At A Glance: Fall Containers, Old And New

fall container plantings (28)rainy fall dayfall container plantings (25)a centerpiece

fall container plantings (26)fall container in cream and blue

fall container plantings (21)a trio

fall container plantings (40)lavender and orange

fall container plantings (20)wood tubs

fall container plantings (13)Sunny fall day

fall container plantings (7)weedy centerpiece

fall container plantings (1)lots of bittersweet

fall container plantings (6)grapevine and gourds

fall container plantings (4)broom corn and eucalyptus

fall container plantings (12)low bowl

fall container plantings (39)steel topiary forms

fall container plantings (38)black millet

fall container plantings (31)A note of caution.  If you like weeds in your fall containers, cut them, and place them up side down in a large garbage bag, right in the field.  We  shook the daylights out of these thistle stems-to remove all of the seeds-before we placed them in a pot. Teasel is beautiful-but there’s no sense to passing trouble around.

fall container plantings (15)center pieces with black eucalyptus

fall container plantinga Halloween motif

fall container plantings (14)fall plantings in  wood crates

fall container plantings (5)lavender and purple

dry hydrangeasdry hydrangeas

fall container plantings (37)orange eucalyptus

fall container plantings (35)ornamental cabbage and kale

fall container plantings (33)black millet

fall container plantings (22)pumpkins, gourds and vegetables

fall container plantings (29)fall color

fall container plantings (24)centerpieces

fall container plantings (27)wicker pot

fall container arrangement
red lettuce
fall container plantings (32)dry millet and hydrangeas. We have a few more weeks of planting to go. Whether you shop your local farmer’s market,  a garden center, your own yard, or a field down the road, there are great fall container arrangements out there waiting to be made.

A Fall Container Planting

fall container planting 2015 (1)Our fall container plantings are underway. It is not always easy to convince a client that planting for fall is a good idea.  In Michigan, there is this psychological perception that the spring and the fall are short seasons, and the summer and winter are long.  It may feel that way, but all of the seasons are roughly equal in length.  My pots at home have been great, but just today I am seeing signs of decline.  The plectranthus is not liking the cold nights.  The elegant feather grass is just about in full fall color. Planting pots for fall is not just about replacing summer material that is no longer looking its best.  It is more about embracing and enjoying the season at hand.

fall container planting 2015 (3)One of my favorite materials for fall is broom corn. This tall grain features thick sturdy stalks, and seed heads in various shades of fall.  Zip tied around a bamboo stake, the broom corn provides a striking vertical element in a pot, and will last late into the fall.  Should you use it in your fall pots, be prepared for for the birds.  They love the seeds.  I can hardly fault them. And I enjoy all of that activity.   The wiry stems under all of those seeds have been made into brooms for hundreds of years.  As much as I like my brooms, I better value how broom corn can endow a fall container.

planting a fall potChrysanthemums elicit strong opinions from every gardener.  Were I thinking of planting a chrysanthemum in my garden for a yearly October display, I would plant “Sheffield Pink”.  I have a next door neighbor with trees under planted with this mum-they have made an impressive show every year of the 20 years I have lived in my neighborhood.  I don’t see that they get any special care or extra water. They shrug off the cold and light frosts.  But for fall containers, I can be swayed by a big mum ball.

fall container planting 2015 (4)I wait to buy them. A chrysanthemum blooming in late August or September will not last through the fall season.  When both the day and the night temperatures get down to 50 or lower, A chrysanthemum in bud will have some longevity. As much as I love ornamental cabbages and kales, there are those who love that color that comes from flowers.

fall container planting 2015 (5)Cut bittersweet is available at this time of year.  The color is striking. The stems are naturally curving.  Their vining shapes can loosen up the most formal and static fall planting. We buy cut stems from a grower that are loaded with seeds.  As much as I know that bittersweet is invasive, I have yet to see a garden infiltrated by bittersweet from branches I have put in pots. When the fall container season is over, we are careful to dispose of the stems-we never compost them.

fall container planting 2015 (7)The bunches we buy are fairly short, and loaded with seeds. We may cut them down to individual stems, so we can place them all over in a pot.  Though our broom corn centerpieces are zip tied in several places, we add a special zip tie-just for the bittersweet.  The fall season can be rainy and blustery.  Solid construction means your fall pots will look as good at the end as they do at the beginning.

fall container planting 2015 (6)The bittersweet zip tie is loosely set at the beginning, so all of the stems going all around the centerpiece fit inside. We always have 4 hands on deck for this-sometimes 6. The desired result?  A beautiful bouquet, speaking to fall. The long stalks of the broom corn help us to get a proper and proportional height to that centerpiece.  Another element will be needed to cover those sticks, and the zip ties.

fall container planting 2015 (2)Detroit Garden Works always stocks bushel baskets full of preserved and dyed eucalyptus. We must stock better than 20 colors.  Eucalyptus has the uncanny ability to absorb preservative and color. These stems are light fast, and the color does not run. The big leaves are a great texture, and the variety of color means there will be something to appeal to almost everyone.

fall container planting 2015 (10)
We attach a partial bunch of eucalyptus to a bamboo stake, so we can place it wherever an arrangement needs it. Rob and I placed an enormous order this past January.  There are few materials for fall and winter pots that are as versatile, durable and satisfying as this.  It is a natural material that fits right into a fall container.

planting a fall pot
The real story here is that the natural materials part of a fall container plays a critical roll in its visual success.  Cool weather means plants do not grow fast. Many of the cold tolerant plants are small in stature.  Not everyone loves cabbage and kale-which has a great scale for containers.  If you buy plants for fall containers, buy big ones.  Pack them in. There won’t be much in the way of growing. And last of all, consider cut natural materials.

fall container planting 2015 (9)I left my crew at this point.  Not that I even needed to be there.  They have been doing fall pots for me for many years.  And they have a gift for placement and arrangement. This pot was not done, but I could see where it was headed.  Headed straight away into fall.


Monday Opinion: Labor Day

Labor Day 2015 (9)More than once have I had reason to expect that the warm and sunny momentum established by my summer season would blast by Labor Day in a hot fit of defiance.  Given that the forecast for today is 90 degrees, might Mother Nature forget that today is Labor Day?   Every year I hope nature will be distracted by some warm September weather, and fail to note that the season is due to change.  Have my hopes of a summer that streams on for 4 months instead of 3 ever been fulfilled?  No. This bout of hot weather aside, there are signs that the summer season is slowing.

Labor Day 2015 (2)We’ve had a few cool and foggy mornings. The sun is lower in the sky. The morning light is coming on later, and the evening darkness earlier.The seeds on my dogwoods are ripe and red; the leaves have a considerable red tinge to them.  The hardy hibiscus have more seedpods developing than flowers. The Rozanne geraniums look the best they have all season – typical. The lily of the valley leaves  are singed with their usual end of summer fungus. The Limelight hydrangea flowers are showing some pink. The flowers on the hyssop have gone gray; the plants are dropping their lower leaves.

Labor Day 2015 (3)Some of the plants in my containers have moved past the thriving stage to the tired place. They have that pale foliage color that speaks to exhaustion. Some plants have gone limp from a summer’s worth of exertion growing. A week ago I cut back all of my nicotiana, and fed them. They have been lackluster all summer; I am hoping for a fall flush. The dahlias have not been happy this summer either. I am not sure if I will get a decent bloom before the mildew takes them down. My other containers are so root bound they need soaking, not just watering. The laurentia around the fountain grew too tall in the heat, turned yellow, and flopped over. I took them out.  The fountain is turning green with algae, right on time, in time, for Labor Day.

DSC_3264But there are plenty of containers which are right at what I call that “super nova” stage. Like a star that glows prior to imploding, they are at their most beautiful best – right now.  They are as glowingly good as they ever will be. All of the plants have grown out, and matured.  Each container has an overall shape-like it or not. Some plants have engulfed their containers.  Rob’s container of Russian sage, lamb’s ear and several thyme varieties-any ideas about what the container looks like? Me neither. This planting, right now, is at its most glorious best. Our window boxes stuffed with silver foliaged plants are looking just about as good.

angel-wing-begonias.jpgThese angel wing begonias are bowed over from the weight of all of their flowers. They have been beautiful all summer, but now they are at that very big and beautiful stage that foretells summer’s end.

wasabi coleusBut no summer container plant can come close to that Labor Day super nova size like coleus. The range of colors and leaf types is astonishing. Their willingness to grow is unparalleled. I enjoy growing them, partly as it is possible to shape them by pinching. I find this entertaining. If you think I am a dull girl, you are probably right.  This coleus Wasabi was grown from 3 4″ pots. Given a benevolent September, it will reach the ground. This pot I have not touched.  All the joy in it has been watching it grow.

DSC_3388These chocolate coleus feature a brown and cream cordyline that is almost invisible now. Were you standing directly over them, you would see that I had pinched out the top to reveal the cordyline.

Labor Day 2015 (18)This modestly sized Italian terra cotta rectangle is home to a hedge sized coleus.  We pinched the bottom out, to give the impatiens some breathing room, and some light. Labor Day 2015 (19)chocolate coleus, Kingwood Red coleus, and pink polka dot plant

Labor Day 2015 (17)This pot with an orange and green phormium at the center, pink polka dot plant and heuchera bears no relation to coleus, except that it has been thriving in the same vein all summer.

Labor Day 2015 (6)coleus peaking.  the petticoat below-maidenhair fern.

Labor Day 2015 (20)coleus Amora, coleus Alligator, and a subtle dash of pink polka dot

Labor Day 2015 (12)a coleus “Tilt a Whirl” standard, under planted with hens and chicks.  The accompanying lemon cypress grown on from a 6″ pot-looking good.

DSC_2215So what am I thinking about this Labor Day? That Labor Day usually signals the start of the end of my summer gardening season, of course.  But more importantly, that a working American gardener named Rob has gone the distance every day, day after day, since the middle of May to bring all of these container plantings along to this moment. If you live nearby, and haven’t seen them in person, they are well worth the trip. As for you, Rob, have a happy and well deserved Labor Day.

88 Degrees

DSC_2414Though our summer has been mostly moderate and regularly rainy, we are in the throes of a hot spell. It is hot enough to make working in the garden a sweat fest. Oh yes, the hot days have gone on for a while.  If I can’t be outside at 6am, I would rather wait until 6pm. Do the tropical/seasonal plants in my pots mind an 88 degree day?  Not at all. Many of them originate in very hot climates.  They have been waiting for this heat since late May. It is important to differentiate between what you would like on a hot day, and what your container plants would like. I do not water my containers when it is hot. I might like a cool shower after a hot day outdoors, but tropical plants thrive in the hot heat. I only water them when they are dry, or in imminent danger of becoming dry. I water dry plants, not hot plants.

watering pots August 2015 (3)I have no scientific evidence to support the following-just my experience and instinct.  On an 88 degree sunny day, I do not water my pots from the top.  I would rather keep the foliage dry.  Wet and heat put together is a reliably good recipe for disease. Mildew in a container – what gardener needs that? I use one hand to raise up the trailing plants on the edge, and the other to direct water to the surface of the dirt. No matter the size of the pot, I move the wand to different locations on the edge of the pot, so I am sure all the soil gets watered evenly. All around. Watering in one spot will invariably leave some other spot dry. I water the soil, all around, in hot weather.

watering pots August 2015 (17)When plants get large, it is not always so easy to see where the interior of the pot actually is.  There’s no sense to watering outside the pot.

watering pots August 2015 (8)This chocolate soldier plectranthus has gotten so large that it takes my whole arm to to flip up the trailing portion, and direct water to the soil. As this pot is located in the corner of my deck, it isn’t feasible to go all the way around it with my wand. The best part for this plant – no water goes on the foliage.  The water need to go to the roots.

watering pots August 2015 (10)Watering a seasonal container properly takes a little finesse. This container needs water at the center.  A rim watering is not enough.  My left hand has located the surface of the soil in the middle, while my right hand delivers the water. How do I know how this pot needs water?  I touch the soil.  If it is hard and crusty,  (as soil tends to get towards the end of the growing season, when the plants are heavily rooted) I water until that soil softens, and feels spongy to the touch.  This pot I may need to water twice, to get it sufficiently soaked.  I will not water again until the soil has dried out.

watering pots August 2015 (14)Flipping the leaves up in a container gives me a look at the soil below, and helps me to direct the water horizontally across the surface of the soil.  Plants are more forgiving of their leaves being handled as a group. Handling a single leaf can result in breakage. Water directed to the roots of plants in need is life giving.

watering pots August 2015 (11)The German ivy at the lower left in this picture is trailing just about to the ground now. As the vines are very juicy, heavy, and brittle, I move the leaves just above the rootball as gently as possible, and water from the top. I wouldn’t want to risk breaking an entire branch.  I would not flip up German ivy trailers in search of the soil surface.  I shine that water down on its root ball, as best I can. Every plant in a container needs to be watered differently.

watering pots August 2015 (15)Dichondra, on the other hand, is a light weight and pliable vine.  The round leaves do a decent job of repelling water, should I water from the top. The best way to get the water to the roots of a dichondra is to get the leaves out of the way. Once I have watered those roots,  I set the vines back down.  Gently.

watering pots August 2015 (6)This pot full of belamcanda lilies is thoroughly rooted.  All of the growth is upright, so watering at the bottom is easy.  On an 88 degree day, I flood the soil until the water comes up to the rim. After the water drains,  I will refill the pot until I see evidence of water draining all of the way out the bottom.

watering pots August 2015 (1)The rush in this pot is very fond of water. The Cuban oregano-it is happy to be dryer.  Some pots need selective watering.  I make the time to do this. I pour the water to the rush, and water the oregano every so often.

watering pots August 2015 (4)This pot planted with a rose scented geranium and a number of phormiums-I water it from the top. I cannot really explain why. The rose scented geranium does not bend much.  The phormium is vulnerable to breakage at the crown.  Why all this talk about watering?  Container plantings need regular and thoughtful watering.  People regularly ask me why my pots look good so late in the season, and during really hot weather. It’s the watering.