Once September rolls around your patio pots and hanging baskets might be looking a little tired or you might be tired of looking at them. It’s time to renovate your pots and welcome Fall to your home and garden.
Some plants in your pots might look healthy and be suitable for the cool Autumn temperatures. Plants to consider leaving in your containers: annual grasses, bacopa, nemesia, alyssum, dusty miller, ivy, dianthus, verbena, or any plant that looks Fall-like in its colouring and looks healthy. Plants to remove, either due to a too-summery look or to their inability to handle cool temperatures: potato vine, geraniums, sun-impatiens, begonias, marigolds (one of the first plants to be taken by even a light frost) and tropical plants.
Whether you remove one plant or all of them, you will need to freshen the soil before choosing from the abundance of Fall Fill-in Plants: mums, ornamental kale and cabbage, fountain grasses, millet, pansies, asters, ornamental peppers, swiss chard and ivy. Perennials can even be added in: sedum, coral bells, rudbeckia, perennial grass, balloon-flowers, lysimachia and ajuga. To use perennials, either remove a healthy section from an existing plant in your garden (warning, there will be wilt and transplant shock) or purchase a new perennial, add it to your design and then be sure to remove it from the pot and plant in the ground just after Thanksgiving. Perennials cannot over winter when left in pots in our zone; they must be in the ground.
Fun, decorative accents can make your new Fall Arrangement unique. Add in a scarecrow, pumpkin accent or a witches broom. Colourful ornamental corn or gourds can be set beside your pots – even a straw bale! Saying good bye to Summer is hard to do, but when you have fresh Fall planters to look forward to, it lessens the blow!
It’s time to move on to the next season for your decorative outdoor pots. If you missed the briefly warm mid-March window of opportunity to remove your evergreen boughs, you will need to either cut the boughs to the frozen soil level and remove the cut stems under the soil at a later date or pour boiling water to ease the stems out of the soil. If possible, moving the containers into a garage (near an interior wall where it is warmer) or into the house will speed up the thawing process.
If you can thaw the soil, the only décor you can safely add in early April is a collection of twigs and sticks. Consider using curly willow, the red dogwood and/or birch from your winter arrangements and fluffy, Spring-like pussy willows. The soil top can be covered with fresh looking woodland moss. A good garden centre will be stocked in all this product. This can be very effective and the only option during the inconsistent early April temperatures.
Once the deep freeze has passed and night time temps flutter around zero or minus one, the moss can be parted and pre sprouted bulbs can be added to the base of the sticks. Favourites include tulips, hyacinths and daffodils. When it looks like the night time temps will be above zero, cold tolerant annuals such as pansies, primula, campanula, English daisies, ranunculus, dusty miller, and alyssum can all be added to the planters.
If a random freezing night occurs and you are unable to bring in the planter, it can be saved by placing a light bed sheet over the arrangement and letting it return to a normal temperature the next morning without exposing it to sunlight (until it has thawed) and without touching the leaves.
Weather-wise, we don’t know what we’ll get until we get it. That said, we can take steps to be prepared for the extremes. I am sure very few people wish a repeat of the weather and stresses of the Summer of 2016 – it was too dry, too hot and too extreme.
In the seven weeks plus of heat and dryness we experienced this past July and August many of our plants suffered. Plants, especially in small pots and containers, dried out several times per day and, when water restrictions came into effect, it was not possible to water them that often, even if you had the time and energy to do so.
For the future, it is practical to consider replacing small pots (less than 14” in diameter) with larger, deeper pots. BIG pots hold a lot of soil and soil holds water. It’s quite simple: large pots dry out less frequently than small pots. Plants that do not experience the extreme stress/de-stress/stress/de-stress patterns remain lush, in bloom and healthy.
Therefore, instead of three or five small pots scattered on the stairs to your front door, consider one or two large pots (18”+) at the base of the stairs. A visitor’s eye will be instantly drawn to it and it’s largesse will allow for spectacular and welcoming plant arrangements, with minimal care.
In large pots consider planting large plants such as canna lilies, elephant ears, ornamental grasses, ferns or palm plants and even dragon wing begonias, tomato plants and herbs. Large plants fill a large pot and give a lush effect for less money than one expects.
When possible, consider replacing hanging baskets with 16” + patio pots or 30” + window boxes. Plants that are “grounded” will dry out 50% less as they will not be moving around in Mother Nature’s “oven”.
Many large sized patio pots have two layers of composite material and a layer of air buffers between the two. This insulating pocket of air helps to keep the roots cool in the summer and insulated in the winter, preventing some large pots from splitting and breaking if left out 365 days. We call these double walled pots and they are excellent investments, often lasting 15 years or more without fading and cracking.
A large pot can be expensive to fill with proper Container Soil. Remembering that soil holds moisture, find a balance between using “filler” in pots and topping up with soil. If the environment is windy, add bricks or rocks to the bottom of the pot. This is also a good technique to keep pots heavy to prevent theft in a commercial or business setting. If the need to move the pots easily is priority, then use unused nursery pots flipped into the bottom of the pot or pieces of large Styrofoam. At least 50% of the large pot should be soil to make the moisture retentive soil work in your favour.