By Sean Conway
These handsome planters, made of cedar with a slate inlay, are able to winter in cold climates without damage
Summer is winding down, and over the coming weeks flowerbeds and planted containers will be offering up their last gasps of color. It's time to start thinking ahead to fall.
When planted containers start looking tired, it's time for a change. Just as there are plants that thrive during the heat of the summer, there are others that thrive in the cooler, shorter days of fall. Shrubs and cool season annuals and perennials are excellent for replanting tired containers. A trip to your local garden center will provide a wide variety of choices.
Many gardeners don't consider using shrubs in containers, but they should. Shrubs are often the best choice for fall and winter container plantings, perfect for enlivening an outdoor space or accenting an entrance. Whether deciduous or evergreen, shrubs focus your attention on foliage and structure rather than on flowers, which can be fleeting.
In colder regions of the country, ornamental conifers are a good choice for containers. As most conifers are native to mountainous regions, they're well suited to withstanding cold temperatures. Planting containers with evergreens like conifers provides an attractive alternative during fall and winter months to an empty container on your deck, patio or flanking your front door.
One of the primary advantages of using shrubs in your containers is that, unlike annuals and perennials, they tend only to grow seasonally, usually in the spring and summer months. In other words, if you plant a shrub in a container at this time of year, it will stay roughly the same size over the coming months. This is ideal for containers placed by an entrance.
Deciduous shrubs are often good choices for southern regions, where they will often hold their foliage well into the winter months. They also offer the advantage of a variety of foliage color and texture. Variegated leaved shrubs are perfect for dark corners, while dark-leaved shrubs are perfect for adding a dramatic accent.
In areas of the country that experience temperatures well below freezing, choosing the proper container is as important as choosing the right plants to fill it. Remember that ceramic, terracotta and glazed earthenware containers absorb and hold moisture. When temperatures fall below freezing, they will crack. If you live in a cold climate, consider using non-porous containers. These come in a variety of attractive forms, typically made of fiberglass with glazed finishes or of plastic made to look like terracotta.
Recently on "Cultivating Life," expert carpenter Tom Tamborello showed me how easy it is to make a planter from cedar wood and store-bought slate tile. This attractive planter has the advantage of being lightweight, rot resistant and impervious to freezing temperatures. This style of container will compliment almost any home, and the stone tiles are available at building stores in a variety of colors. For details on how to make it, visit cultivatinglife.com and click the "building" tab, or enter "shrub containers" into the search box.
Planters such as the one we made on "Cultivating Life" can be filled with soil and planted, or they can be used as containers to hold potted plants. For those who want to have containers in places where lugging soil is a problem (such as in urban settings, on rooftops, etc.), this type of container can be used as an outdoor cachepot by placing a potted shrub inside it. This option not only makes it easy to move the container to various locations but also to change out the container seasonally.
With Labor Day on the horizon, the cool temperatures of fall will be close behind. As your garden winds down, why not consider giving your containers a makeover that will keep them looking good until spring planting rolls around again?
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