Planting pots for autumn and winter; Halloween and beyond!

By Andy McIndoe

Pots and containers are a great way to add colour and interest to many areas of your garden, particularly those that need a seasonal boost, and those places where it is impossible to plant in the open ground. We tend to think about them in spring, for summer interest, however planting pots for autumn and winter brings colour close to the house and really liven up the garden picture. As the end of October approaches I thought I would give you a few ideas that you can do now, and that will last well beyond Halloween. They will look great alongside that Halloween pumpkin we will be carving later in the week.

The combination of plants and container is an art form. If you get it right the result will be so much more than just another planted container, it will be a real garden feature. Try choosing your plants and pots together, experiment with combinations of shape and colour and the results will be stunning. I chose an orange and a black pot in different sizes, but ones that work together. I teamed these up with a selection of plants in Halloween colours: orange and black!

When choosing pots and containers, choose large ones. These are more efficient at holding water and do not dry out as quickly. They are also more stable and less likely to blow over. Group pots together, this helps to shade the walls of the containers, keep them cool and prevent drying out in summer, and it insulates the roots in winter.


When you choose a container for permanent planting think about repotting: choose a traditional flowerpot shape with a wide neck. A root bound plant growing in a pot with a narrow neck is almost impossible to extract; you will end up sacrificing the pot or the plant. I planted these pots with a mixture of seasonal plants, however the pots are a great shape for individual subjects when I come to replant next spring.

Put a few crocks or large stones over the drainage hole, making sure that you keep the hole open. This prevents the pot fro becoming waterlogged. A waterlogged pot means a frozen pot in the depths of winter. This usually means the container splits!

DSCN7296Never use garden soil in pots, containers or hanging baskets. Garden soil contains weed seeds, bacteria, fungal spores, micro-organisms, worms and insects that may be quite harmless in the open ground but that can be very damaging when confined in the small volume of soil in a pot. I always use loam-based compost such as John Innes in pots and containers; it holds water and nutrients more efficiently. Alternatively use a mixture of multi-purpose compost with loam-based compost; that’s what I used in these containers.

Water retaining gel is an excellent addition to compost used for annual summer bedding plants however do not use it when potting permanent subjects. The gel will hold on to water during cold winter weather; this is even more damaging if the pot freezes. I would never use it in containers like these; the plants will be too wet and will suffer in cold weather.

For permanent subjects I would add a controlled release fertilizer, such as osmacote, either as granules or as plugs to feed plants in containers. Controlled release fertilizers only release nutrients into the compost when it is moist enough and the temperature is high enough for plant growth. One application will last for several weeks. For this type of seasonal planting there is wenough food in the compost, if you use fresh compost to carry the plants through the winter months.

If you split plants, as I split this ophiopogon (black grass-like perennial) try to damage the roots as little as possible and make sure you plant carefully ensuring that the roots are well down in the compost. This is one of the plants that I will pot on and use again next spring.

DSCN7306-001Use shorter lived plants, such as pansies and these painted heathers to add that essential colour that will liven up the planting when there are few other flowers in the garden. Use these to carry the colour theme. The painted heathers are only intended for temporary decoration; throw them away in spring and replace with something else if the rest of the planting still looks good.

If adding larger plants to the planting, like this carex, you may find it easier to pot the pot rather than the plant. Position to pot so that the rim is level with the surface of the compost, fill around it forming with your fingertips, pull out the pot and drop in the plant. This is a great method to use when potting a single plant in a container: try it; you’ll never do it any other way again!

Use pot feet or pieces of tile under pots standing on paving. This keeps the drainage holes in the bottom of the pots open and prevents waterlogging. But do remember that pots may need watering in autumn and winter, even if it rains. Check them regularly and you’ll keep them looking good.

Happy Halloween!

Andy McIndoe

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