Containers With Pizzazz-Fall

Tear out those tired looking spent annuals from the summer and jazz up your pots for the fall season. This is the time of year when I am craving some color because most of the fall flowers have faded or been hit by frost. Petunias, angelonia, and million bells have all petered out and I feel good when I rip out the remains to make room for fall color.

‘Blue Bayou’ aster  and trailing rosemary, carex ‘Red Rooster’, ornamental pepper, mexican heather, with foraged osage orange balls

I still have some late bloomers going on, like Toad Lilies, Chrysanthemums,  Dahlias, Marigolds, and a few odds and ends. But mostly I am looking at the remains of my planting beds. Time for getting some fall color in the pots!

Use some colored ornamental balls to pick up and enhance colors in your pots. Try using foraged materials like osage orange balls, pumpkins, and gourds for great embellishments.

The copper ball picks up the fall colors
Asters make this container shine in the fall
Ornamental cabbage is a go-to for fall; it improves with cold weather
Curly purple kale is the standout in this container

Arrange groupings to make an impact
Use pumpkins with your fall containers

12 Steps for a Spring Jump-Start

Splitting up a hosta plant

The grass is starting to green up and bulbs are peeking through the soil and spring is around the corner. Gardening chores come fast and furious once warm weather hits and sometimes you don’t have time to fit all the tasks in. To jump-start your gardening year, you can hit the ground running early to get a head start. Late winter is my favorite time to get many of the spring jobs done or at least started, to lessen the springtime stress of overload.

Winter aconites pushing up through the snow
Winter aconites pushing up through the snow
  • Weeding-My top priority in late winter/early spring is keeping weeds under control. Cold weather weeds such as chickweed and mustard are much easier to hand weed when small. Plus, the weeds haven’t gone to seed yet to spread around. Adopt a policy of a little weeding often to reduce your weeding burden.
Weed early before they go to seed
Weed early before they go to seed
  • Soil Test-Everything starts with good soil. Many nurseries or extension offices offer soil testing services. Take advantage of these by finding out what nutrients your soil needs by submitting a soil sample.
  • Fertilize-Fertilize trees and ornamentals with a balanced granular fertilizer when the soil is dry. I use an old coffee can with a plastic lid with perforated holes to sprinkle the recommended amount around the plant and water in. If you are an organic gardener, apply a layer of compost around the plant.
  • Rake-Rake out loose leaves and debris from your gardening beds so that mulch can be applied evenly. Be sure to remove pockets of old leaves that get caught up in twiggy shrubs.
Pockets of leaves stick in twiggy shrubs
Pockets of leaves stick in twiggy shrubs
  • Mulch-Apply an organic mulch about 2 inches thick avoiding the base of trees and shrubs. This will help retain moisture during dry spells, reduce weeds, and improve soil structure. Don’t create mulch volcanoes around your trees as this can invite insect damage and disease.
Don't over mulch!
Don’t over mulch!
  • Lawn-Rake out old thatch and remove weedy patches, seeding bare areas. Scratch the grass seed into the top layer so that seed has good contact with the soil. Spread a pre-emergent to stop weeds from germinating and a “Weed and Feed” to promote strong roots.
  • Prune-With leaves absent, you can easily see damaged and broken limbs that need to be removed. Renewal pruning to renovate older overgrown shrubs should be done now before they put on new growth. Cut back to the ground shrubs such as butterfly bush, spirea, hypericum, and hardy hibiscus. Knock Out Roses should be cut to about 10 inches high to keep these manageable.
Cut back Knock Out Rose
Cut back Knock Out Rose
Cut back your perennials and shrubs and mulch in early spring
Cut back your perennials and shrubs and mulch in early spring
By mid-summer, they will have grown back!
By mid-summer, they will have grown back!
Prune shrubs before leafing out
Prune shrubs before leafing out
  • Container Refresh-Remove the top 3-4 inches of old potting medium from your containers and replace with fresh compost and potting soil. Make sure the drainage holes aren’t clogged with old roots. I use a metal rod to punch through the fibrous roots.
Punch through the drainage hole to ensure good drainage
Punch through the drainage hole to ensure good drainage
Add some fresh soil to your containers
Add some fresh soil to your containers
  • Seed Starting-Start seeds of tomatoes/peppers/eggplants indoors for transplanting in the spring. Outdoors plant seeds of cold tolerant annuals such as snapdragons, larkspur, poppies, and nigella. See my post on Seed Starting for pointers.
I start my seeds in February
I start my seeds in February
Seedlings ready to be transplanted into the garden
Seedlings ready to be transplanted into the garden


  • Perennial Dividing-Now is the perfect time to split up and divide overgrown perennials such as iris and hosta and move them around. Waiting later in the season to divide a fully-grown plant can be cumbersome and hard work. Plus, the perennials have a longer time to root in to produce more prolific flowers. I like to divide when the first stems with leaves are emerging.
Splitting up a hosta plant
Splitting up a hosta plant
  • Tools-Clean rust and mud off your tools and oil and sharpen them. Organize your potting or tool shed so that you can find things in a hurry.
Easy to see and great for airing out your gloves
Easy to see and great for airing out your gloves
Organize your tool shed
Organize your tool shed
  • Compost-I always clean out my compost pile by spreading the rich loamy material around my ornamentals and in my vegetable garden. If you don’t have a compost pile, now is the time to start one. Using a length of snow fencing attached to metal stakes is the easiest way to start either a large or small one. A gate can even be created with a hinged portion of the snow fence.
My snow fence compost pile with gate
My snow fence compost pile with gate

Blooming Hill Greenhouse-A Family Owned Business

Blooming Hill makes use of old ironing boards to display flowers

Patronizing independent nurseries, not big box store chains, is an important part of my shopping for plants. A totally different shopping experience greets me as I walk in the door and you will find knowledgeable and eager to please owners and workers. The plant selection is quite eclectic with little gems that you wouldn’t find anywhere else.

Coleus ‘Coleo”

Also, the plants are taken care of and not neglected like I see too many times at big box stores. Mainstream garden centers and big box stores tend to stick with the tried and true, afraid to plant “outside the pot” for fear that customers won’t buy something different.

Jo Troy, owneer of Blooming Hill Greenhouse
Jo Troy, owner of Blooming Hill Greenhouse in Parkton, MD
moss basket
Jo Troy working on a moss basket, one of her specialties

But as a plant lover, there are so many new varieties and cultivars out there to try, I think that the more to choose from the better. I do love Petunias, Verbenas, and Sweet Potato Vine, but there are so many alternatives available to create something a bit different from your neighbor.


Abutilons or Flowering Maples caught my eye as I entered Blooming Hill Greenhouse, in Parkton, MD and I had to stop and admire this treasure that will be sure to attract hummingbirds to your garden.

You rarely see Abutilons at nurseries; at Blooming Hill they have three colors!
You rarely see Abutilons at nurseries; at Blooming Hill they have three colors!
Unusual annuals are everywhere
Unusual annuals are everywhere: I forgot the name, but check it out at the open house!

Tucked away off a winding country road, you would never know the greenhouse was there until you stop at a bottom of a hill and spot the small sign. After turning up a steep driveway through woods dotted with Azaleas and other woodland plants, you know you are in for a treat. Greeted by 3 medium size poly greenhouses at the crest of the hill, there are always outdoor selections on tables to slow your journey into the mix of living, breathing, beautiful plants.

TheTroy family lives right next door to their business
The Troy family lives right next to their greenhouses. Row covers are ready to throw on top of outdoor plants for cold snaps

Brimming with treasures, the usual and unusual that you never see anywhere, and hanging and moss baskets everywhere, Blooming Hill is full of surprises. I enter like a kid in a candy shop and want one of everything. Or even better, three of everything! Also carrying tons of herbs and vegetable plants, this is a one stop nursery to fill your place with color.

A completed bowl arrangement

Begonias of all colors and sizes fill Blooming Hill as one of Jo Troy’s favorite plants. She told me that she never met a Begonia she didn’t like! I have to agree with that as I survey the selections of Begonias.

Begonia 'Unbelievable Miss Montreal'
Begonia ‘Unbelievable Miss Montreal’
Begonia ‘Glory Pink’

Blooming Hill Greenhouse

As a landscape designer, if I have a customer who wants to create their own containers but needs help with selection and colors, I send them to Blooming Hill for their expertise and advice. Owner Jo Troy is patient and helps customers personally select their plants to take home or if you bring in your container to the greenhouse, she will customize your planter for a very reasonable cost.  Her daughter Millie is also sought after as a designer of masterpieces in a pot.

Millie, Jo's daughter, is watering all the plants by hand
Millie, Jo’s daughter, is watering all the plants by hand

A plantaholics’s dream come true, Blooming Hill specializes in the creation of “moss baskets”, hanging baskets planted around the entire circumference of the “moss” covering in a wire basket. Requiring many plants to fill in the stuffed balls, and time to grow in, the moss baskets are works of art.

Moss basket
A hanging moss basket is a ball of flowers

See how Jo creates these masterpieces from scratch.

All plant lovers and collectors will find something to ooh and aah over and take home with no location in mind, but thinking that you can’t do without it!  Still selling well- filled market packs, the most economical way to buy plants, I splurge on zinnias, vinca, and other annuals to fill my beds for the summer.


Sun Patien
A variegated Sunpatien: you just need one of these to fill a pot

So, if you are in the Baltimore area, check out their upcoming open house at 18700 Frederick Road in Parkton, MD, April 30 & May 1st, 2016 from 9AM to 4PM. If you go to the open house, please tell Jo that Claire sent you!

Blue Plumbago
Blue Plumbago, another annual that I never see anywhere else
Surfinia 'Summer Double Salmon'
Surfinia ‘Summer Double Salmon’
Container at Blooming Hill
A piece of art container for hsade; A customer dropped off this container to have it customized

Moss basket in the making
Moss basket completed but starting the process of growing in and producing flowers

I took this new variety home, a variegated Asclepias for my visiting Monarchs


All Season Containers

Early spring container by Leigh Barnes
Early spring container by Leigh Barnes-Tulips, violas, grape hyacinth, daffodils, allysum, salvia,and nemesia

Most people wait until mid to late May to plant their containers because of a chance of cold snaps, but I have been busy planting for weeks using plants that are cold tolerant, using bulbs, cool season annuals and perennials. For my most viewed post ever on containers, check out Not Your Ordinary Container-Containers With Pizzazz!

Shade Container
Shade Container

My Favorites

Bulbs only last a few weeks, but you can easily slip them out of the container and plant in one of your garden beds for a show next year. Leaving an empty spot that you can plug-in some annuals for a warmer season, like verbenas and petunias, containers can be transformed with the addition and subtraction of several plants and emerge with a completely different look.

Bulbs in containers

Violas are an early season staple that look good for about 6 weeks until the hot weather starts and then they are toast. See my post on Violas to see how many ways you can use this versatile plant. They give you a quick early boost of color which can be removed when the violas start to fade and then you can insert something more heat tolerant.

Viola Etain is one of my favorites
Viola Etain is one of my favorites

Mixing a melange of perennials, annuals, bulbs, and small shrubs early creates a container that will last through the season with tweaks throughout the year. Make sure that you take care of your container with good drainage, an essential for any plantings. I like to elevate my container off the ground so that it can drain properly. A plant stand or pot feet are perfect for the task.

Pot feet keeps the container elevated so that water can drain off

Woodland Phlox is a great perennial that lasts for 6 to 8 weeks and is highly fragrant. When finished, pop it into the garden and replace it with something else blooming.

Woodland Phlox(light purple) is highly fragrant and lasts for weeks


List of Early Flowering Plants for Containers

  • Annuals-alyssum, african daisy, lobelia, pansies, snap dragons, gerber daisies, english daisies

  • Bulbs- tulips, daffodils, grape hyacinths, scilla, crocus, hyacinths, alliums, lilies

  • Perennials-pulmonaria, columbine, bleeding heart, woodland phlox, variegated yucca, candytuft, coral bells, scabiosa, violas, bleeding heart, brunnera, lobelia, lamium, woodland phlox, primrose, armeria, poppies

  • Shrubs-heather, pieris, broom, blue star juniper, dwarf rhododendron, blueberries

Early spring color
Coral bells, dwarf Rhododendron, bleeding heart, brunnera, and lobelia
Purple Gem Rhododendron makes this container shine
Lava Lamp Coral Bells, Violas, Millenial Allium, Lobelia, and Lamium

Coral Bells

Coral Bells or the Heuchera family are my must have for spring containers. Coral Bells emerge early and have perfect foliage colors that you can match to your blooms and foliage of the other plants in your container. There are literally hundreds of shades and varieties of this plant and you can never have enough of them! Known for foliage rather than flowers, Coral Bells are probably my favorite plant for borders and containers.

An array of Coral Bells in a greenhouse
An array of Coral Bells in a greenhouse
Coral Bells Fire Alarm
Coral Bells Fire Alarm
Coral Bells 'Grape Expectations'
Coral Bells ‘Grape Expectations’

If you start with a good potting medium that has lots of compost and perlite to aerate the soil, you can keep your container healthy for years. I make sure to fertilize all my containers regularly with a diluted fertilizer so that my plants are happy and healthy!