Icon - Arrow LeftAn icon we use to indicate a rightwards action. Icon - Arrow RightAn icon we use to indicate a leftwards action. Icon - External LinkAn icon we use to indicate a button link is external. Icon - MessageThe icon we use to represent an email action. Icon - Down ChevronUsed to indicate a dropdown. Icon - CloseUsed to indicate a close action. Icon - Dropdown ArrowUsed to indicate a dropdown. Icon - Location PinUsed to showcase a location on a map. Icon - Zoom OutUsed to indicate a zoom out action on a map. Icon - Zoom InUsed to indicate a zoom in action on a map. Icon - SearchUsed to indicate a search action. Icon - EmailUsed to indicate an emai action. Icon - FacebookFacebooks brand mark for use in social sharing icons. flipboard Icon - InstagramInstagrams brand mark for use in social sharing icons. Icon - PinterestPinterests brand mark for use in social sharing icons. Icon - TwitterTwitters brand mark for use in social sharing icons. Icon - Check MarkA check mark for checkbox buttons.
You are reading

Late-Fall Planters: 7 Tips for Beautiful, Long-Lasting Autumn Container Gardens

Search

Late-Fall Planters: 7 Tips for Beautiful, Long-Lasting Autumn Container Gardens

November 2, 2023

When Susan Nock, a garden designer based in Wellesley, Massachusetts, launched her business Thistle eight years ago, she didn’t set out to specialize in container gardens. “I just started doing them for fun. It’s like creating a little vignette, and I love them nestled in a garden or in front of a house.” Over the years, custom container gardens became a signature service alongside her regular garden design work. “I plant containers for all four seasons, and I love to have a fall container for Thanksgiving,” says Nock, who tells us there’s still plenty of time to design planters for the tail end of fall. 

Here are her tips for late-autumn container gardening:

Photography by Susan Nock.

Plant a variety of leaf shapes.

Nock likes to include a mix of textures and leaf shapes, including loose and wavy grasses and carexes, and trailing plants like ajuga and ivy.
Above: Nock likes to include a mix of textures and leaf shapes, including loose and wavy grasses and carexes, and trailing plants like ajuga and ivy.

“The number one thing to think about with container composition is making sure you have lots of different leaf sizes, shapes, and textures,” says Nock. “You want to clearly see the different plants against each other, like cabbage next to grass.” 

Pick frost-tolerant plants.

Ornamental kale and cabbages are frost-tolerant.
Above: Ornamental kale and cabbages are frost-tolerant.

For fall planters, Nock relies on ornamental kale and cabbages, mums, and pansies, all of which will endure some frost. She likes to use tall grasses in her fall containers, too, noting, “Even when they are dormant they will look beautiful.” Nock also recommends weaving in evergreen elements now, with an eye toward reusing them in your winter containers. “You can put in a boxwood now and use it for the next season,” she says. Ditto on cypresses and English ivy, which she uses as a trailing element in containers, where the famously invasive plant can be kept in check. 

Elevate those mums and cabbage.

Nock proves that ornamental kales and cabbages can look super-sophisticated in a variety of compositions, including a bouquet-like design (left) and a nearly monochromatic pot that features solely shades of green (right).
Above: Nock proves that ornamental kales and cabbages can look super-sophisticated in a variety of compositions, including a bouquet-like design (left) and a nearly monochromatic pot that features solely shades of green (right).

While Nock is pulling from a very conventional fall plant palette, she uses these plants in unexpected ways. “Mums and cabbages can easily look a little old-fashioned,” she cautions. The key to making them look modern, she says, is massing. “We’re not used to seeing them massed in great big groupings.” Another tactic is to work in a tight color palette for a monochromatic effect. With cabbages, she says to look for ones with “fun shapes and textures.” And she says, “If you tuck mums in with other plants, as just one element in the container, they work better. They don’t look as stiff next to flowing grasses or spilling ivy.”

Shop the perennials sale.

Perennials like heucheras and grasses have a place in planters.
Above: Perennials like heucheras and grasses have a place in planters.

Most nurseries have their perennials discounted right now, which Nock says you might take advantage of. In addition to perennial grasses, Nock looks for heuchera (“I love them all!” she enthuses) and carex, which she uses as a flowing, softening element in her designs. When you take apart your fall planters, you can plant these in the ground (even if it’s a little crunchy) and use them in the garden, or keep them in the containers for another arrangement.

Upcycle your pumpkins.

Reuse your Halloween gourds by tucking them into a container arrangement.
Above: Reuse your Halloween gourds by tucking them into a container arrangement.

If you’ve got pumpkins and gourds left over from Halloween, re-home them to your planters (and if you don’t, these are likely to be on sale now). Nock especially likes to seek out interesting varieties and shapes and tuck them into the container among the plants. “They become just another texture in the design,” she says. Steal her trick to get them to sit where you want (and avoid rotting): Prop them up on an empty plastic pot from the nursery, which you can conceal with foliage or preserved moss. 

Get creative when the pickings are slim.

Nurseries are often picked over come November, so “if you are not finding all the plants you want, tuck in Spanish moss or sheet moss for a fun texture,” says Nock, noting that independent nurseries and farm stands are more likely to have plants this time of year. Consider pinecones, lotus pods, and even some dried hydrangeas to fill in any holes. 

Don’t forget to water!

Nock will continue to water her planters until average daytime temperatures are reliably in the 30s.
Above: Nock will continue to water her planters until average daytime temperatures are reliably in the 30s.

“It’s really important to water in the fall,” advises Nock. “Yes, you have the irrigation shut off, but it is essential to keep pots watered going into the cold season. The more hydrated plants are, the more they can endure cold and frost.” Nock doesn’t stop watering until the daytime temperatures are consistently in the 30s, which is also when she brings her terracotta pots indoors.

See also:

For a mobile-first version of this post, check out this content as a web story, or browse all our web stories.

(Visited 8,286 times, 1 visits today)
You need to login or register to view and manage your bookmarks.

Frequently asked questions

What are late fall planters?

Late fall planters refers to the practice of creating and maintaining container gardens specifically for the autumn season.

Why should I have late fall planters?

Late fall planters provide an opportunity to extend the beauty and color of your garden throughout the autumn months, even when other plants might be fading.

What are some tips for creating long-lasting autumn container gardens?

Some tips for creating long-lasting autumn container gardens include selecting plants with vibrant foliage, using cold-hardy plants, incorporating ornamental grasses for texture, and paying attention to proper watering and drainage.

Which plants have vibrant foliage for late fall planters?

Plants with vibrant foliage for late fall planters include ornamental kale, cabbage, heuchera, pansies, sedum, and asters.

What are some cold-hardy plants suitable for late fall planters?

Some cold-hardy plants suitable for late fall planters include evergreen shrubs, wintergreen, ornamental cabbage, and winter pansies.

Why should I incorporate ornamental grasses in my late fall containers?

Incorporating ornamental grasses in late fall containers adds texture, movement, and interest to the overall design.

How often should I water my late fall planters?

Watering requirements for late fall planters vary depending on weather conditions and plant types, but as a general guideline, aim to keep the soil consistently moist without waterlogging it.

Do I need to provide drainage for my late fall planters?

Yes, proper drainage is essential for late fall planters to prevent waterlogging and ensure healthy root growth. Make sure your containers have drainage holes and use a well-draining potting mix.

Have a Question or Comment About This Post?

Join the conversation

v5.0