This story was originally published in the Chicago Tribune online Brand Publishing "From House to Home" section, and on Menards.com.
Fall container gardening is a colorful way to extend the growing season on your deck or patio, and there are many ways to make it work.
Container gardening – the trend of growing plants, flowers and vegetables in decorative pots – is a popular way to garden for many reasons, says Eric Liskey, the garden editor at Better Homes & Gardens. "It's easy for people. They don't have to commit to a giant project or ongoing work. It's also a way for people who don't have much outdoor space to exercise their green thumb."
Fall is a great time to start a container garden because planters and garden equipment are on sale. There is a huge variety of planters available today, made from many different materials including wood, ceramic, concrete, terra-cotta, plastic, resin, metal and more. Many lightweight planters are made to mimic the appearance of more expensive, heavier materials and fool the eye.
Choose the Best Planters for Your Space
Consider how much sun, rain and wind they will get. Think about whether you want to move your planters around over time. Size and weight are the first considerations. If you want to move them around, buy one of those small dollies with casters made specifically for planters. Or stick to lightweight plastic or resin planters, or buy multiple smaller containers.
Next, look at what the planters are made of. Porous materials such as clay or terra-cotta lose water faster than nonporous material like plastic. They will require more watering. They will also need to be emptied, turned upside-down and covered or brought inside during the winter, or they may freeze and crack. This goes for glazed ceramic pots that are not glazed on the inside.
Smaller pots and metal pots tend to heat up quickly if they get a lot of sun. This may cause the soil to dry out and plant roots to rot. Hanging planters will dry out more quickly due to wind exposure.
Drainage is critical for successful container gardening, particularly in plastic or resin pots that do not breathe. Look for drainage holes in the bottom. If there are none and you can't drill them, keep the plant in the pot it came in inside the decorative planter. Put some stones on the bottom first, so excess water can drain out of the original pot into the bottom of the planter.
Keep in mind that container soil does need refreshing over time.
"After a couple of years there is nothing left of that soil structure," says Richard Hentschel, an educator at the University of Illinois Extension. "The structure has changed and the nutrients are gone, so it needs to be replaced. Spread it in the yard and start over with new growing media from the store."
Deciding what to put in your fall container garden is the fun part. In the Midwest, Liskey recommends ornamental cabbage, kale, pansies, fall mums, coral bells, dusty miller, licorice plant and colorful foliage plants.
"All of these are cold-hardy from September through November unless there is an early arctic blast," he says. "You can get almost a full three months out of them."
"Even edibles like chard, lettuce, and edible kale take quite a bit of cold, such as a light frost," he adds. "A potted salad garden would make a very nice container."
Fall perennials sold in garden centers such as ornamental grasses, goldenrod, asters, sedges, and sedum can grace a container in the fall, and be planted in the yard before frost, to bloom next year.
For added interest in fall container gardens, Hentschel recommends white birch branches, or red twig dogwood.
Halloween is a great time to trick out your container garden, he says.
"I have seen people paint branches or twigs in orange or glow-in-the-dark colors. You can try to stretch fake cobwebs across the branches for a spooky look. Then replace them with Christmas lights after that."