There's just something about fall.  It announces its changes in more subtle ways than spring.  No bursting through the earth, no popping of buds, no chorus of songbirds. 

No, the onset of fall signals a gentle slowdown, a time when nature prepares to rest--contemplative, almost bittersweet. And yet, there's an undercurrent of excitement, as preparations for survival must be made.  It's a time of renewal,
but in a more profound, mysterious way.  Spring announces, "I'm here, I made it."  Fall wonders, "Where will  I be next year?"

Despite all that subtlety, fall is not subtle in terms of color--the magical transformation of green into gleaming gold, searing red, and vibrant orange is a thrill to behold. 

Capturing that excitement in your garden is one of the joys of the season.  After all, summer's pretty planting of pink petunias and white bacopa seems a little lackluster in the golden autumn light, no matter how well grown. 

So why not get in step with the season, and freshen up those pots?  It's really pretty simple, and you don't have to empty them out and start over. And, you can include plants that you will enjoy until the buds start popping in spring. 

To get you started, some of my favorite fall combos:      (More information about individual plants in upcoming blog updates!)

12" bowl or shallow pot:

1 Mambo Orange ornamental pepper 4.5" pot

1 Glamour Red ornamental kale 4.5" pot

1 purple alyssum 4.5" pot

1 gold duranta 4.5" pot

For a more cold-tolerant planting:

Sub orange pansies for pepper

Sub gold variegated ivy for duranta (NOTE: ENGLISH IVY IS VERY INVASIVE--GROW IN CONTAINERS ONLY!!)                                                             

12" bowl or pot

1 Pineapple coleus 4.5" pot           (must keep trimmed, especially in bowl planting to maintain bushy structure and balance) 

1 Medusa ornamental pepper 4.5" pot

1 Bull's Blood beet 4.5" pot

1 yellow dwarf snapdragon 4.5" pot

For a more cold-tolerant planting:

Sub small gold conifer (such as a young plant of Wilma Monterey Cypress, Carex Everillo, or Euphorbia Ascot Rainbow for coleus

Sub Mammoth Sangria or Mammoth On Fire Pansies for pepper


18" pot or larger

1 Sedona coleus 6”

1 Peacock Purple ornamental kale 8” pot

1 Coral mum 8” pot

1 or 2 Orange or bronze snapdragon—mid-height variety 6” pot

2 Purple aster, e.g. Henry III Purple or Purple Dome 6” pots

For a more cold-tolerant planting:

Sub 1peach heuchera (Primo Peachberry Ice, Mega Caramel, Georgia Peach) for coleus

When mums are done, sub lavender violas and peach pansies (Antique Shades or Mammoth Sangria) or purple violas and orange pansies

12" bowl or pot

1 Black pansy 4.5" pot

1 White alyssum (later white violas) 4.5" pot

1 Purple ornamental kale 4.5 inch pot

1 Variegated vinca vine 4.5 inch pot

If you really want some fun for Halloween, spray paint your spike plants--they're gonna die soon, anyway!  Actually the less green they are the better the paint sticks.  A black spray-painted spike looks really cool in the center of this--for a more colorful pot add some orange violas, or tuck in a small pumpkin here and there. 

The black and white is a stylish contemporary look, and works well at Christmas, too.  Just add red-twig dogwood or winterberry stems in the center--clean, classic, elegant.  Thin bamboo stakes painted red or silver look cool, too--be sure to vary your heights.

 Monochromatic schemes can be quite stunning.  Here, a coral mum is combined with Sedona coleus and orange snapdragons.  To brighten it up with a trailing element, you could add creeping jenny or variegated vinca vine.  This would be simplest to do as monoculture planting--one type of plant per pot--grouped together.  Just add the trailing element to the tallest container.  Make sure the overall effect of plants and pots together has distinct variation in heights, and preferably pot size as well for added interest.



 If you just want to plop some plants down on the porch without repotting, I love this combination:

Indian Summer Coleus--this is a 14" pot 

Miscanthus Adagio

Bronze Carex

Almost any color mum works!

Either drop into any pots you already have, or cover nursery pot with burlap tied with rope.  You could even just spray paint the nursery pot whatever color you want--just cover the plant with an old sheet or tarp first. This is great for larger scale event decorating--add some pumpkins and you're done! 

If you're looking to add mums to a combo planting, look for broken ones where the back side or a piece is snapped off.  Mums can be hard to place in a mixed container--the shape is so rounded and stiff that it doesn't blend well into the surrounding plants.  Misshapen mums often fit into mixed plantings better, and garden centers will likely give you a discount on the ones the wind blew off the shelf!!  Make sure the missing parts are from breakage and not disease--plant stems should look firm and healthy, not brown, black, soft, or water-soaked.

 Not everyone wants bright orange or yellow flowers for fall, but they still want to capture that fall ambience. 

This combo of red fountain grass (could also use Fireworks), pink gaura, Red Bor kale and pink mums is soft and delicate, but still feels like autumn. In a really big pot, I would add a Forever Purple heuchera, and some trailling Beacon Silver lamium to take the design into winter.  When the mums and grass brown out, they could then be replaced with pink, lavender, or white  pansies and violas.

One great tip: If you're mixing two or more colors of pansies in a pot, opt to replace one of them with violas.  The differing flower sizes will add a lot more texture to the design, and violas are usually both more cold and heat tolerant than pansies.  They may have smaller flowers, but they usually bloom more so the overall effect is the same.  If you've balked at violas because of the small flowers, try mixing in just one this season to see how they stack up.  Trust me, they're small, but they're mighty!  One caveat--if you're used to deadheading your pansies, you'll find you do have a lot more to deadhead with violas.  But, they can also be easily sheared if most of the plant goes to seed. As an added bonus, they often reseed quite well.