Fall is the perfect time to add a splash of seasonal color to your doorstep, walkway or patio. Containers spilling over with an array of autumn shrubs and flowers in beautiful colors and textures lend a feeling of richness and abundance to any setting.
Good Things Come in Threes
An experienced floral arranger gave me one of my best lessons for creating eye-catching combinations of plants in containers. While we often choose plants for their color, her simple but effective suggestion was to also look for 3 contrasting plant forms to make the arrangement more interesting. I followed her advice and started looking for plants that fit into one of 3 basic shapes: Tall and spiky; round and full; and low and cascading.
When I planted these 3 shapes together, the arrangement was so appealing that I came to rely on this "3 shape rule" when creating all my container designs.
These basic forms complement one another so well that it doesn’t really matter if the plants eventually bloom. This allows me to use plants that have great looking foliage as well as those with colorful flowers.
I’ve put together 3 examples to inspire you. But once you start searching your garden center for plants with these 3 shapes, you’ll find all kinds of creative combinations to complement your garden and home.
- Tall and Spiky: Canna ‘Tropicanna’ (red, orange and green variegated leaves)
- Round and Full: Coleus (orange, salmon and green leaves), Chrysanthemum (lavender) and Red
- Cabbage (blue-gray with purple veining) Cascading: Creeping Jenny (chartreuse) and ‘Supertunia Royal Velvet’ (deep purple)
- Tall and Spiky: Purple Fountain Grass (burgundy and green leaves) and Japanese Honeysuckle ‘Gold Net’ staked on bamboo supports (chartreuse and yellow variegated leaves)
- Round and Full: Red Mustard Greens (green leaves with burgundy veining) and Coleus (burgundy)
- Cascading: Trailing Verbena (purple)
- Tall and Spiky: Dwarf Maiden Grass (green and white) and harvest (pink)
- Round and Full: Barberry* (maroon) and Lamb’s Ear ‘Helen von Stein’ (gray)
- Cascading: Trailing Verbena (pink) and Sweet Potato Vine ‘Blackie’ (dark purple)
- After partially filling your container with potting soil, start in the back with plants that have a tall spiky shape such as cannas.
- Next fill in the middle area of the container with plants that have round, full forms like mums, coleus or cabbage.
- Finish the arrangement with plants that cascade over the sides, such as creeping Jenny or petunias.
Tips for Winning Containers
To make a real impression, use a large container. You’ll want one that can hold several gallons of potting mixture, since plants need room for root development.
Make sure the pot has a drainage hole.
Before adding the soil to the container, place a small section of wire mesh, a piece of a broken terra cotta pot or a used tea bag over the hole so that soil doesn’t escape but water still drains.
Consider adding water retentive polymers to the potting soil. The polymers act as "water suitcases," absorbing moisture and then slowing releasing it into the soil.
Place a saucer under the container or elevate it slightly to make sure water can drain away from the pot. This also helps avoid water stains.
Water frequently. Containers can dry quickly, especially when placed in full sun and wind.
Fertilize once a week with a liquid fertilizer.
*Barberry is considered an invasive plant in many areas of the country. Try another burgundy foliaged shrub if this is true for your region.
Good to Know
Double Duty Shrubs – Since I’m into using and reusing, I always look for plants that have a life well beyond the container and the season. For instance, I like to use shrubs in combination with flowers because their autumn foliage can be quite striking. After I have displayed them in the arrangement I can transplant them into my garden for a second life.