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5 Things You Might Not Know about Fall Container Gardening

5 Things You Might Not Know about Fall Container Gardening

By Susan Martin for Proven Winners
Photographs courtesy of Proven Winners

It’s time to switch out your summer flowers for fall, but you’ll want to read these five tips before you do. They will save you time, money and effort! Tip #4 may surprise you the most, especially if you garden in the shade. Before you head to the garden center, scan this list for ideas. 

1. Keep some of the summer flowers in your container recipes.

By September, some summer blooming annuals have seen better days, but others are still going strong and you don’t want to part with them. Those that seem to have a burst of new energy in fall are typically annuals that thrive in cooler conditions like Sunsatia® nemesia or Bright Lights® African daisies.

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The Superbells® Dreamsicle® calibrachoa and Flambe® Yellow strawflowers in this Sunbeam Dream container recipe were still looking great in early fall, so we simply swapped in a new Graceful Grasses® Toffee Twist sedge as a thriller to last us through the fall months.

Others might surprise you. The Superbells® calibrachoa you see in this picture, for example, thrive in both warm and cool temperatures. If they are still blooming like crazy, leave them in your containers and swap in some ornamental peppers and a showy grass for fall. Fall container gardening doesn’t have to mean starting from scratch. Use what you have and supplement with a few fresh new plants for the cooler months. 

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It may seem like there are a lot of plants in this window box, but since the fall growing season is shorter, it’s easier to get the full look you want if you pack them in a little tighter. Pictured: Graceful Grasses® Toffee Twist sedge with Supertunia® Latte™ petunia and Dark Knight™ sweet alyssum. 

2. Pack more into your fall containers than you would for summer.

You’ve had good success with planting just a few flowers per pot in spring and watching them fill out beautifully through the summer months. But plants don’t grow quite the same way in the fall. Cooler temperatures and shorter days will make your plants grow slower, and you don’t have the luxury of many months of grow time before winter arrives. So, pack more plants than you normally would into your fall containers to make them fill out faster. Better to use fewer containers in fall and fill each one fully than to have more, but less showy, ones.

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No further feeding is needed to keep these plants growing through the fall months. It’s OK to skip the plant food in your fall containers unless you live someplace where plants grow year-round. Pictured: Graceful Grasses® purple fountain grass in two side containers and Vertigo® Pennisetum, ColorBlaze® Chocolate Drop coleus and Luscious® Goldengate™ lantana in center pot.

3. Skip the plant food in fall.

This one applies to all of you northern gardeners who have just a month or two to enjoy your fall containers before it’s time to wrap things up for winter. When planting your fall containers, skip the continuous release plant food. It needs more heat than your weather allows to reap the benefits. Chances are good that whatever flowers you’ve purchased for your fall containers came with some plant food already in the pot, and that should be enough to last for the next 4-6 weeks. If you really enjoy fertilizing, use a water-soluble plant food instead as it is absorbed faster by the plants.

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In this east facing, part shade windowbox, we swapped in Graceful Grasses® purple fountain grass as a thriller for the fall months. Though it normally grows best in full sun, it will be beautiful in this space for a couple of months. Its purple coloring pairs beautifully with Hippo® Rose polka dot plant and Lemon Coral® sedum.

4. It’s OK to include some full sun plants in your shade containers in fall.

Shade gardeners rejoice! This is your chance to grow some full sun plants in your shade containers. If you garden where the fall season is relatively short, there’s just enough time left to enjoy sun-loving plants like garden mums, ornamental cabbages and kale, pansies, or annual ornamental grasses. 

When you buy these plants in the fall, they have been growing in a sunny greenhouse for months, accruing plenty of momentum to keep them flowering for a month or two longer in your shade containers. Full sun plants grown for their foliage like Graceful Grasses® purple fountain grass are easy to grow in fall shade containers. Those grown for their flowers like garden mums should be purchased with at least a few of their flowers already starting to open. Their buds will have matured enough in the sun to be able to open when you plant them in the shade.

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If you live in a climate where you don’t usually grow Supertunia® petunias or Sunsatia® nemesia in the summer months, consider growing them in the fall instead. The relatively cooler temperatures will make the plants respond with robust growth. Recipe shown here: Refreshing in a Volcanic on Falling Brown AquaPots® planter.

5. Fall is a good time to try a few plants you normally don’t grow in the summer in the South.

If you garden in a warm climate, you know how non-stop heat takes a toll on plants over time. But fall weather is often more forgiving, with its more frequent rainfall, shorter days and cooler daytime and nighttime temperatures that slow down evaporation. That allows you to grow some plants you wouldn’t normally be able to keep up with watering in the heat.

A few annuals that can handle the cooler weather in your fall container recipes include Supertunia® petunias, Superbells® calibrachoa, Sunsatia® nemesia, Princess and Knight sweet alyssum, Butterfly Argyranthemum and annual fountain grasses.

Tip: When you use AquaPots® self-watering planters, you won’t have to worry about your plants drying out any time of year—the pots do the watering for you! Simply refill the water reservoir once per week and the soil will stay moist even on the hottest days of the year.

Find out more about all of the plants mentioned in this article at

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Patent Information: Superbells® Dreamsicle® Calibrachoa USPPAF CanPBRAF; Flambe® Yellow Chrysocephalumapiculatum USPP19175 Can3280; Supertunia® Latte™ Petunia USPP28069 Can5508; Dark Knight™ Lobularia USPP26931 CanPBRAF; Graceful Grasses® Vertigo® Pennisetum purpureum USPP22254 CanPBRAF; ColorBlaze® Chocolate Drop Solenostemonscutellarioides USPP15371 Can2085; Luscious® Goldengate™ Lantana camara USPPAF CanPBRAF; Hippo® Rose Hypoestesphyllostachya USPP29842 CanPBRAF

Susan Martin is an avid zone 6 gardener, garden writer and speaker who enjoys spreading her passion for plants to her fellow gardeners across North America.

All articles are copyrighted and remain the property of the author.

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