What to plant in your garden pots this autumn

A winter pot featuring ornamental cabbage. PA Photo//Squire's Garden Centres.

A winter pot featuring ornamental cabbage. PA Photo//Squire's Garden Centres. - Credit: Archant

Don’t worry if your summer containers are now past their best because you can perk up your pots with autumn plantings that will give you colour and texture through the cooler months and beyond.

A winter pot being made at a Squire's Gardening Workshop. PA Photo//Squire's Garden Centres

A winter pot being made at a Squire's Gardening Workshop. PA Photo//Squire's Garden Centres - Credit: Archant

There are two approaches to autumn and winter pots, says Jeremy Hall, group plant buyer for Squire’s Garden Centres.

“If you are a tonal person and like things in harmony, a good way of doing that is to match the colour of the flowers to the colour of the foliage you are using. Lamium with silver foliage and a pink flower would look great with the silver foliage of cyclamen.

“If you take an, ‘I like it mixed’ approach and like rustic charm, heucheras are great at giving contrast of foliage. I’d probably use two colours of heuchera together – go for a burgundy type with a bright yellow one.

“To get some flower colour in there, I’d use autumn flowering callunas (heathers) called ‘Garden Girls’, which come in a host of colours. Their buds swell, but never open, but they last ages.”

Other combinations he recommends include Ajuga ‘Black Scallop’ – very dark almost black foliage – planted with white mini cyclamen, or with the silver foliage of calocephalus.

For a traditional autumn feeling try orange pansies and viola with Ajuga ‘Burgundy Glow’, which has a pink through to burgundy foliage colour. Alternatively go for a tonal effect by combining the ajuga with pink mini cyclamen.

“Lamium ‘Beacon Silver’ is another great subject for tonal planting. Its silver foliage edged in green is a great foil for pinks and whites.”

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Permanent plantings of acid-loving plants such as azaleas will require ericaceous compost in the pot, but if you are just planting up your pots short-term to last from autumn to spring, a multi-purpose compost with added feed should suffice, he advises.

Flowering plants such as pansies and violas which bloom in autumn become dormant in the winter months, but will re-emerge and flower again in spring.

Other autumn and winter favourites, such as heathers, skimmia, ivy and other evergreens will give you at least some interest in the cooler months and if you plant some bulbs underneath them in autumn such as dwarf narcissi or muscari, they will add colour in spring.

“In our autumn barrel, we are using the miniature daffodil ‘Tete-a-tete’, which is the most popular because it’s small growing and produces three or four flowers from a single bulb from February onwards,” Hall explains.

“Bear in mind the height of the plants in the pot versus the flowering height of the bulbs you put underneath them. You can get a pleasing effect if you put tulips in which are clearly going flower above the height of other plants. But if they are too tall it will look crazy.

“If you use a mixture of bulbs you’ll get a succession of flowers. Muscari are our second most popular, which flower just after the dwarf narcissi.”

Plant hellebores in pots in the autumn and they should give you winter interest.

“I’d recommend Helleborus niger for pots. ‘Christmas Carol’ flowers really early, as does ‘Verboom Beauty’. They will flower just before Christmas if you’re lucky and then right through to March. They prefer a slightly shadier location, but aren’t really fussy about soil.”

Put more plants in your pots when autumn-planting than you do in summer, Hall advises.

“As the day length is shortening and light intensity is not so great, the growth rate is much smaller and, other than a filling out, you won’t get plants overflowing like you do in summer.”

Good specimens for permanent containers which will provide winter interest include Choisya ternata ‘Sundance’, which gives a fabulous splash of golden yellow foliage colour followed by fragrant white flowers in mid-spring.

If you want berries in winter, add Skimmia japonica subsp. ‘Reevesiana’ to your display, a small, spreading female shrub with deep green leaves which produces clusters of bright red berries in winter.

Ornamental cabbages are gaining in popularity as good breeding work has helped produce more compact plants, he points out. ‘Curly Pink’, ‘Curly White’ and ‘Curly Red’ are the most popular. They’ll last up until Christmas, although the best colour comes from them when the nights are colder and are good combined with heucheras.

Ornamental grasses such as pennisetums are also gaining popularity, their seedheads giving soft, wispy movement to containers and will come back year after year. Combine them with violas, hedera and callunas for further colour, he suggests.