7 fall container plants that will survive until spring

Containers of orange pansies and red mums are among the clearest signs that fall has arrived in the garden. But the problem with going back to these tried-and-true annuals is that they don’t last more than a couple of months. If you’re willing to get a little more creative, you’ll find an array of shrubs, perennials and grasses that offer vibrant fall color with the added benefit: They survive through the winter and can be planted in the garden in the spring.

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Container arrangements are most interesting when they contain plants of varying heights, built around a centerpiece such as a red twig dogwood. These vigorous, medium-sized shrubs reveal crimson branches after dropping their leaves. The Sibirica variety offers gorgeous red branches while the Aurea impresses with sunny yellow leaves on the blood-colored branches. If space is an issue and you need a dwarf cultivar, try kelsey, whose leaves turn rusty brown. Perhaps the best feature of red twig dogwoods is that most of them are hardy to zone 2.

In spring, plant these shrubs in partial shade where they can be watered regularly or kept constantly moist. They spread through underground streams, which can be useful if you’re aiming to grow a hedge. Otherwise, prune the base every couple of years to keep it looking the way you want it. While they look good on a fence or wall, always remember to plant them behind the eaves of the house to ensure they get water from the rain.

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Create visual texture in a planter by placing understory varieties, such as lemon beauty box honeysuckle, around a more vertical centerpiece. This shrub is evergreen in zones 8 and above, but is generally hardy in zone 6. It features small, variegated leaves growing on the side branches, which can be pruned as needed. For a solid color, use Baguessen gold, which glows almost yellow.

After winter has passed, plant the honeysuckle box partly in full sun in your garden. It looks stunning when compared to dark green shrubs – you can pair it with a bright orange shrub or a Mexican fake orange shrub. Because box honeysuckle grows in a mound shape, it also looks attractive next to taller accents such as Wichita blue junipers or pyramidal trees.

For punches of orange, rust and ruby ​​red, consider coral bells, a versatile perennial. These herbaceous plants offer large, round leaves and bold colors, as well as small flowers that attract hummingbirds. What’s even more surprising is that the veins of coral bells are often darker than the color of the foliage, making them luxurious patterns. The Marmalade variety produces ruffled amber leaves covered in pink, while the Delta Dawn bursts with fuzzy pink with lime green edges. For a darker, more autumnal red, try a fire alarm.

Since they are about a foot tall at most, coral bells work best in the front of the garden border. Plant it in an area with partial sun and well-drained soil. It may lose foliage from the cold of winter but can often be revived with compost or fertilizer in the spring. Most are hardy to zone 4.

When the fountain grass sways in the breeze, it’s hard not to reach out and touch it. These gentle beauties can also serve as a vertical element in a plant arrangement. The type called Burgundy Bunny grows to about a foot high with dark red blades and fuzzy seed puffs. Black flowering fountain grass grows 2 feet tall with dark plumes. In warmer Zone 9 climates, the Rubrum cultivar sends up purple blades and Red Buttons produces compact crimson flowers.

While fountain grasses can tolerate drought once established, they grow best in sunny areas with regular water. Visually, they pair well with prairie plants such as purple coneflower, black-eyed Susan, and milkweed.

The oddly named dogwood or leucothoe (pronounced lew-coth-oh-ay) is one of the most overlooked but reliable shrubs out there. These shade-loving evergreen plants come in different sizes and varieties. The gorgeous cultivar is Curly Red, which sports leathery leaves with red tips. They are dense and twisty, adding unique interest to your fall container. A rounded choice is Zeblid, which displays rich crimson foliage in spring. Finally, the rainbow is a larger specimen with a charming variety of green, white and pink.

Designers often use leucothoes in dappled sun and slightly shaded areas. Although hardy to zone 5, it needs protection from harsh winds in cold climates. With intermittent watering, taller specimens form a gentle evergreen backdrop, and smaller specimens can be planted near the front of a partial shade border.

The sun-loving Euphorbia may look like a summer plant, but some of the hardier varieties are suitable for a fall container and will serve as a beautiful foil to the bright oranges and reds. For example, the blue-green foliage of Blue Haze cools the heat of coral fire alarm bells. Purpurea has dark purple foliage and complements any reddish color in the arrangement. Additionally, with clusters of rubbery leaves, some Euphorbia species create a fun and funky shape. Because they crave warm temperatures, they may droop in snowy climates but can survive Zone 6 winters if rolled or covered.

In spring, plant Euphorbia in full sun near the front of the border. They create a rock garden atmosphere when paired with fellow succulents, such as Sedum Autumn Joy or Hens and Chicks. When planted near tufted perennials such as wormwood, they add sculptural architecture. Blue varieties close to purple or nine-smoked bushes create a dramatic visual accent. Just be sure to wear gloves when trimming Euphorbia plants, as they ooze a white, skin-irritating sap when cut.

In a container, sedge acts as a spillover—a plant that flows over the edge of the container and loosens it. And for fall, its colors can’t be beat. The variegated Japanese sedge plant has yellow-green striped blades that arch elegantly among the other plants. The weeping brown sedge blades are fine, copper-colored tufts. Both of these partial shade evergreens retain their color well into winter, although in harsher zones such as 5 or 6, they may die back a bit and need combing the following spring.

In the garden, sedges look great on the front side of the border. Variegated Japanese sedge brightens the dark green ovals of bergenia and contrasts with other shade plants such as palm hellebores or light-blue hostas. Weeping brown sedge goes well with coral-flowered begonias and pops against purple phlox. When placed near a large rock, the sedges will lightly obscure it, adding a touch of mystery to the garden.

Karen Haag is a gardening expert and author of Leave Your Problems Behind: How to De-Stress and Cultivate Happiness Through Plants.

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