As I watch the red maple leaves fall gently from the trees, I am reminded that all things change. As one season gives way to the next, gardeners yearn to change focus and refresh their gardens with plants that reflect the season and compliment nature’s color palate.

Living in the Southern Appalachian Mountains, we enjoy four distinct seasons and marvel in the natural landscape as it changes. By design, the cultivated gardens at the Arboretum are also changed to compliment — and not complete — with Mother Nature. As I write this, my horticulture colleagues are changing the seasonally planted beds and container gardens with new plants that welcome autumn. Some container gardens will be whisked away entirely and newly grown designs will take their place. Others will be refreshed by removing the summer’s tired annuals and tucking in new fall flowers, vegetables and herbs in their place.

Sunflowers like Helianthus annuus ‘Teddy Bear’ are among the plants added to our seasonal landscapes at the Arboretum this fall.

Planting Your Container Garden

Changing a container garden from a summer design into fall is easy to do. The most successful designs are ones that have at least one perennial plant that can remain in the container and act as an anchor for the new fall additions, though you can get the same effect from all-new plants, too. Some of the best plants for this role are small upright evergreens, deciduous shrubs with colorful stems or clumps of tall grasses with their seed heads in full flower. Once you have identified which plant will remain in place as your anchor, start by cutting off the stems of any annuals that are being replaced, and using a hand trowel, gently remove the root balls from the container. Into the spaces you have created, you can add chrysanthemums, kale or other vegetables, filling in around them with fresh potting soil as needed. Other plants to consider include sunflowers, parsley, mustard, Swiss chard and ornamental peppers, which can generally withstand light frosts that may begin in early October. (In Buncombe County, a hard, killing frost typically occurs during the third week of October.) Hardy pansies can be added into much smaller spaces and will benefit from some fresh media, too! Be sure to place any used soil and plant debris into a compost pile where it can decay and be turned into new soil for next season.

This chartreuse sweet flag provides a grass-like “anchor” for blue, yellow and orange pansies.

Designing & Caring for Fall Containers

To create a festive design, think about color combinations that contrast and lend a new pop of color to your garden. Yellow compliments purple and orange, and reds and purples all blend well together. You might also want to add small pumpkins, gourds or colorful cut branches alongside the plants as an additional accent, and I’m certainly not above spray painting sticks and twigs for this effect! Water the new plants in well until you see water flowing out the bottom of the pot. And to support the weeks of growth and flowering to come, add some fertilizer to your new container garden. You can use fish emulsion or other organic fertilizers — even your own compost tea — but it is important to keep in mind that fall plantings need water and fertilization just like summer plantings. Your newly planted annuals will be glad for the nourishment and will reward you with a beautiful seasonal display.

If you are looking for inspiration, a visit to the Arboretum is a good place to start. This season, we are featuring new varieties of chrysanthemums with exciting names like ‘Tiger Eyes’ and ‘Starpop,’ and a stunning bronze Carex cultivar called ‘Red Rooster’ that will stand out in our signature Quilt Garden, echoing the colors of another beautiful autumn at the Arboretum.

Happy container gardening, and enjoy fall, y’all!