but you can always lift the sedum from the container after the first frost, and plant it out in the garden, making it a good longterm investment.

As well as Sedum, there are a few other types of perennials that you can plant out in the garden once your fall container has done its job. For instance, Heuchera offers a wide selection cultivars that come in terrific fall colors.

Heuchera 'Marmalade' on the left and Heuchera 'Crimson Curls'

Heuchera even work in a less traditional mauve combination. 

Heuchera Dolce 'Blackcurrant' and Heuchera 'Berry Marmalade' 

Bring the Indoors Out:

As with the summer containers I featured recently, you can use houseplants outdoors to great effect in a fall scheme. This Croton (seen above) looks great paired with mums, tangerine colored pansies and a tall Cordyline.

Just remember that this is a "tropical" plant. If you plan to bring it inside for the winter, you need to keep an eye out for frost warnings and bring it indoors before it gets damaged by cold.

Fall containers for Shade:

There's no reason why you can't have a nice fall container planting even in the shade. Try a hosta (that you can plant out in the garden at the end of the gardening season) along with some cold tolerant pansies and a perennial Sedge (that you can also plant in the garden).

Not sure what the grass used here is. See the sedge reference below.

I have a number of Sedge Grasses in the shady areas of the garden. Some are even evergreen or semi-evergreen.  I picked this one up on clearance:

Carex morrowii, Laiche japonaise 'Ice Dance'

It is not as tall as a Fountain Grass might be, but this Variegated Japanese Sedge could easily work in a fall container. And it is happy in shade (unlike most ornamental grasses).

Variegated Japanese Sedge, Carex morrowii, Laiche japonaise 'Ice Dance' is a grass-like perennial that forms a low mound of tufted green leaves edged in white. It likes moist, rich soil, but most of the Sedges in my garden seem to do fine in somewhat drier conditions. It's evergreen in habit (in colder areas it may need to have any foliage scorched by cold trimmed off in the spring).  Height: 20-30 cm (8-12 inches), Spread: 30-45 cm (12-18 inches). USDA Zones: 5-9.

A few containers in my backyard.

If you have part-shade a mix of Coleus combined with Sweet Potato Vine might be another great option.

But I digress, back to my container in need of an update...

I am not always a great one for planning ahead, but this year I was smart. I bought a few small Coleus plants in the spring and have been nurturing them backstage, so they could step into a bigger role this fall.

So for a bit of fun, I cleaned away what was left of the pansies and placed two of my Coleus plants into the large urn just to see how they might look:

Option 1. Not bad!

I rather like the way the lime-green edge of this Coleus looks with the Sweet Potato Vine.

Option 2. Next, I tried out a pinker Coleus. It wasn't as big as the last Coleus, so I tucked a little Celosia down into the front of the urn. 

Again, not too shabby.

But what if you hadn't grow any Coleus this summer like I did? I really wanted to come up with a last minute budget option that anyone could use to makeover a summer container. 

So I bought 4 plants.

These were 3 for $10.

I also splurged on a Red Fountain Grass (annual here) that was $6.99. Here is how they all fit in to my urn:

Once I had my placement done, I removed everything from its pot and planted them into the urn. 

I placed the fountain grass just slightly off-centre. I squeezed one of the cabbages down into the front and fit the other into a gap toward the back. The Celosia fit nicely in between the two cabbages.

I felt my rusty robin didn't fit in with the Coleus, but I think he works well with the softer Fountain Grass.

(You can find these rusty birds here in the GTA at Terra Nursery or at the Toronto Botanical Garden's shop. Here is an online source: Rusty Birds)

So which was your favourite version of my fall urn update? 
Should I have stuck with one of the Coleus?

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And thanks for sharing!


  1. Your gardens have held up well. Ours have been going good to since I water and ended up with a huge water bill of $270. But plants are our children that we take care of! I like all three of the container pairings but I do love red fountain grass. I do my fall containers using Lowe's clearance on plants and have come up with some great combos..

    1. My water bill is likely to be high as well Cathy. This part of the garden gets fairly well watered, but there are places the hose does not reach and they were pretty devastated by the extended drought. Using clearance plants is a great budget idea. I may have to pop into Lowe's myself to see what they have left.

  2. That's a great idea to "hold back" on some plants and bring them to center stage later on when needed. I never plan ahead. I need to start doing that!

    1. I'm not always so smart Sue, but I do find annuals are great additions to the garden at this time of year, so I'm learning.

  3. It looks divine...and I love the little bird.

  4. Your containers look great! Wish I could find ornamental cabbage 3 for $10...$7 each here! I'm going to clean up my containers this wknd!!

    1. Generally I find that ornamental cabbages are a bit pricier than the ones I was lucky to find. The two cabbages I got were small, but that suited my purposes well. One great thing about ornamental cabbages is that they last well into November or even December. It makes them worth the expense.

  5. I've never heard of celosia, but I love it! I'm rather tired of looking at the proverbial mums all the time during Autum (I confess that I've never bought any). I prefer things that are beautiful but "different," (meaning they are less widely known) for the most part. Here in Alberta, it's likely that frost will appear sooner rather than later, and coupled with the rather erratic weather, choosing plants can definitely be a challenge! Your containers are lovely.

    1. Celosia seems to be growing in popularity or at least I seem to be seeing it more often. Ornamental cabbages seem to handle cold weather best, so they might be a good choice for you out there in Alberta.

  6. It looks beautiful, Jennifer!!!
    I love the coleus with the sweet potato vine. it's really perfect, and I think very fall-like.
    I actually just purchased a couple of the purple ornamental pepper plants, last weekend,
    I thought they were so unusual, and such a pretty color.

    1. I didn't get any ornamental peppers this time out, but I think they're really nice. They will make for some pretty fall containers Lisa!


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