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Friday, October 16, 2015
Posted By: Rebecca van der Zalm in Container Gardening

By October, your colourful spring and summer patio planters or hanging baskets are probably looking a wee bit shabby, if not down-right dead. If that’s your situation, don’t worry, we have the solution for you – the Fall Container Make Over! In this blog post, we'll introduce you to the world of fall containers and how to design and plant them. We'll also identify some of the best plants to use.

Fall Containers are actually easier to plant and maintain than the Spring and Summer varieties. We know we are living on borrowed time because of impending frosts. That time limit influences our selection of plants and forces all plantings to be temporary.

Fall Containers and Planters

Short Term Focus

Fall containers don’t rely as heavily on blooming annuals and therefore won’t focus as much on fleeting flowers. Instead they utilize long lasting, colourful foliage, attractive berries and other design elements to help them look good as long as possible. Since we know that the time span is shorter, it allows to get past the “what’s best for the plant” mentality and move into the different mindset of “what’s going to look good right now”.

Fall containers and baskets fall into 2 categories, mono-plantings and the traditional thriller-filler-spiller model.

Mono Planters

Mono-Plantings

Mono-plantings typically use the same colour, or the same plant to fill the container. For instance, you could have an all-white planter, or fill the planter with one type of plant. Consider a planter that utilizes white heather, white cyclamen and ornamental cabbage and kale with white tones in a single planter. Alternately, you could fill a planter with just Heuchera, Pansies or Sedums.

Thrillers, Fillers and Spillers

Thrillers, Fillers & Spillers

For fall, the traditional thriller, filler and spiller planters are packed tight with plants to make them look good right away. For those of you who aren’t familiar with this style of planter, lets quickly define these terms:

Thrillers

Plants For Use as Thrillers

The tall centerpiece or focal point of the planter. The thriller can be either centre planted or positioned at the back of the planting because of its height and stature. The thriller is the element of the planter that grabs the most attention and captures the eye. While plants are great thrillers, you could also use inanimate objects like birch branches, contorted willow stems, lanterns or other types of fall garden accents.

Fillers

Plants For Use as Fillers

Filler – the fillers are the mid-sized plants that complement the thriller. They are typically ½ to 1/3 the height or the attention grabbing ability of the thriller. Most fall planters will use several fillers strategically positioned near or around the thriller. At this time of year, small pumpkins and gourds also make great fillers.

Spillers

Plants For Use as Spillers

The spillers are the plants that hang or droop off the sides of the planter. In the fall they are typically grasses, ivies, ground covers and similar plants that have some resistance to winter cold. They are usually smaller and several will be planted in a typical container.

10 Design Tips for Fall Planters

Fall planters are supposed to be temporary, you don’t need to worry as much about longevity or plant health. When a fall planter starts to look shabby, simply discard the spent elements or re-plant them in your garden. When creating your fall planters, here are 7 more design tips to think about:

Black Planter

1. Pick a Pot First

Planter choice is important and should be made first. Everything from the type, the colour, the size, and the width of planting area is important. Try to match the scale of the pot to the size of your plants. Make the colour complimentary to the type of plants you are going to choose. When choosing a pot, quality is critical - if you intend to keep the pot for more than one season. There is a reason there are “cheap” pots and “expensive” pots.

Pot Feet

2. Drainage Is Important

Given our typical fall and winter weather, good drainage is an essential component of fall planters. Fill the bottom one third of your planter with gravel, packing materials, broken pottery or anything else that creates air pockets and allows the water to drain. Separate this layer with landscape fabric to avoid contaminating or compacting it with soil. Lift the planter off your deck or patio with pot feet to ensure the drainage hole doesn't get plugged up.

Promix Potting Soil

3. Soil Choice Matters

Don’t use a garden soil in your planters. These soils tend to be heavy and will compact in a planter. As we already mentioned, drainage is critical. Plants need as much oxygen near their roots as water. If you insist on using a garden soil, at least amend it with perlite to create air pockets and improve porosity. Preferably, use a potting soil like ProMix or Miracle Gro. These products are already mixed with perlite and are specifically formulated to be lighter for planters, containers and baskets.

4. Simplicity Works

The KISS principle ... (Keep It Simple Stu@^@#) ... works. The best fall planters are simple. They only have a few types of plants and they avoid having "one of everything" in the container. If you like a plant, use it a couple of times in your planter as opposed to picking more types of plants. Enough said.

5. Odd Numbers Are Good

In design, odd numbers like 1, 3 and 5 always look good. For example, you may choose to plant 1 thriller, 3 fillers and 5 spillers in your planter. While this obviously depends upon the size of the planter, you get the general idea.

Plant Colour Palettes - Hot Colours and Cool Colours

6. Pick A Colour Palette and Stick To It

Spring and summer planters tend to use the hot colours. In other words, the yellows, the oranges and the reds. These are called stop colours because the eye naturally focusses and comes to rest on them. They grab attention and scream look at me! This is also the reason why fire trucks tend to be red and people in red cars tend to get more speeding tickets – they are simply more visible to the eye. Now you know!

The cool colours tend to be more dominant in the fall. These are the greens, pinks, purples and blues to name a few. They move away from the eye and perceived to be more peaceful, relaxing and calming. They work well with the neutral colours like white, black or grey.

Neutral colours (the grays, the whites and blacks) are the perfect compliments for both hot and cool colour palettes. Use them for affect and as contrasting elements in your planters. You can also choose to create mono plantings. All white and all black planters are in style (especially for Halloween)

If you choose a colour palette, stay in that palette. In other words, a cool colour planter should not have yellows oranges and reds as they will clash. It’s ok to mix a palette and neutrals, but don’t mix the two palettes. An easy way to tackle this is to pick a theme. For example, a Halloween planter may have lots of oranges and yellows complimented by black. Remember to include the pot colour in your design. A pink pot with a halloween colour theme would look ridiculous wouldn't it?

Lanterns

7. Lighten It Up

As the sun sets earlier and earlier in the fall, it is important to choose brighter colours and even accent lighting. Add a few solar or led lights to your planters for added effect! Lanterns or even faux-candles can also be used. This is a great look for winter. For obvious reasons, just be careful if you are mixing anything electrical with water, or anything burning near foliage!

Hand With Bulbs

8. Think About Spring

While we have already stated that fall planters are fleeting, there is no reason why they can’t be designed to give additional interest. For example, you could fill the planter with daffodils and tulips to come up after all the top growth has either died-off, has been cut back or re-planted after winter. Simply plant the bulbs and then add your other materials on top. The bulbs will come through the top growth when the time is right.

10. Relax and Have Fun!

As we have already said, fall planters are temporary works of art. There are no right or wrong answers or bad designs, as long as you like it! Experiment, try new plants and have fun with it!

For More Information:

For more information and a great read, check out this e-book created by our own Shelley Levis.

One Planter - Four Seasons e-Book

If you want to spruce up your planters this fall. Drop by and pick out some great materials at Art’s. We’d be happy to help you make a few design choices or recommend the best plants. Or, if you prefer, we can even plant them up for you. Each fall planter is unique and is based on your design choices and budget. Get yours growing today!


Thursday, October 24, 2013
Posted By: Rebecca van der Zalm in Container Gardening

When the fog hides the sky and the winter chills set in, odds are that your planters are starting to look a ‘wee bit’ tired. While most of us decide to casually look the other way, there is really no good reason for avoiding giving them a seasonal refresh.

There are lots of different plants you can use for fall and winter planters. Many of them are either shrubby or perennial, meaning that the investment won’t be wasted. When spring comes, you can yank the plants out and use them in different spots. Or, choose to keep them in containers and add some extra spring interest.

Winter Blooming Plants

Colour in winter planters usually comes from foliage, bark and berries as opposed to flowers. This is not to say there aren’t winter bloomers. Hellebores, Pansies, Witchhazels, SweetBox and Camellias are all lovely winter flowering plants. It’s just that flower colour in winter is fleeting. It’s best to use flowers as the accent while relying on foliage, texture and colourful berries to do the heavy lifting through the cool season.

Before we move on, it’s important to change our perception about winter gardening. It’s not about longevity. It’s about creating a piece of living art that you can enjoy until spring. It’s ok to put the wrong plant in the wrong place. If it stretches for light – we can prune it in spring. If it dies, it dies … it’s ok. Get over it. In winter, there are no rules, you can do anything you want in the container – and have fun doing it.

Most planters follow the formula of thriller, fillers and spillers. That is, there is one dominant center piece in the container that just screams “look at me – I am the most important!”.

Surrounding it are its minions, the fillers. Tidy nice little accent plants that all look up to the thriller. Finally, the spillers cascade over the sides of the pot - softening its appearance.

4 Evergreen thrillers for containers

In the winter, thrillers tend to be evergreens or deciduous shrubs with winter interest. Yews, Alberta Spruces, Topiary Boxwoods as well as Hollies, Camellias and Heavenly Bamboos are all great choices as evergreens.

3 Deciduous Thrillers for containers

Interesting leafless thrillers include Harry Lauders Walking Sticks, Coral Bark Japanese Maples, and Witchhazels.

You can also use a few old favourites like Ornamental cabbages and Kale. The thriller does not have to be living. In Whistler, you often see pieces of birch and deciduous holly stems jammed into containers in an upright fashion. Or you could use a lantern or gazing ball. Anything that grabs the attention of the passer-by is fair game.

Have fun with the fillers. There are lots of interesting choices including:

3 cool season grasses for containers

Cool season ornamental grasses like Carex ‘Evergold’, Black Mondo Grass and Acorus ‘Ogon’ are fantastic fillers.

Buds of skimmia japonica

Smaller evergreens like the fragrant winter blooming Sarcococca, the colourful Skimmia or Goshiki Osmanthus or False Holly are great options too.

3 Great conifers for containers

Conifers too are comfortable in pots. Two of my personal favourites are Carsten’s Winter Gold or Mugo SlowMound Pine. A nice up and comer is ‘GoldStrike’ Cedar. Green throughout the season, it turns a brilliant golden yellow in winter and spring.

Wintergreen - Gaultheria procumbens

 

Don’t forget about berries. They provide a lot of nice colour in winter. Four great choices include: Gaultheria procumbens or ‘Wintergreen’, Lingonberry, Vaccinium vitis-ideae, Pernettya and Pyracantha.

cyclamen flowers

If you absolutely must have flowers in winter, then Hellebores, cyclamens and pansies are your solution.

For bonus points, fill your containers with lots of little bulbs like snowdrops, crocus or grape hyacinths before putting in the rest of the plants. In spring ,these bulbs will start to flower and fill your container with colour until it’s time to visit us again :) 

 

Finally, we come to the spillers. In the winter, there are a few options. Euonymous, or Winter Creeper, Evergreen Ivy or a trailing grass are probably your best options.

It’s possible that container designer experts may freak out if you don’t follow the rules by having your thriller, the fillers and the spillers, but that’s ok.

I believe that winter planters can be simple too. Put one gorgeous plant in one pot. If you want more colour or combinations, then just plant up more containers. I love front door arrangements made up of large, medium and small sized pots. Yes, designing in threes always works. Three on either side of the front door is even better! With that said, simplicity is the key. Allow each plant can stand on its own rather than being crammed in with others. They’ll also be healthier next season too!

bud blooming heathers

 

A word about colour. I love mono-colour planters in the winter. Try making up a planter that is dominant in one colour, say white, or perhaps pink, or even different shades of green. The results can be striking.

When it comes to winter care, remember that plants in containers need water in winter too. They just need less. There is no substitute for getting your hand into the dirt. If it’s dry and crumbly, the plants need water. If it’s wet and gooey, they are fine – but make sure the water is actually draining out of the pot. Too much water is just as deadly as too little.

If all of this sounds daunting, remember that Art’s Nursery can help you design winter planters and even plant them up for you. Just give us a sense of your style, the sizes required and your budget. We’ll work up something beautiful for your fall and winter entertaining.

If you have any questions about fall and winter containers, please feel free to give us a call at 604.882.1201 or visit us in person at Art’s Nursery.


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Art's Nursery is a 10+ acre retail and wholesale garden centre located in Surrey, a suburb of Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. We've been in business at this same location since 1973 and we're proud to serve you today!

We carry an incredible selection of plants, shrubs, trees, annuals, perennials, vines, groundcovers, roses and much more. Soils, bulk materials, pottery and a variety of garden accents are also available.

Our plant selection is so large that you can actually drive a golf cart while you shop!

We pride ourselves on providing high quality plant, expert advice and an exceptional gardening experience.

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