Container Rehab

Get more drama out of late-season pots with easy swaps and edits

Fine Gardening - Issue 147

As fall sets in, most garden containers look more decrepit than decorative: There’s browning, bolting, or just too much competition for space. Our pots need some rehabilitation to look good for autumn, which can be an easy, quick, and affordable task if done correctly. The key is to work with the best of what’s left from spring and summer and to add just a few plants that will make an impact. To edit and polish this trio of containers, we used just 10 new plants in three smart ways.

A lack of flowers shouldn’t bring a pot down

Photo/Illustration: Stephanie Fagan
Photo/Illustration: Stephanie Fagan

We removed:
1. Impatiens (Impatiens cvs., annual)
This pot suffered because two haggard impatiens were tired of blooming. Were that first fall frost to strike, they’d be zapped.

We kept:
2. ‘Girard’s Rose’ azalea (Rhododendron ‘Girard’s Rose’, USDA Hardiness Zones 5–9)
3. Golden creeping Jenny (Lysimachia nummularia ‘Aurea’, Zones 4–8)
The azalea and golden creeping Jenny were tidy and the perfect backdrop and spiller for whatever joined the pot.

We added:
4. Ornamental kale (Brassica oleracea cv., annual)
5. Aster (Symphyotrichum cv., Zones 4–8)
6. ‘Anne Marie’ English ivy (Hedera helix ‘Anne Marie’, Zones 5–11)
7. ‘Chocolate’ white snakeroot (Eupatorium rugosum ‘Chocolate’, Zones 4–8)

The aster, ornamental kale, white snakeroot, and English ivy provide many times more color and texture than the impatiens did. Even better is their cold tolerance: Despite plummeting temperatures, these plants will look lush throughout the season.

Small touches make stars out of simple pots

Photo/Illustration: Stephanie Fagan
Photo/Illustration: Stephanie Fagan

We removed:
1. Calibrachoa (Calibrachoa cv., annual)
2. Dahlia (Dahlia cv., Zones 9–11)
The calibrachoa was spent and shriveled up, with no hope of ever looking good again. The dahlia found a home elsewhere.

We kept:
3. Yucca (Yucca filamentosa cv., Zones 4–11)
This pot’s redesign was about making the one remaining plant look a little bit snazzier.

We added:
4. ‘Autumn Joy’ sedum (Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’, Zones 3–11)
5. Marigold (Tagetes cv., annual)
6. ‘Morning Light’ miscanthus (Miscanthus sinensis ‘Morning Light’, Zones 4–9)
7. Weeping brown sedge (Carex flagellifera, Zones 7–9)

The sedum and marigold are rich sources of color in fall, and they play nicely off the brighter yucca as well as the copper tones of the grasses.

Plants to count on in fall

'Nagoya Mix' ornamental cabbage
Photo/Illustration: Michelle Gervais
'Miniruby' chrysanthemum
Photo/Illustration: Michelle Gervais
Sedum sieboldii
Photo/Illustration: Chris Curless
'Whirlwind' anemone
Photo/Illustration: Jennifer Benner

Think of these plants as a container’s summer-hangover cure.

Ornamental kale (Brassica oleracea cvs.)
Zones: Annual
Size: Up to 18 inches tall and wide
Conditions: Full sun; fertile soil
What’s fall without a few ornamental kales, like these ‘Nagoya Mix’ selections? Lifting these beautiful frilly rosettes in a potted arrangement makes it easier to enjoy their textures and color gradations.

Garden mum (Chrysanthemum spp. and cvs.)

Zones: 5 to 9
Size: Up to 3 feet tall and wide
Conditions: Full sun to partial shade; well-drained soil
Mums are the hallmark of fall. The broad range of hues they offer, like that of ‘Minnruby’, fills our beds, borders, and containers with deep color, which is hard to come by at the end of the season.

Sedum (Sedum spp. and cvs.)

Zones: 3 to 11
Size: Up to 2 feet tall and wide
Conditions: Full sun; fertile, well-drained soil
This diverse family of succulents includes many varieties that peak in fall: red-flowered ‘Autumn Joy’, pink-flowered ‘Autumn Charm’, and the handsome blue-foliaged S. sieboldii.

‘Whirlwind’ Japanese anemone (Anemone × hybrida ‘Whirlwind’)

Zones: 4 to 8
Size: Up to 3 feet tall and wide
Conditions: Partial shade but tolerates full sun; moist soil
The height of ‘Whirlwind’ Japanese anemone makes it a perfect container-bound star. White semi-double flowers are made up of a multitude of narrow, somewhat twisted, sepals with flushed green edges. The flowers open in August and continue into October.

Uncover plants that still look good

Photo/Illustration: Stephanie Fagan
Photo/Illustration: Stephanie Fagan

We removed:
1. Bonfire® begonia (Begonia boliviensis ‘Bonfire’, Zones 10–11)
This begonia was simply too large for the pot. In a container, there is no room for space hogs.

We kept:
2. Sedums (Sedum spp. and cvs., Zones 3–11)
With the begonia gone, we uncovered these bright sedums, which are perfect complements to autumnal oranges
and browns.

We added:
3. Garden mum (Chrysanthemum cv., Zones 5–9)
4. Ornamental kale (Brassica oleracea cv., annual)

The fiery mum provides a nice contrast to the sedums and the kale. By using rediscovered plants as a starting point, the redesign of this container was easy.

View Comments


  1. user-7007773 08/17/2015

    these pots look so much better, but you have used perennials. At the end of the season, what is to become of them? Will they make it through the winter an able to be planted next growing season if they are kept in a pot?

  2. User avater
    MarshaRNorton 11/22/2018

    I am seeking for the same info.. Keep sharing good work!

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