Displaying tasteful, seasonal flower arrangements by an entranceway is a simple and effective way to welcome guests to your home and instantly boosts curb appeal — not to mention what it reflects about the homeowner. Creating the arrangement yourself allows you to experiment with new plant and colour combinations, but on a smaller scale and without the budgetary commitment that landscape planting necessitates.

So now that Halloween is drawing near, if your outdoor space is looking a little, well… frightening, why not free the yellowing annuals from their summer planters and refresh them with a personalized creation that celebrates fall? Even apartment-dwellers with only balconies can take part in this kind of gardening activity. Following is a fall-container primer for anyone willing to get their thumbs dirty while keeping their knees clean:

Container essentials

Containers need not be overly expensive, but should be chosen wisely with consideration to size, style and material. Large containers (50 centimetres in diameter) have visual impact and, because they hold more soil, provide a good amount of insulation to plant roots during extremes in temperatures. So bigger is better if your space allows it.

Choose a container you love that suits your home’s style and remember that even the simplest looking containers can make the boldest design statements when paired with the right plants. Your container should also be frost-resistant and have drainage holes where water can escape so plants don’t rot. End-of-season bargains are easy to find at this time of year, so peruse garden centres for sales.

Soil

Choose lightweight, quality potting soil specifically made for container plants and re-use most of the potting soil leftover from the previous seasons’ arrange ments, topping it up with some fresh soil when necessary.

Fall vs. summer containers

Since temperatures are cooling off in autumn and plant growth is minimal, container plants won’t require fertilizer or much watering like plants growing in summer containers. In fact, once assembled, fall containers are virtually maintenance-free.

Plant placement

As with any container, give some thought to plant placement before you begin. Start with one tall, central plant (the “thriller”) which should not be more than 1 1/2 times the height of the pot, add shorter, bushier “fillers”, and one or two “spiller” plants that will cascade over the edges of the container to give it a fuller look. Following these guidelines ensures a proportional design. Go ahead and pack in as many plants as you can.

Fall container plant choices

Now for the best part: You’ll need to select cold- or even frost-hardy plants that offer more than just flowers, a less common feature in fall due to diminishing daylight hours. Ornamental flowering kales such as Emperor Rose bring ordinary pots to life, capturing attention with blue-green, deeply ruffled leaves and a stunning fuchsia-tinted centre that intensifies with colder weather. Hardy perennials such as heucheras are especially suitable as fillers for fall containers with mounding foliage available in plentiful shades of burgundy, chartreuse and gold. Heucherellas, ivies, and cascading sedums each make excellent “spiller” plants.

Ornamental grasses’ upright growth habit makes them ideal specimens for anchoring a container design. Their wispy foliage also contrasts nicely with bold leaves and their feathery plumes add movement as they elegantly sway in the breeze.

Mums, with their vibrant colours, are understandably the go-to plant of the season, but why settle for the traditional? There are abundant fall container plant options so seek them out and mix them up a little.

Edibles and annuals

You can even tuck a few cold-tolerant edibles such as pansies, thyme, parsley, chives, lettuces, or chard into your design. Or, for a burst of hot colour, spice up your container with red and yellow ornamental peppers.

Accessorize

Fall decor is not limited to just plants either. You can also accessorize in or around your containers with gourds, miniature pumpkins, and unusual branches to add a whimsical touch to your design.

Colour combinations

You can stay with traditional autumn colours of warm golds and crimsons or try cooler-coloured blends. Place potential plant choices beside each other in their pots and if you like the effect, go with it. If your selections appeal to you at the garden centre, you should like the way they look in your container. Have fun with it, and if you are feeling overwhelmed, call in a gardening coach to guide you through.

Updating your containers with seasonal plants that are in sync with Mother Nature can freshen the look of outdoor spaces while also distracting from any lacklustre plants lingering in your landscape as they prepare for winter dormancy. With practice, it will be a seasonal routine you will look forward to.

Elaine Sanders can be reached at www.solutionsjardins.com

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