Planting Fall Containers

Our summer gardening season begins to wind down in September. Come Labor Day, change in the air. That change is refreshing and energizing. Towards the end of the month, the watering on the summer containers becomes a full time job. All of the soil in the containers is shot through and thoroughly congested with roots. Those abundant roots can absorb water as fast as it can be supplied. They invariably want more. A gardener has to have a big love for their summer containers to keep them thriving throughout September. By the time that fall sees fit to arrive, this gardener is ready.

Last week and the first of this was remarkable for its blistering and record setting heat. All the more effort was required to keep the summer pots going. Added to that, the care of first plants for the fall kept us really busy. Keeping up with the watering on our first shipments of fall cabbages, kales, pansies, lavender, thyme, lemon cypress and other fall friendly plants was not easy.  It was 92 degrees, the first day we planted a collection of containers for fall. Fortunately for me, my crews are utterly professional and focused. They came to work with coolers filled with bottles of water that had spent the previous night in the freezer. They soaked every plant before it was loaded. They were dressed for the occasion. They sweated it out with aplomb. We had set a date to plant containers for fall for this client, and we honored that commitment. All of the pots had been emptied of the summer plants, and the fall centerpieces constructed the day before.

I have a special affection for pots planted for the fall season. Even when my first taste of fall is hot as blazes. The summer is that time when every gardener has the opportunity to enjoy the work they put in place in the spring. The fall brings all of those efforts to fruition, and then to a close. Fall pots stuffed with the moments and memory of the harvest are enchanting. The colors, textures and shapes are specific to the season. The low in the sky slanting light saturates everything it strikes, producing what we know as “fall color”.

Tall elements for fall containers can come from a lot of places. Ornamental grasses come immediately to mind. Rob makes sure we have plenty of natural dried sticks, stems, and seed pods available. I am fortunate to have preserved and dyed eucalyptus in every color imaginable to place in fall pots. The cut stems of eucalyptus are able to absorb preservative and color up through the stems and into the leaves. As the color is absorbed and not applied, the stems are color fast outdoors, and are remarkably resistant to degradation from sun and rain.

But no material is as important as the plants. This year’s crop of custom grown kale and cabbage are the best it has ever been my pleasure to plant. The container above on the left is planted with redbor kale grown to an astonishing size. The companion planter features 3 Purple Queen cabbage, an edible red cabbage. It did not take many plants to create a fall container scene that will last well into November.

Coral Queen ornamental cabbage leaves are a beautiful shade of bluish green.  The centers of the plants will color up a deep magenta purple as the temperatures drop.

Tuscan kale, also known as dinosaur kale, has large, strappy and highly textured leaves. The nutritional value of kale is legendary, but it is also beautiful to look at.  Individual leaves may grow to 3 feet long.

fall container with Tuscan kale

fall container with millet and lavender eucalyptus

containers with Ruby Queen cabbage

kale and cabbage crop

the kale and cabbage from the roof

Let the festivities begin.










  1. Thanks for posting this and showing us the beauty of these fall arrangements! I need to dump my summer pots and refresh for fall!,

  2. Jennifer Taylor says

    Thank you for the wonderful inspiration! Now I can’t wait to refresh my pots for fall. All my best to you Deborah.

    • Deborah Silver says

      Happy fall to you too, Jennifer. I suspect your weather is milder longer than ours, but into every gardening life, a little fall must fall! It is 40 degrees here this morning. best, Deborah

  3. Thank you; the fall containers are lovely and your furry friend won my heart.

  4. Any thoughts of something that is sort of fall looking but will also make it well into December?

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Jill, we had a container with kale and cabbage at the shop that lasted into January last year.That longevity is weather based, for sure. We start doing our winter containers in mid November,and usually finish up in late December. best, Deborah

  5. Hurray for these gorgeous fall containers!!! Thank you, Deborah, for a lovely ‘holiday’ as I viewed them.


  6. Your containers are always beautiful. Love the generous use of each ingredient and the large scale vessels.
    I have to say I’m a bit disappointed to see you using real bittersweet. I too, love it, and it’s so very tempting to use but the problems it creates in the landscape are not worth it. We are not allowed to sell it in Massachusetts. People still ask for it and we have to educate them on the reasons why we’re prohibited from using it .
    Keep up the great work! I love watching your feed and seeing what’s going on in your corner of the world! Always inspiring!
    Lisa Ahern,

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Lisa, Massachusetts must have a particular problem with oriental bittersweet seeding that I do not see here. I never see it in wild places or fields. I never see it in my clients gardens as a result of us having used it as cut stems in pots. I only recall one property in 30 plus years where I installed the landscape that has it growing. Please do not be disappointed in me! Your clients could easily use/substitute the cut stems of American bittersweet in their pots -celastrus scandens. Thanks for writing. all the best, Deborah

      • It’s nice to hear that bittersweet isn’t problematic for you… I’m envious!
        It’s truly rampant here. Just when you eradicate it in one spot it pops up in another.
        Enjoy your Sunday!… my chore for today… finding some Tuscan kale for MY planters…..;)

        • Rebecca Marquardt says

          Oriental Bittersweet is one of the worst invasive species on the west side of Michigan and I’d suspect it is elsewhere, especially in forest edges.

          Always good to raise awareness in these kinds of forums.

          Love your designs Deborah and that beautiful shop of yours!


  7. Always enjoy looking at your latest arrangements and the way you place colors together!
    Yes, watering has been a bear the last 2 months because of droughty conditions here in eastern Massachusetts – both for the gardens and for the pots. But the water has also kept the annual summer flowers going and looking as good as the summer! Very rewarding. Conditions are undoubtedly different for you being further North, with the sun lower in the sky at this time of year.
    Oriental bittersweet is indeed a scourge here. It climbs trees, circling around them and deeply incising them. The vines grow to the top of a tree, then hang down in festoons., where they happily drop more seeds. Efforts are made to cut it at its base on conservation lands, but sometimes the valuable fox grape is also cut along with the bittersweet. The fox grape provides wonderful wildlife (and human) food, and the flaky bark is used in birds nests. I’m glad you do not have the bittersweet problem!
    Thanks for your “insider” blog, and all the hard work that produces your beautiful arrangements!

  8. Your containers are lovely pieces of art. They each make a great statement. I have never seen kale in containers. Especially love the large leaf kale. Generally I like the look of large leaves. The Elephant Ears and the Montana Hosta, both have very large leaves and are also favorites. Something about the giant size, texture, and color is very attractive to me. Today I placed a giant pumpkin in my tall Victorian urn. Fall is finally making an appearance and Halloween is just around the corner.

  9. All the containers are so lovely, but that Ruby Queen cabbage looks like a giant rose, I am crazy about it! I love how you’ve enhanced its shape and texture with a similar color eucalyptus…. that is my favorite arrangement. But of course nothing more lovely than that furry black and white flower amongst the tables of bounty. Please kiss him on the nose for me. Your blog is so inspirational, each time it comes in my Inbox, its like a breath of fresh air!

  10. Shelby Staples says

    The fall arrangements very nice, but Milo the most beautiful of all else.

  11. Your fall containers are amazing! I wish I lived nearby so I could avail myself of your services. I love fall, fall arrangements and especially ornamental kale. Thank you for making my heart beat faster as I looked at each picture. What a pleasure!

  12. Janice Sisson says

    Deborah, do you bring your pots on your deck in for the winter? I want to plant evergreen topiaries in my and leave them out all winter. Will they crack with the freeze thawing of winter temperatures? I live in Windsor.

    • Deborah Silver says

      Janice, my pots are terra cotta, and yes-I do bring them in for the winter.Terra cotta is not considered frost proof. best, Deborah

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