By the end of summer most of us are looking at our flowering containers in disgust.  They’re overgrown, not flowering, and simply spent.  I’ve been there myself.  In fact, many times I’ve said to myself; I call myself a gardener?  We just have to realize that some summers are going to be tough on our plants.  They’ve given all that they can and simply need to be cleaned up for fall.  There are two ways to do this; they can be freshened up, or they can be completely redone. 

All containers basically contain three aspects: Thrillers (the center piece), fillers (those plants that grow upright), and spillers (those plants that trail over the edge).  When freshening up, you’re replacing only those plants that look bad.  There are some years where my centerpiece and spillers still look good and I only have to replace the fillers.  Then there are other years, like last year, where everything simply looked tired from the long, hot summer and needed replacing.  Either way, you can make them look fantastic again for the fall.

So, what plants can be found late in the year to help our poor containers out?  Besides fall flowering annuals, don’t forget about perennials.  There are a lot of good perennials that look great in containers.  Actually, I mix them together anyway, even in spring.  Simply treat them as an annual or try to winter them over or plant them before year’s end.

Let’s start out with thrillers.  If you have a spike in your container, it probably still looks good.  But if you went with something different, it may not.  I like to use either the annual purple fountain grass or any attractive perennial grass.  They are both usually plentiful this time of year.  You could also use a large decorative kale or even a large Chrysanthemum (Mum) for something different.  There are also some tall annual Black-eyed Susan’s that could be used.  There are plenty of options out there.

How about fillers?  One of my favorites to use is perennial coralbells.  They come in a wide range of foliage colors that just scream fall.  If you want more flower power, you could use smaller Mums, different varieties of annual and perennial black-eyed Susan’s, coneflowers, decorative kales, perennial sedum or asters, shorter grasses, ferns, hostas, pansies, and other cold hardy annuals that may be left at the garden center.  You shouldn’t have problems finding something.

What about spillers?  You’ll probably have to look around to see what is left in annuals, but you may find Ivy, creeping jenny, trailing verbena, Vinca or even some trailing petunias left.  Otherwise, perennial groundcovers work really well.  Try creeping sedum, like ‘Angelina’, perennial ivy, perennial Vinca, or even the trailing Heucherella (foamy bells) like ‘Redstone Falls’ which has excellent fall color. 

As you can see, you don’t have to live with those tired containers come fall.  Simply freshen them up and enjoy.  Happy Gardening!

Michael Timm

Ebert’s greenhouse Village