A Fresh Look
Welcome fall with new container plantings
By the time summer has lost its sizzle, so too have many container plantings. Fall’s cooler temperatures make it the perfect time to replace spent or tired plants with fresh ones. Changing out containers is one of the easiest ways to bring your home in tune with the season, and the variety of plants and planters means there is no end to the design possibilities.
What’s in now: texture and more texture, in the form of foliage rather than flowers. The look is monochrome with a hit of accent color for an effect that is sophisticated and modern. What’s out: bright color and lots of flowers. Although for some it is not fall without chrysanthemums, this year consider trying something different.
Sage Market and Design in Newburyport, Massachusetts, a combination shop, home design, and custom floral design business. Fowler calls Sage’s style “modern coastal.”“There’s so much interesting plant material out there. Don’t be afraid to move away from the traditional fall plants and mix it up,” says Beverly Fowler. A floral designer for more than 30 years, Fowler and her daughter, Jordan, own
“Mixing a lot of colors has gone by the wayside; now it’s green and textures and a little pop of color,” Fowler continues. “Tropicals and succulents are popular right now. We do a lot of tropical plantings for summer using plants such as elephant ear. They can look good into fall, so we layer in an under planting of succulents or flowering herbs to change the look. We don’t use mums at all.”
When choosing containers and plants, take cues from a house’s architecture and surroundings. The main entryway is the most popular place for fall planters, so let the entrance influence the design. Take the house’s style as well as the colors and textures of the walls, doors, windows, and hardscaping into account. It can help to photograph the locations where you want containers so that you can refer to them at the nursery.
While the autumn sun is not as strong or as high in the sky as in summer, a plant’s need for sun or shade will affect its growth, so think about how much available light there will be in the location you choose.
When deciding on plants, go for a single specimen per pot, which is trending right now. If you prefer a mix, one plant should be the focal point. Add another for height or mass, or one to trail from the pot, but do not overdo it. Busy combinations of four or five plants put together look dated.
Look for plants that can handle light frosts, such as sedums, some agaves, and phormiums. Of course, if the planters are on a porch or beneath a roofline they will be protected. Also consider wind, which can quickly dry out the soil and the plants. Tender blossoms will shred and small-leafed plants desiccate in windy areas. Ornamental grasses are often a good choice here.
Fowler recommends choosing large, deep containers. They hold more soil so will not dry out as quickly and will not need watering as often. Fowler uses fiber clay pots, which are lighter and hold moisture better than clay. Unlike ceramic, they can be left out all year without cracking. Be sure any pot you use has drainage holes or be prepared to drill some.
The care and feeding of fall containers is pretty much the same as in summer. For most plants, use a good container soil mix with moisture control; never use garden soil, which holds too much water and can drown plant roots. Succulents do not need a mix with moisture control. They require excellent drainage and need a special cactus mix that does not hold too much water. Fowler mixes Osmocote, a time-release granular fertilizer, into all of her soil mixes.
And you do not need bags and bags of soil. “We don’t fill containers from bottom to top with soil; it’s not usually necessary and it’s a waste,” Fowler says. “A trick we use is false bottom planters. I use the plastic pots the plants came in, turn them upside down, put them in the bottom of the planter, and fill soil around them.” Containers need less soil that way, and it does not affect the plants’ root systems. In areas where it is very windy, load containers with rocks first to stabilize them.
Even with fall’s cooler temperatures, the wind and sun can dry out the soil mix, so stay on top of watering. Check planters every other day for moisture; even daily if it has been sunny and hot. Succulents do not need frequent watering, but check them regularly anyway. Containers in a sheltered area out of the rain will need more consistent watering. As for ongoing care, not using a lot of flowers means not needing to deadhead. For textural fall arrangements, watering is the only to-do on the list.
If you do not know the kind of look you want nor have time or inclination to mess with pots and plants, call in a designer. They can provide the design, containers, and plants and do all the work. Designers have resources all over the country for containers and plant material, often unavailable to the public. Plus they have lots of experience in how to mix and match.
But a designer is not necessary, just a desire to experiment. “People shouldn’t be afraid to play,” Fowler says. “Go to a good local garden center and see what’s there. Try out groupings: get one tall plant, then one for color, then an herb. We love working with herbs in the fall, especially plants such as rosemary. It can take cold temperatures so it will last until we have a hard frost.
“Go online and Google different plants. Go on Pinterest or Instagram, type in ‘fall plantings’ and you’ll get lots of ideas. You don’t have to go down that traditional road.”
And think big. Use the containers to make a design statement. “There’s nothing worse than seeing a house with a big entryway and tiny containers,” she says. “They just get lost. If you have a large entryway, use the space. Do something grand. Make an impact.”
Four Container Recipes:
• Agave with blue river rock mulch
• Rosemary topiary with trailing, flowering herbs
• Lavender with mood moss
• Succulents with ornamental grasses