Beyond Garden Mums

The waning, sultry days of summer, and the crisp, cool nights of autumn are a boon for container gardeners.

No longer considered the end of the gardening season, autumn is an opportunity to retire the soft pinks and baby blues of summer, and to introduce fresh, bold, container plantings beyond the traditional mum.

“Designing with plants in addition to mums extends the gardening season from the first of September to the first of November,” says Linda Zukas, container designer for Churchill’s in Exeter, N.H.

While mums typically bloom for two to three weeks, she notes, “adding complementary plants to containers is a great way to expand the palette of color choices beyond the immediate impact you get from a mum.”

Caring for autumn containers is a welcome respite for gardeners accustomed to daily watering in the heat of summer. Autumn container plants generally need less water, as cool days tend to hold moisture in the soil.

Feeding fall plants with a synthetic or organic fertilizer, and deadheading spent flower heads, may also extend bloom time well into the season. Many plants traditionally considered summer-lovers make terrific fall companion plants. Take the ever-popular annual, Calibrachoa(Superbells™ or Million bells), for example.

A summer favorite, Calibrachoa can withstand temperatures to 30 degrees, and the ‘Saffron,’ ‘Terracotta,’ and ‘Dreamsicle’ varieties complement autumn hues naturally. WRITTEN BY LYNN FELICI-GALLANT PHOTOGRAPHS AND RECIPES PROVIDED BY PROVEN WINNERS® seasonal influence| the gardening life Creating a Fresh, New Vision for Fall Containers BROADWAY MELODY HARVEST September/October 2008 91 Nature gives to every season a beauty of its own.. —Charles Dickens Cabin Fever: Place one dwarf purple fountain grass in the back of a planter, add two Begonia, ‘Sinbad,’ and two green sedge to the center, and finish with cascading ‘Black Heart’ sweet potato vine. Cottage Grove: Calibrachoa‘Red’ and ‘Dreamsicle’ paired with Carex‘Toffee Twist’ are scrumptious. Position two Carex in the center and surround by alternating Calibrachoa‘Red’ and Calibrachoa ‘Dreamsicle.’ BANANA SPLIT AUTUMN SPLENDOR Jolly Bee Beauty: Alternate two sky-blue hardy Geranium‘Jolly Bee’ with two ‘Bluebird’ Nemesiain a circle around a container.

This combination can be easily adapted to a hanging basket. September/October 2008 93 Bold & Determined: Black and gold tones dominate this container featuring two Sedum‘Angelina’ at the front, two golden variegated sweet flag at the back, two Ajuga‘Mahogany’ to the right, and two ‘Black Heart’ sweet potato vine on the left. Forever Amber: Leather leaf sedge stands tall in the center of a container flanked by three ‘Sky Fire’ Coleusand three ‘Sundaze Bronze’ strawflower tucked in between. Complete with three cascading ‘Glacier’ ivy at the edge of the planter. Arts & Crafts: Foliage and flora comingle perfectly with one golden sweet flag to the right, two Marguerite daisies left and center, and two Ajuga‘Caitlin’s Giant,’ three Lysimachia ‘Goldilocks,’ and two Lysimachia ‘Super Snow’ alternating around the container. The cool fall days reinvigorate other annuals typically relegated to spring, such as Pansies, Osteospermum(Cape Daisy), Argyranthemum(Marguerite Daisy), Diascia, and Nemesia. Some growers have taken the guesswork out of finding fall plants. Proven Winners®, a national grower of annuals, perennials, and shrubs, has perhaps revolutionized the concept of autumn container planting more than any other grower with its Fall Magic® brand of plants.

The Fall Magic line includes cool-tolerant annuals, perennials, and herbs sold in small pots perfect for window boxes and containers. “Fall Magic offers a tremendous selection of plants with texture and foliage that create wonderful combinations for window boxes and containers, and in the garden, as well,” says Linda, who designs containers for customers using Fall Magic plants. Jan Richenburg, owner of Pettengill Farm in Salisbury, Mass., grows her own fall container fare.

“We grow unique plant material at our farm,”

says Jan, whose offerings include some of the same plants grown with the Fall Magic moniker.

“We try to stay away from mums and kale in containers altogether because there are so many alternatives. It’s a matter of educating the public about the options.”

According to Richenburg, Dahlias, Alternanthera, ornamental peppers, Eucalyptus, Carex(Sedge grass), and even a variety of Beautybush are just a few plants that enhance autumn containers. “I’ve found that Dahliasare at their peak in the fall,” says Jan. “’Bishop of Llandoff,’ with its burgundy foliage and bright red flower, for example, is magnificent in a fall container, and a perfect match for the colors of the season.” Richenburg encourages customers to think outside the mum box, noting that using perennials and shrubs in containers has a unique advantage; either may be planted in the garden at the end of the season.


Design Your Own As with every seasonal planting, there are certain principles to follow for even the most creative autumn planter:

•Select a container that reflects the architecture of your home, and is the appropriate size for the plants you want to use.

•Gently remove tired summer annuals, and, if not diseased, toss them in your compost pile.

•Empty old soil from the top third of the container, and replace it with a good soilless potting mix.  Garden soil and soil with compost in it are generally too heavy for most container plants; the roots may rot from too much moisture in such a constricted environment.

•Keep the design simple.  Try to use only three to five plant types, and consider dark-leafed foliage and plants with texture to break up the monotony of too many flowers.

•Choose appropriate plants for your climate, keeping in mind you may have to cover plants (including mums) if there is a hard frost.

•Position a tall plant such as an ornamental grass, shrub, or daisy in the center of the container.

•Add a mounding or medium-height plant such as a mum, Aster, Huechera, or Salvia (sage) to the middle of the container.

•Finish the container with a trailing or cascading plant along the edge (Superbells, Leadwort, or Creeping wire vine, for example).

Beyond Garden Mums