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.
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-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 & 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:
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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?
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!
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.
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!