What should I grow in planters in the fall? Tips to switch up your garden for the new season

Experts give their top tips for changing planters for fall to fill your porch or yard with warm, comforting colors

a container garden in the fall with planters
(Image credit: thejoyofplants.co.uk)

A beautifully executed fall planter conveys a sense of fullness and softness which can echo the end of summer, and add color to even the greyist of days fall has to offer. Curating the perfect autumnal display on your front porch can make a nice botanical display for all the neighborhood to enjoy, and can really lift your spirits as you look ahead to the joys of the upcoming season. 'Planters are a great way to add variety to your outdoor space and there are plenty of plants that will thrive in autumn,' says Richard Chesire of Patch Plants. 

In terms of colors of the flora and fauna, they are commonly warm, with tones of dusty pink, rust and brown. 'Ideally a planter will have contrasting leaf forms, colors, and shapes. This will add drama to your container gardening,' says Krystol O'Rourke, designer of outdoor spaces at Spade and Sparrow.

Whatever look you go for, take your cues from the time of year. 'Inspiration can come from many places including the natural landscape, fall holidays such as Halloween and harvest festivals,' adds Krystol. For the best ideas for elevating your garden planter, read on for the handy hints and tips from the gardening experts.

Oonagh Turner
Oonagh Turner

As content editor for Livingetc, Oonagh specializes in writing about how color is used in modern ways in the home, so she was the natural choice to find out about how to bring color to our outdoor spaces as we enter a new season, too. She spoke to plant experts and landscape designers for this piece to get their top recommendations for plants and flowers for a fall-friendly scheme. 

What should you put in a planter in the fall?

When picking out your plants for your garden planters for fall, you want to make sure they are going to work well for the season ahead, and are hardy enough to withstand a drop in temperature. 

Here, experts suggest what to choose for a beautiful fall planter, and how to combine and style it to improve your home's curb appeal

1. Embrace fall colors

a fall planter with red and purple plants

(Image credit: thejoyofplants.co.uk)

Plants that work well in a fall planter include heuchera, largely evergreen perennials defined by their beautiful purple veiny leaves, as well as bugleweed, another purple pick. Chrysanthemums are very popular this time of year too, for their long stems and the explosion of fabulous color they can bring to your flower garden.

'I love phormium - an exotic-looking plant with sword-like leaves, and pansies,' says Krystol of Spade and Sparrow (opens in new tab).

'Celosia and marigolds are perfect for a fall planter because of their vivid and fiery autumn colors,' adds Jason White, CEO of All About Gardening (opens in new tab). 'Celosias grow up to 18 inches and would make an eye-catching centerpiece. Whereas marigolds can grow up to 3 feet and add soft textures with their huge, pom pom blooms.'

For Thomas Broom Hughes, director of horticulture at Petersham Nurseries (opens in new tab), calluna vulagaris are a good choice, bud blooming heathers that are 'great for providing height at feathery texture to autumn containers.' 

'They will last a long time providing that watering is consistent,' he adds. 

2. Think leaves, as well as flowers

a fall garden with an acer tree

(Image credit: thejoyofplants.co.uk)

In fall, it's as much about the fiery hue of the leaves as it is the flowers, so go for a sprig of something like an oakleaf hydrangea in your planter or window box, or plant a backdrop of Virginia creeper that will go a dazzling shade of cherry red in the fall. 'For the best results, mix and match leafy green plants that enjoy similar living conditions too. Epiphytic plants, like ivy and ferns, will live in harmony with most plants - as they do in the wild - so they'll add a welcome dash of evergreen color to any planter,' says Richard of Patch Plants (opens in new tab)

For a more unusual look, also try planting a range of succulents, like aeoniums and stonecrop, together. 'They're hardy plants that won't need much water, perfect if you're a bit forgetful or don't plan to spend much time outdoors,' Richard says. 

'You can also play with levels by filling a planter with plants of different heights, so try pairing bushy heather with a taller plant,' he adds.

a fall garden with warm color plants

(Image credit: theoyofplants.co.uk)

Twigs might not be the most aesthetically beautiful, but they can give off a real sense of the time of year when used in your planters, and will usher in the upcoming feeling of winter months ahead. You can add gourds, twigs, and seed pods for added interest and texture alongside your choice of flowers. 

'Grasses are a great addition to any autumn planter as they provide great texture,' says Thomas Broom Hughes, 'Evergreen varieties such as Carex are useful as they will last throughout the autumn/winter months. Stipa tenuissima or Mexican Feather Grass provides an ethereal look and black Ophiopogon planiscapsus Nigrescens provide glossy low growing leaves for small containers.'

3. Embrace a harvest-inspired look 

Fall window box using ornamental cabbage

(Image credit: Steph Green)

Another association with this time of the year is the bounty of fruits and vegetables that have had the whole summer to plump and ripen. Come fall, your vegetable patch is ripe for the picking. Think about the types of fruit and vegetables that are synonymous with this season - squashes, pumpkins, sage, and see how you can introduce that to your vegetable container garden.

'We'd also recommend edible vegetables like kale and lettuce in your planters,' says Gail Pabst of the National Garden Bureau (opens in new tab). 'You can pick them directly from your container and add edible flowers too, like pansies.'

For Jason, adding a hot pepper plant to a planter display adds a bit of fire. 'They are great low-lying leafy filler plants, providing leafy foliage to act as a backdrop for your bright centerpiece flowers. The occasional bright red pepper pops out to provide contrast,' he says.  

'If you are wishing to enhance the decoration for an occasion, you can add berry bejeweled branches of Crab Apple, Hawthorn and Rosehips,' adds Thomas Broom Hughes.

4. Add lighting as the night's draw in

Autumnal planters with a candle

(Image credit: Spade and Sparrow)

Finally, to complete the look, think about lighting your fall planter, illuminating your display come evening time when the light begins to fade. Twinkly string lights can be threaded through the plants, or candles in pretty lanterns that guard the light against the elements. Match your lanterns in an array of different sizes and materials, grouping them in three and dot them around your display to add to your modern garden lighting scheme. 

How do I care for a fall planter?

There are different conditions to be aware of when planting for fall. 'Making a beautiful, seasonal display involves a few fail-safe steps, like ensuring your planter has adequate drainage,' says Izzy Milburn of Flowerbx (opens in new tab).  'Be that holes in the base, stones, or sand - and that you have an adequate mix of peat-free compost, and enough space for your chosen plants or flowers to thrive.'

You want to keep watering your container gardens, but don't fertilize them, and look at when the frost is due for your area and plan accordingly - you don't want to encourage new growth as they won't survive the colder temperatures. 

'Whilst your main focal point will be the plants, consider planting spring flowering bulbs underneath the soil (Tulips, Narcissus, and many other bulbs) if you wish to continue the flowering period for many months,' adds Thomas Broom Hughes.

How to pick a fall planter

When choosing your planter, the material is important too, and can help give off that fall vibe to your garden. 'Terracotta has a fabulous autumnal color and does a great job of absorbing excess moisture, so your plants are less likely to become water-logged over winter,' points out Richard of Patch Plants. 'Natural materials like stone look fantastic and are heavy enough to survive any blustery autumn winds.'

'Always choose something hardwearing, and that will age beautifully in temperamental conditions. My favorites include galvanized metal,' says Izzy of Flowerbx. 

Containers that are made of a specific material that will withstand freezing and thawing, like metal, thick plastic and stone are good for keeping your plants alive during frost. Use pot feet to elevate your containers so they won't freeze to the ground.