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8 Tips for Fall and Winter Container Gardening

What to Plant and What You Need to Know


Container garden picture of flowering cabbage

Basket of Flowering Cabbage

Photo © Kerry Michaels

Fall is a great time to experiment with texture and color in your container gardens. While mums and asters can be spectacular and classic in a fall container garden, there are lots of other choices that will last well beyond the first frost. Here are some ideas.

Think Perennials - While summer is a terrific time to go crazy with flowering annuals, fall is a wonderful season to try hardy perennials in your container gardens. Have fun experimenting with color combinations you didn’t use in the summer. Purples and oranges, mixed with bright greens and deep reds can look stunning.

For fall containers try some of these hardy perennials….

  • Coral bells
  • Sedum
  • Grasses
  • Smokebush
  • Lambs ear
  • Ivy
  • Creeping Jenny
  • Hens and Chicks

Cool Looking and Cold Loving Annuals - There are also lots of annuals that look great and will last well past the first frost. Some will even look fabulous and sculptural with a coating of snow. Try combining different heights and forms, or go simple and pot a single dramatic plant in a beautiful container.

Try some of these cold-loving annuals….

  • Flowering cabbages
  • Flowering kales
  • Annual grasses
  • Sages
  • Flaxes
  • Pansies
  • Creeping wirevine
  • New Zealand Flax

Get Your Plants Ready - While you can’t buy your plants tiny down coats, there are things you can do to help them survive the winter. In the fall you’ll want to continue watering your container gardens. However, you should stop fertilizing containers with perennials about six to eight weeks before the first frost date is predicted for your area. You don’t want to encourage new growth, which is tender and won’t survive cold temperatures, and could even weaken or kill your plant.

Brrrrrr……. According to the "Farmers' Almanac," here's what to expect...

  • Light freeze (between 29°F to 32°F): tender plants are killed, other vegetation is not dramatically effected.
  • Moderate freeze (between 25°F and 28°F): heavy damage to tender and semi-hardy plants.
  • Severe Freeze (below 25°F): ... only the hardy survive.

Winter Proof Your Containers - If you want to keep your containers outside for the winter, and you want your perennial plants to survive, use plants that are hardy two zones colder than your area.

Use Containers That Won’t Crack - Make sure that your containers are made of material that will stand up to freezing and thawing. Ceramics, terra cottas and thin plastics may not survive. Instead try containers made of ….

  • Fiberglass
  • Metal
  • Thick plastic
  • Stone
  • Concrete
  • Hollow logs

Bring Delicate Containers Inside – If you have a delicate container with perennials, dig the plants out and put them into a garden bed before the soil freezes. Or, depending on the plant, you can turn it into a houseplant, or store it in a garage or shed. Just make sure not to let them completely dry out.

Be Ruthless - Even if a plant is a hardy perennial and it never looked great, or you just aren’t crazy about it - chuck it. Add it to your compost pile and at least it will become food for some other plant down the line.

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