Sunday, May 20, 2018
One of America's Great Newspapers ~ Toledo, Ohio

Amy Stone


Spring isn’t the only time for cleaning

Embrace autumn's bright sunny days and crisp nights


Kelly Heidbreder


Embrace these bright sunny days and crisp nights by doing some early fall container cleaning. If you have a few containers of annuals flanking your front door and dotted throughout your landscape, it is time to give them a makeover.

Clean it up

Dump everything out of your big containers and scrub them with soap and water. This will give you a good start for fall. Look for a container that is at least 12 inches in diameter with drainage holes in the bottom.

If you already have plants in those big containers, just pull out the annuals that are looking shabby and toss the top six inches of top soil into a wheelbarrow or another bucket for now.

If I am planting a big pot for the first time, I like to keep it as light as possible so I can still move it if I have to. Fill the bottom third of the container with packing peanuts. Add another third of fresh potting soil from your favorite home and garden center and drop in a handful of slow release fertilizer.

Now, you can have some fun filling the container with fall blooming plants.

Think outside the pot

Your pot might be 18 inches high, but the plants anchored there can be double or even triple that size. So, let’s start getting clever with the type of plants you put in that container.

Remember my design rule on containers? You need pillars, fillers and spillers. Pillars are the tall plants, fillers will be medium height plants that grow out instead of up or down and spillers are the hanging plants we can get to soften the side of the container.

Some of my favorite fall pillars are grasses. They need to be divided right now anyway, so dig some tall grasses out of the garden and put them in a pot. Zebra grass, blue fescue and even a fox red curly sedge will be a good backbone for a fall container.

Around the yard

Why not use a little maple, hickory or oak seedling in your container to give it some height. I have a bazillion of them in my yard. (I’m not really sure how many zeros are in a bazillion, but I know it is a lot!) They can be leafy little whips at this time of the year and can be dug up and shared with your neighbors, so why not use them in a container first. Find one that is three to four feet tall and plant it in the middle of your container. Dried cornstalks also make a fun pillar planted with vibrant colors at their feet.


Your fall show-offs don’t always have to be mums. I can always find an excuse to buy a new hydrangea. I like to find an oakleaf or another fall show off and put it in a pot at this time of the year. If they are tall, they are your pillar. If they are shorter, they can be the filler. Plum leaf weigela also look great especially combined with zebra grass and purple ajuga as the spiller.

Spillers like ajuga, sedum and goldilocks can be tossed into your landscape after the containers are done in the early winter and will grow for you next spring. Blue fescue pillar looks nice with a punch of hot pink or red mums and lime green potato vine.

Use a clump of your favorite coneflower from your garden as a filler and drop in some ivy you have climbing around the base of your backyard tree.

Bamboo sticks, long skinny birch branches and curly willow limbs also look nice in a container. Plop some unique gourds and pumpkins between the spillers and you have another unique container for your front porch.

If you are lucky enough to have a power outlet on your porch, stick a string of lights in your container and set it on a timer to really make your porch glow in the evening. Make a few of these to line your front steps to welcome all of those little trick or treaters next month.

Contact Kelly Heidbreder at 

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