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Unexpected Fall Potted Plants for Shade

What to put in your containers for fall color?  I didn’t want the same container as my neighbors, but there is so much less to choose from in the fall.  AND I have shade. Can I still use pansies? I set out on a mission to have great fall containers that do not mirror everyone else in the neighborhood.  I needed them to look great in a shaded area. I wanted them to make people say “Wow, I just had to tell you I love your containers! How do you do it?

Fall potted plants for shade.  This is a great time to try something new in your containers.  Some of my favorites for shaded areas are:

  • Autumn Brilliance Fern, Dryopteris erythrosora
  • Himalayan Sweet Box, Sarcococca hookeriana var. humilis
  • Coral Bells & foamy bells , Heuchera & Heucherella
  • Mondo Grass, Ophiopogon planiscapus
  • Variegated Sedge, Carex morrowii ‘Variegata’
  • Anemone, Anemone hupehensis
  • Ivy
  • Coleus (in more protected areas, like a covered porch)

Use foliage color as your focus and have contrasting textures and your containers will shine!

Why Fall Containers Are Different Than Your Spring Containers.

Fall containers will have a limited period of time for growth.  Unlike spring containers where you need to plant with an eye to the future and leave elbow room to grow, fall containers will be planted up with full sized plants.  Pot up as full as you want them to be. When you are finished potting, they will look pretty much as they will all fall.

Shorter days bring a double whammy of fewer hours of sun and less intense sun.  Foliage plants are the rock stars of the fall container. Flowers are energy (read sun) hogs.  Trying to keep containers in shade flowering is difficult and not a sure bet. When I say foliage, don’t think boring.  Think everything from a Mardi Gra party of color like what you can find in coleus, to bold swaths of color such as coral bells.  Also sophisticated subtle shades of green that play with texture, combining bold like Heuchera and fine texture of ferns, with smooth of mondo grass and sedge.  Use perennials with great foliage, even of dies back to the ground for winter.

With cooler temperatures coming, watch for untimely  (or even timely frosts). Often if you can protect your container from frost, especially if there are frost sensitive plants in your container, you will be rewarded with weeks of continued beauty from your container.  Weather depending of course. To protect a container from frost, cover with a lightweight fabric. Long enough to reach all the way down to the ground and be anchored. FABRIC, not plastic. A sheet will work well. Double sheets for more protection.  Take off in the morning as soon as temps are above freezing. Small pots can be pulled inside a garage for the night instead.

Can I mix real and artificial elements?

Yes, you can mix them, but with restraint.  For artificial elements use items that you are not using real in your container already.  For example, do not use artificial foliage or flower elements, they will stand out as fakes and will cheapen the look of your container.  As fabulous as the artificial elements are, if they are trying to look real, and are put next to the real deal, it is just not going to look right.  You can use artificial pumpkins, branches, statuary or flags for example.

How to transition into winter containers?

This is a great application of artificial elements or short term elements.  When you plant in your containers, think about winter. Plant evergreens that will keep their foliage all winter, and use a pop of seasonal color that can be swapped out with the season or holidays.  Use pumpkins and burlap accents for fall and swap out for large Holiday Decor balls and oversized bows for example. A quick trip to any store will give you a million ideas of holiday add-ins for color!  Pinterest too! Be as sophisticated with your designs or as joyfully tacky as you desire. I lean more towards joyfully tacky during Halloween myself! ‘Tis the season for container bling!

Related Questions

What Plants Can You Plant In the Fall?

Most of them!  Perennials, shrubs, trees…..  The best time to plant or transplant most plants is in the fall.  Early fall. A time when the heat of summer has passed, and plants are looking to start to slow down for the winter.  Storing energy in their roots for next year. Fall is the time when most plants have time to root in well before the rush of spring foliage growth.   

What Flowers Bloom in the Fall?

Many fall bloomers are also sun lovers (remember flowers are energy hogs).  Many of them are perennials, tall perennials that gathered strength and height all summer to bloom in the fall.  You can also look for dwarf varieties of these plants. Some of my favorites are:

  • Sedum
  • Rudbeckia
  • Russian sage
  • Daisies
  • Helinium
  • Asters
  • Anenome
  • Grasses with plumes

Some annuals shine now too, such as:

  • Pansies
  • Snapdragons
  • Sweet alyssum
  • Celosia
  • Cabbage & Kale
  • Millet

When To Plant Fall Containers?

Start planting up your fall containers a month before your first expected frost. Yes, some of your summer plantings still look good, but some are already past their prime. Giving your new plantings a month to grow and settle in before frosts start gives them a chance to root in before it gets a chill in the air.

For a short bit on when to buy your plants, I have it summarized HERE, including some tips on mums!


Toni has a bachelor degree in Plant & Soil Science, has lived, gardened and growing all over the US, in Vermont, Tennessee, Idaho, coastal North Carolina and Virginia. She has been sharing her knowledge through writing, one on one consulting and talking to anyone who wants to listen at social gatherings everywhere : )

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