Autumn containers

Add some wow factor to your pots, planters and containers and give them the staying power from autumn through to spring.

Japanese anemone 'Wild Swan'

We love our summer containers, overflowing with a rich tapestry of summer-flowering plants, brightening up wherever we place them in the garden. As they start to go over in early autumn, it’s time to think about what to do with them now.

Gardens are often in desperate need of a colourful spectacle from autumn to spring, and planting up your containers with the right plants is a great way of adding some wow factor.

Autumn stars

When planting up containers in autumn, bear in mind that plants won’t be growing much if at all during cold autumn and winter temperatures, so it’s important to make your containers and baskets look full from the start. Using larger plants will give instant impact and planting close together will produce a fuller effect.

There are lots of great plants you can use in your autumn containers. Here are some of the best plants to bring your autumn containers to life.

Liriope Muscari
Liriope muscari. Image: Adobe Stock


All evergreen shrubs will provide a lovely backdrop to other plants. Good choices include the lovely Mexican orange (choisya), spindle tree (euonymus), the winter flowering forms of mahonia, the spiky leaved New Zealand flax (phormium) and pieris plants with their lily of the valley flowers.

There are also several shrubs that flower in autumn and often into winter, whether they’re deciduous (D) or evergreen (E). Try any of the following:

Abelia grandiflora ‘Kaleidoscope’ (E/D), Ceanothus ‘Autumnal Blue’ (E), Ceratostigma (D), Elaeagnus (E), Fatsia japonica (E), Sarcococca (winter box) (E), Skimmias (the male varieties have colourful flower buds, the females striking red berries) (E), and Viburnum tinus ‘Eve Price’ (E).

Skimmia in pot
The male varieties of Skimmias have colourful flower buds.

And don’t forget those shrubs that produce berries and fruit in autumn and winter, such as callicarpa, cotoneaster and pyracantha.


Grasses and related plants, such as Japanese sedges, are bang on fashion these days and feature in lots of modern container planting ideas. Evergreen ones produce a lovely foliage foil for other plants, whereas many deciduous ones take on lovely autumnal tints that last well into winter. They will all have attractive flower spikes full of faded flowers in various tawny tints too. They offer important movement in even light breezes and their delightful rustling provide relaxing sounds.

Autumn perennials

There are even herbaceous perennials that will look great in containers in autumn and winter – either from their foliage or their autumnal flowers. Go for the following:

Heuchera, Hylotelephium (sedums), Japanese anemones, Liriope muscari, Persicaria (red bistort) and Symphyotrichum (asters, Michaelmas daisies).

Michaelmas Daisies
Symphyotrichum (asters, Michaelmas daisies)

Bedding plants

There isn’t the wealth of autumn-spring flowering bedding plants as there is summer flowering, but those that are available provide lots of colour and interest.

One of the worst-named plants are the winter-flowering pansies, since they flower from autumn all the way through to spring – and even beyond! But to get the best displays they need to be planted as early as possible so that they can produce their flower buds before the temperatures drop. If they’ve not grown enough to produce flower buds, they won’t start flowering until temperatures start to warm up in spring. So get them planted in early September if possible.

Other bedding plants to grow include cold-tolerant primulas, many of which have been bred to flower earlier than spring. Good ones include ‘Autumn Colours Mixed’, ‘Eternity Mixed’, ‘Husky Mixed’, ‘Primus’ and ‘Alaska’. As for polyanthus, there’s the Supernova series, ‘Most Scented Mix’ and ‘Inara Flame’. Primrose ‘Everlast’ can flower for up to six months.

Others to plant in autumn for spring flowers include bellis daisies, wallflowers and sweet Williams. And don’t forget about ornamental cabbages and kales, which provide a colourful, leafy backdrop from autumn.

Ornamental kales and Japanese grass hokonoe
Ornamental cabbages and kales provide a colourful, leafy backdrop in autumn.


For an extra splash of colour, pop in some bulbs of snowdrops, cyclamen, dwarf daffodils, dwarf tulips, crocuses and any of the other smaller spring-flowering bulbs.


Finally, add some trailing plants around the sides of your containers to soften the edges, such as ivies, periwinkles (Vinca minor or Vinca major), bugles (ajugas) and deadnettles (lamiums). If you have some of these already growing in your garden, they root as they spread. You can dig these up earlier in the year, pot them up, grow them on and then transfer them to the container at planting time.

ivy edging a pot
Trailing ivies will help to soften the edges of your containers.

Containers and composts

Check that your chosen containers can take the cold weather and are regarded as being cold- or frost-proof, especially terracotta ones. Even plastic pots can be degraded by cold weather.

Make sure to use a good compost, such as Richard’s Flower Power Premium Peat-Free Compost, Flower Power Premium Multi Purpose Compost or Flower Power Ericaceous Compost for acid-loving/lime-hating plants.

Adding Container Magic to the compost before planting will get plants off to a great start and keep them growing strongly.

Much of the damage done to plants in containers over autumn and winter is due to waterlogging. That makes good drainage vital. Start by covering the drainage holes in the container with crocks (pieces of broken terracotta pots) or large, flat stones and then fill the container with a good compost. Don’t place a layer of gravel or other materials at the bottom of the pot; tests have shown that this reduces drainage, rather than improving it.

Stand the containers on pot feet or bricks to raise them slightly off the ground. This will prevent them sitting in water and encouraging waterlogging.


As plants rarely grow much if at all in cold temperatures, they need less watering and feeding than in summer, so autumn and winter containers are really easy to look after – much easier than summer ones.

Plants may still need some watering in autumn and winter, depending on how much it rains, to prevent the compost drying out – but don’t overdo it. Check at least weekly and water as necessary.

And those plants that are flowering will benefit from fortnightly feeds of Flower Power Premium Plant Food.

Deadheading to remove spent flowers when they go over will encourage further flowering. At the same time, look over the plants and remove any dead or dying leaves. This will keep the plants looking their best and help prevent the build-up of any plant diseases.


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