How-To Ideas

Try These Plants for Unique Fall Containers

container garden

It’s no surprise that one of the most common requests I get in fall is for unique container ideas using plants other than the pansy. Below are ideas of some of my favorite components for fall containers. Combine with pansies for color, or leave out pansies altogether.

Ornamental Peppers – Ornamental peppers are smaller than edible ones, and are usually available in red and purple tones. Until frost, these guys will produce colorful fruit that looks great with foliage annuals and late season flowers.

Croton – Croton boasts bright fall colors in orange, red, and yellow. Despite only lasting until frost, it is worth including because it is so bold while it lasts. After it dies back, replace it with a fern or Lenten Rose for winter.

Heuchera – Heuchera is a perennial foliage plant, but it makes a great container plant alongside annuals. These days there are more heuchera than can be counted, with colors ranging from purple, pink, orange, and yellow, to the traditional green. The leaves are evergreen so it will last all winter in your container.

Annual Rudbeckia – Although these only bloom until frost, they are usually available in fall at garden centers and shouldn’t be missed. ‘Indian Summer’ has bright yellow-orange blooms that look great with reds and beiges in the container garden.

Ornamental Grasses and Sedges – Grasses give a great structure to container gardens. In fall, the blooms tower over the blades of grass, providing height. Even as they fade to beige for the winter, their silhouettes will continue to provide an interesting dimension to your container. Some sedges, like carex, are shorter and will remain evergreen, draping over your container’s edge for a “spiller” effect.

Dried Botanicals – For a unique touch, add dried botanical stems to your arrangements. Try lotus seed pods or other dried seed heads, available at some garden centers or florists. Tall stems of curly willow also add a cool dimension that will make you the envy of your neighbors.

Berry-laden Stems – Try using cut stems of berry-producing shrubs as a “thriller” for your container. If you don’t have anything to cut, florists have many options. Euonymus, winterberry, and pyracantha (if you don’t mind thorns) all have good fall color and abundant fruit.

Pumpkins and Gourds – Not just for setting on your steps, pumpkins and gourds can be placed in a container garden for a special autumn touch. With so many varieties and colors of small gourds available, your imagination is the limit.

Ornamental Cabbages and Kale – Most garden centers have a good selection of ornamental cabbages and kale. Let pansies or ferns drape over their bright colors, or use tall purple kale as a thriller.

Nandina – Nandina might be a standard shrub for the foundation, but some of the dwarf cultivars are excellent container garden choices. Try ‘Flirt’ for pink and burgundy tones, or ‘Gulfstream’ for orange.

Loropetalum – This is another standard foundation shrub made new by inserting it in the container garden. Dwarf varieties like ‘Crimson Fire’ work best, and drape over the edge as a spiller. The dark burgundy color works great with bright yellow-orange rudbeckias and ornamental grasses.

Ferns – Ferns are a good filler to just about anything. They’re versatile and many of them are evergreen, giving structure all winter. Combine with a pumpkin, some mums, and a tall ornamental grass and you have the autumn look.

Featured image by Proven Winners.

Val Engel is a landscape designer in Raleigh and can be reached at

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