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Can You Use Garden Soil in Pots? [+ fixing common container mishaps]

Can You Use Garden Soil in Pots? [+ fixing common container mishaps]

Believe me, I’ve been there. You just got home from the nursery with tons of gorgeous flowers to plant up your containers, and…

Crap… you forgot to buy potting soil.

Using garden soil in your containers can’t be all that bad… right? So you head for the shovel to dig up a couple scoops of soil from your garden bed to fill it up.

As tempting as it may be, you should not use straight garden soil in pots. When used in containers, garden soil gets very compacted. Garden soil also lacks the drainage & nutrients necessary to grow healthy, potted plants. 

Types of Garden Soils

There are many types of soil used in the home garden, each with distinct differences.

  • Dirt from your own garden beds at home
  • Bagged garden soil purchased at the store
  • Compost
  • Potting soil or potting mix
  • Seed starting mix

Garden Soil from Your Yard

The soil in your own yard consists of all sorts of goodness. But when you scoop garden soil or topsoil into a container, it doesn’t translate into a healthy container garden. Garden soil from your yard is very heavy and depending on your location will contain various amounts of sand, clay and/or silt. When it’s on the ground, it’s aerated by the worms, bugs and microorganisms that live in your soil. But, when used in containers, garden soil from your yard is too dense. It will get very compacted, causing poor drainage in your container which ultimately will rot the roots of your plants. 

Bags of topsoil purchased from a store is comparable to what you’d actually find in the ground. The amounts of sand, clay and silt will vary depending on where the topsoil is harvested. The only difference between bagged topsoil and the soil from your yard is that bagged topsoil is shredded and screened to remove any large particles then processed to a looser consistency.

Both garden soil and topsoil are too dense/heavy and lack the nutrients needed for container plants.

Bagged Garden Soil

Bagged garden soil consists of natural topsoil or sand blended with  bulky organic/woody material (like pine bark). Most garden soils are too dense to allow for good air and water movement when added to a container garden. Soils hold water very well in their small pore spaces and can drown roots—especially in shallow containers.    


Many websites will tell you that yes you can use 100% compost when planting containers. However, I have tried this in the past with bagged compost and it did not work out so well. If you make your compost from leaf mold, this may work out to be a lighter mix that will be suitable for containers. But, if using regular compost or bagged compost, I would recommend combining it with at least 50% soilless potting mix so it doesn’t get compacted. 

Many gardeners will use compost as a replacement for peat in their homemade potting mix recipes— it holds moisture well, but not nearly as well as the peat.

Potting Mix

Potting mix or potting soil is the preferred option for growing plants, flowers and even vegetables inside pots. 

Vendors might call their product a potting mix or a potting soil, but there is usually no distinguishing ingredient between them. The ingredients will be listed on the back of the bag. 

Typical Potting Mix Contains:

  • decomposed/woody material (around 50-65%)
  • spaghnum peat moss (or equivalent)
  • perlite and/or vermiculite
  • fertilizer
  • a wetting agent

Seed Starting Mix

It’s also important to note that potting mix is different than seed starting mix. Seed starting mix is used to germinate and grow plants from seed. There’s actually no “soil” in seed starting mix. Because of this, you really wouldn’t use garden soil or potting soil to make seed starting mix.

What Blooms with What?

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Can garden soil be used in outdoor pots?

Garden soil can be used as the base of a homemade potting mix, but it should never be used straight in outdoor pots. Using any soil in a potting mix is not ideal, though. You are much better off using potting mix to make sure that you have the right balance of aeration, drainage, moisture retention and nutrition.

What happens if you use garden soil in pots? 

If you use garden soil, such as Miracle Gro Garden soil or Vigoro Garden soil you may run into some problems. Garden soil is simply too heavy, making containers much harder to move around than if you used potting mix. That extra weight will lead to compaction from watering. The compaction will not allow the pot to drain and there will be no air in the soil for your plants. Additionally, garden soil will lack the nutrients your plants would usually gain from the ground that a soilless potting mix puts in right in the bag for you. 

If you are hell-bent on using garden soil, I would recommend amending the soil to improve the moisture retention, drainage, aeration and nutrient levels. Scroll down to the heading “What can I use in containers instead of potting soil?” to get some ideas.

I accidentally used garden soil in pots — Will it kill my potted plants?

If you used soil from your yard, yes this can potentially kill your potted plants. But don’t worry, you can fix it! First, you’ll have to un-pot your plant. Instead of throwing away the soil that you put into your container, you can dump it into a bucket and amend the soil. 

In the next section, I provide several amendment options. 

Can you mix potting soil with garden soil?

Potting soil can be mixed with garden soil for particular cases such as raised beds, but it’s not a good mix for containers. You will still need to amend the mixture.

What can I use in containers instead of potting soil?

You can actually make your own potting soil by combining various ingredients together. Most gardeners will use perlite or vermiculite with peat or sphagnum moss. The important thing to remember is that to make potting mix, you will need  “ingredients” to retain moisture, promote drainage and aeration and nutrients. 

I like to use the ratio of 1 part moisture retention material to 1 part drainage and aeration materials plus the appropriate amount of nutrients, which will depend on the fertilizer you use and the size of your container. 

If you are wondering what materials to use and you just need a recipe, try this:

  • 1 part woody material, garden soil or topsoil
  • 1 part perlite (for drainage)
  • 1 part coco coir (for moisture retention)
  • bone meal (balanced fertilizer)

If you want to get creative, here are more options!

1. Aeration & Drainage

What can you use for aeration & drainage in your mix?

  • Perlite: Perlite is a volcanic glass that’s heated at high temperatures. The heat causes the glass to expand, resulting in an odorless mixture that feels like tiny little balls of Styrofoam. It’s great for drainage.
  • PBH rice hulls: Available at a lower basic cost than perlite, PBH rice hulls dramatically reduce dust in the greenhouse mixing environment. Sterilized rice hulls are not a substitute for peat moss but replace perlite and vermiculite, the production of which requires fossil fuels.
  • Horticultural sand: Horticultural sand is very gritty sand made from crushed granite, quartz or sandstone. It’s also called sharp sand, coarse sand or quartz sand. Because there’s a mix of gritty components, horticultural sand promotes drainage.

2. Moisture Retention

Moisture retention is another important component of soil used in potting mixes. Make sure that you always add a component for aeration & drainage along with a moisture retention component. If you don’t, your soil will become brick-like and so compacted that it can’t drain. This is not good news for your plants.

What can you use for moisture retention in your mix?

  • Peat moss: Peat moss is the go-to for moisture retention in seed starting and potting mixes, but it’s not the most sustainable or eco-friendly option.
  • Vermiculite: Vermiculite is natural mineral (magnesium-aluminum-iron) silicate, which basically means minerals compressed and dried into flakes, or pellets. It absorbs water and aids in moisture retention. Vermiculate is found in so many seed-starting mixes because it can protect seedlings from fungus. Vermiculite also has some drainage and aeration qualities, but not nearly as much as perlite.
  • Coconut coir: Coconut coir (also known as coconut fiber, coco peat or coco coir), is my favorite alternative to peat moss. It has excellent water-holding capabilities and a pH level of 6 which will is good for most garden plants.
  • Compost: Many gardeners recommend compost as an alternative to peat moss, but if you are using it in containers it will eventually become compacted in your containers and cause drainage issues.
  • Leaf mold: Leaf mold is easy to make and can condition the soil and greatly improve moisture retention.
  • Woody materials: Non-chemically processed woody byproducts of locally-sourced wood (such as wood fiber, sawdust or composted bark) can be a decent alternative to peat moss. But, it’s usually a less-than-ideal alternative because most wood isn’t locally sourced and can be chemically treated.
  • PittMoss: Created by an inventor in Pittsburgh, PittMoss consists of reconstituted paper fibers with added proprietary ingredients.
  • Worm castings: Worm castings are the waste from farmed earthworms, rich in nutrients and beneficial microbes. They can also hold 2-3x their weight (p35) in moisture.

For these reasons, I would recommend finding alternatives to use in your own garden.

7 tips for choosing the RIGHT plants

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3. Fertilizer

Plants in pots need fertilizer if you want to them to thrive. Because they are in a contained space, they only have access to the nutrients that you put into the container. That’s why it’s important to add fertilizer to your DIY potting mix and make sure that you replenish the fertilizer often.

When you purchase fertilizer you’ll typically see 3 numbers on the label. These numbers represent the nitrogen (N), phosphorous (P) and potassium (K) or the N-P-K ratio. A fertilizer with the numbers 10-5-10 on the label means that the fertilizer contains 10% N, 5% P and 10% K. The remaining 75% of the bag’s weight is carrier product.

Nitrogen promotes optimum shoot and leaf growth, often at the expense of flower and fruit production. Phosphorous promotes strong roots and encourages fruiting and flowering. Potassium levels influence a plant’s heartiness and vigor. Learn more about fertilizer numbers. It’s best to find a balanced fertilizer that contains around equal parts of all 3 nutrients.

Here are some fertilizer recommendations for creating your own potting soil from garden soil:

  • Miracle Grow All-Purpose Plant Food: This is an affordable and long-lasting fertilizer option that works well on most plant types. This is not an organic solution and contains chemicals so I’m also providing some alternatives.
  • Osmocote: A common fertilizer used in container gardening, Osmocote contains 11 nutrients, slow-release feeding container plants for 6 months.
  • Worm castings: Worm castings are the waste from farmed earthworms, rich in nutrients and beneficial microbes. In addition to moisture-retention qualities, the nutrients found in worm castings can last 6x longer (p35) than basic potting mixes.
  • Bone Meal: Bone meal is made from steamed and then crushed animal bones. It’s high in Phosphorous, important for root development and flower blooms and calcium and nitrogen, which are also very beneficial to plant growth.
  • Blood Meal: Blood meal is dried and powdered animal blood. It’s used as a fertilizer to increase soil nitrogen levels — and without nitrogen plants simply cannot grow. Blood meal is one of the richest non-synthetic sources of nitrogen, which is a crucial component of plant cells and one of the basic components of chlorophyll, the substance that helps plants convert sunlight into sugars.
  • Liquid Kelp: Liquid kelp, seaweed, or fish-based fertilizers provide a range of benefits for plant health and growth.

Wrapping Up

Using straight garden soil in your containers is not a good idea. Garden soil on its own lacks the drainage, aeration, moisture control and nutrients necessary to successfully grow plants in containers. When used by itself, garden soil or topsoil in containers becomes so compacted that water cannot drain.

In other words: the roots of your plant drown in the water and your plants die.

But the good news is that you can amend your garden soil in order to use it in containers. Is the effort worth it? I’m not so sure… but it is possible! Use a 1-1-1 ratio: 1 part garden soil, 1 part moisture retention component (like coco coir) and 1 part drainage & aeration component (like perlite) and a well-balanced fertilizer (like bone meal or osmocote). Once mixed, your garden soil is now suitable for your containers!If you have a go-to DIY potting mix recipe that you love, be sure to head over to the Facebook page to share it.

More DIY Garden Posts You’ll Love

garden soil with blue scooper and DIY Potting Mix text overlay
How to properly use garden soil in pots for a DIY potting mix you can make at home.
How to Arrange Plants in Containers – 7 Design Tips

How to Arrange Plants in Containers – 7 Design Tips

It’s fun to go to the garden center looking for gorgeous plants for your planters and containers. But, that fun can really quickly turn to overwhelm and dread when you start to see how many plants and flowers there are to choose from.

In a moment of panic, you turn around and spot that pre-made container near the checkout for $75. And, it feels like someone threw a lifeline to you as you breathe a sigh of relieft.

Believe me, I know how incredibly tempting it is to buy that premade arrangement and move on with your life.

But, did you know that once you learn some simple tricks to arranging plants in containers, you’ll save SO much money? Not only that, your containers will be unique and creative, too.

So, if you’ve been struggling with arranging plants, I’ve put together this post — and a video — to show you:

  • how I choose plants for my containers
  • how I combine different plants together
  • how I arrange the plants in my containers
Fall Planters – Container Design using Ornamental Peppers

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Tips to make the perfect container arrangement

You can watch the video above to get all of my tips and a bit more of a “visual” look at why I’m choosing each plant. Or, below you can read each tip and laugh at me trying to explain what I’m talking about in the video 🙂

1 Choose an “inspiration” plant

My first tip is to make a loop around the garden center and find a plant that inspires you. Maybe it’s something you’ve never seen before? Maybe it’s a color you love? Maybe it’s a plant you’re familiar with, but have never seen it in THAT color before? Maybe it’s a vegetable, like cabbage, kale of peppers? Or even an ornamental grass?

Whatever it is, find that plant that you just MUST have. The one that speaks to you. This will be the starting/jumping off point for arranging your container.

Dark purple pepper plant with purple blooms

For me, the jumping off point was the moment that I saw this beautiful and unusual plant at the garden center. It’s a dark purple, almost black, ornamental pepper called Black Pearl (Capsicum annuum black pearl).

Those round, shiny nubs are actually hot peppers and it blooms with purple flowers. And I had to have it.

2 Tie your container in with your existing landscape

Ok, so black pearl pepper is in my cart and I have already decided that I must need it. At this point, I HAVE to give myself a good old gut check. I call this the “gut check” test.

So, I ask myself how this plant actually ties into my existing landscape. And, I know that it may be a strange question because this is a container arrangement… right? But, the fact remains that your landscape does not go away just because you decided to change out your container. So, there has to be some connection between your planter and your landscape.

For me… there is because I use a lot of purple blooms in my landscape. So, even though the foliage of this pepper plant is WAY darker than anything in my landscape, it still has the purple blooms that tie in with my purple asters at catmint this time of year.

What Blooms with What?

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3 Find plants to compliment your inspiration plant

So, we have our inspirational plant. Around this time, I’m staring at it in my cart and grinning like an idiot as I bump into displays around the nursery… because I am in love with it and I’ve passed my “gut check” test.

So, the next thing on my agenda is to find plants to go with this particular plant. And, in most cases I think about color. So I’m usually looking for something else that’s purple like the pepper… or something orange or yellow that contrasts with the purple.

Quick Tip: Learning just a little bit about the color wheel and creating color schemes will up your gardening game.

For me, it was another pepper plant. And yes, apparently I’m obsessed with peppers this year. But, this plant had so much going for it and I thought it was the perfect companion to my black pearl pepper. It’s called Mambo ornamental pepper bush (Capsicum annuum Mambo).

Ornamental Pepper Bush - Orange and Purple Peppers

Mambo ties in beautifully with Black Pearl because it has similarities, but it also has differences.

It has shiny peppers on it, but the peppers are a different shape and some are the same (purple) but some are different (orange)

Also, the foliage of this pepper bush is the same shape and has the same shine as Black Pearl. The leaves are dark, but not quite as dark as Black Pearl.

4 Use contrast in color and texture to make an interesting arrangement

So at this stage we have Black Pearl Ornamental Pepper paired with Mambo Ornamental Pepper bush. And, Mambo gives a bit of contrast but not enough to really amp up my container. So my next mission is to find something that will really contrast with my inspiration plant.

So, I took cues from the orange peppers in Mambo and set out to find another orange blooming plant. But not another pepper. I need something with a different texture than the shiny bulbs I already have. And that’s when I stumbled upon Celosia ‘Twisted Orange’ Cockscomb (Celosia argentea var. cristata ‘Twisted Orange’).

Closeup of fuzzy twisted blooms of the Twisted Orange Cockscomb plant

How unique and exciting are these blooms? This is just what I was looking for as far as contrast.

The blooms are a fuzzy, twisty orange mass which is much, much different than the shiny bulbs of the peppers I had.

It also has lighter green foliage that are a bit bigger than the leaves of the peppers (although they are basically the same shape).

5 Choose plants of different heights

When I get to this point, I’m usually thinking about what I’m missing from my container. In most cases, it’s variation in height, but it certainly could be other things.

You want to make sure you include something tall, something bushy and something low to cover the dirt (or even “spill over” the container). So, in my arrangement, I have my Mambo peppers that will grow low and possibly spill over the edge of the planter. My celosia and Black Pearl pepper will fill in the middle height. But I am really missing that “thriller” part.

And, by the way, I really don’t like using the word thriller… you know how they say thriller, spiller, filler. It’s all well and fine to use this to remember to vary the heights of your plants, but I find that in a majority of my planters that the thriller isn’t really all that thrilling. It’s usually just a tall grass or something to give the planter height. In this case I feel like I’ve already found my thriller in the Black Pearl Pepper. So… anything after that is just… not so thrilling.

So, to summarize this, varying plant heights in a container IS super important. But the tallest plant doesn’t need to be the most “thrilling” part of your container. Make sense?

Chartreuse green millet plant with strappy leaves

I chose Jade Princess Millet (Pennisetum glaucum ‘Jade Princess’) for my tallest plant in my container.

Millet doesn’t bloom… but it solves several problems with my container; height, leaf shape and brightness.

6 Review your plant choices to see if anything is missing

So, what are these problems exactly? Well, take a look at your plant choices as a group and you may start to realize that something is “off” or “wrong”. In many cases, it has to do with the heights of the plants like I said above.

But in some other cases it will be something not as easy to pinpoint. But, here are some common issues that you may have and what you can do to fix them.

container with dark purple and bright orange peppers in front of a house
Ornamental Peppers Fall Container by Amy Fedele, Pretty Purple Door

Do you have plants that are different heights?

Think… tall, bushy, low. Make sure that there’s a variation of heights for your plants and that you really can’t see the soil. Or, once the plants grow in you won’t be able to see the soil. Adding some different height plants adds a lot of interest to your container.

If you don’t want this “style” of container, that’s ok too. There are lots of different things you can do. So, just move to the next point.

Is there enough contrast?

You want to make sure that your arrangement is cohesive. But it should also have enough contrast to create some interest. So think about color contrast… but also contrast in shapes and textures too.

In my planter, part of the problem was with contrast in the leaf shape. This was resolved by the strappy foliage of the millet. The majority of a plant is foliage so I tend NOT to rely on the color of the blooms to carry my designs.

If all the color was removed, are the plants able to stand out from each other? Or, does everything just blend together? If it blends, you may need to find a tiny leafed plant, a large leafed plant, or just something different to add to your container arrangement.

What feeling does it evoke?

What’s the first word that comes to mind for you? When I looked at my arrangement I thought of “spooky.” Which… is kind of ok… since it’s almost Halloween. BUT, it wasn’t completely ok with me.

I don’t my planters to feel too dark and scary. So, I needed to choose something to brighten it up. Which is where my choice for the Jade Princess Millet came in.

So, think about the first word that comes to mind (dull, boring, girly, cheerful, dark). Is it a positive word or a negative one? How can you change the feeling?

Does it remind you of anything?

I associate color with a lot of different things… so often when I look at an arrangement I immediately think of common items or even popular brands that use those colors. This can be good or bad so let’s go over a few examples.

I really can’t stand the combination of red and yellow flowers together. I immediately see ketchup and mustard and think of McDonalds. Nothing wrong with McDonalds… I just don’t like the food enough to create a plant arrangement in Ronald’s honor.

But, I really do love ice cream. One time I made a planter arrangement with lots of different pastel colors and the first thing I thought of when I looked at it was rainbow sherbet. So, that was a wonderful association… except for my diet!

So… if your arrangement is sparking some weird associations, that’s totally normal. If it’s a positive association (like rainbow sherbet ice cream), go for it. If it’s something you don’t particularly like (Ronald)… maybe you need to adjust it.

7 Divide plants to fill multiple containers for less money

Did you know that just because you purchase one plant in a pot… it doesn’t mean that it’s only one plant? My mind was blown when I first realized this. And now I will never go back to purchasing premade arrangements.

Take a look inside of the plant that you’re about to buy. Do you see multiple stems coming out of the soil? If so, it’s likely that the plant can be divided into at least two different plants.

Actually, the ornamental pepper bush in the video above was actually 5 separate plants. So, I purchased one pot for $7.99 and was able to divide that into 5 different plants for my containers! Not a bad deal, right?

If you want to learn more about how to split plants in containers, just watch this video and I’ll show you how to do it.

Quick Tip: If you’re looking for more gorgeous fall container ideas, head over to this post, 10 Fall Flower Containers with a Unique Twist 

BONUS- Use a self-watering planter

If you’re getting into container gardening, self-watering planters are a great option. Not only do they save you time having to water each day, but overall will lead to healthier and happier plants that are consistently getting the moisture they need to survive.

You can purchase these planters at nurseries and home improvement stores. But, you can also fairly easily turn a container you love into a self-watering planter.

What did I plant?

four plant choices for container separated into blocks
Black pearl ornamental pepper, Mambo ornamental pepper bush, Celosia twisted Orange, Jade princess Millet

From left to right, here are my fall container arrangement plant choices:

  1. Black pearl ornamental pepper Capsicum annuum black pearl
  2. Mambo ornamental pepper bush Capsicum annuum Mambo
  3. Celosia twisted Orange Cockscomb Celosia argentea var. cristata ‘Twisted Orange’
  4. Jade princess Millet Pennisetum glaucum ‘Jade Princess’

Wrapping Up

When creating your own container arrangement, start with one plant as inspiration and go form there. Then, find a plant to compliment your inspiration plant. Then, another plant that contrasts it in either color, leaf shape, texture or size…. or all of the above. Next, you want to make sure you include something tall, something bushy and something low to cover the dirt (or even “spill over” the container). Lastly, have fun and enjoy the process of choosing your plants and arranging them in your containers. If you liked this post about container arrangements, you’ll definitely want to check out my top tips for arranging plants in your landscape.

More Gardening Posts You’ll Love

Closeups of orange, purple and green plants; How to arrange plants in containers
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10 Fall Flower Containers With a Unique Twist

10 Fall Flower Containers With a Unique Twist

Nothing beats an autumn garden. And one of my most favorite things about this season is creating fall flower containers filled with rich colors, tons of texture and, of course, a unique twist.

In my opinion, fall containers are a chance to go wild in your garden. And because of the season there are so many other options you can use than JUST flowers. So, it’s a great opportunity to try your hand at creating your own container rather than buying a pre-arranged fall flower container from the nursery.

Step out of the ordinary with these unique and creative fall flower containers. Get your wheels spinning and your mind racing with unique plant combination ideas for container gardens.

Plant Combination Ideas for Container Gardens

Below are some of my favorite containers this year. These all really inspired me to create my own container arrangement this year.

This year, I’m particularly inspired by the contrast of deep, dark foliage with bright, intense blooms. I’m also loving anything “edible” added to my containers… like ornamental peppers, cabbage, kale and anything else. And last, I really like the use of urns or older, upcycled planting containers. I saw many examples where the color of the container was echoed in the color of the plants used within the container, which I think is a really great tip.

Quick Tip: Learn how to arrange plants in containers in this article, complete with a step by step video.

For the record, I made up all of the titles for these containers based on what I was seeing.

Spicy Dark Purple & Orange Fall Container with Ornamental Peppers

container with dark purple and bright orange peppers in front of a house
Ornamental Peppers Fall Container by Amy Fedele, Pretty Purple Door

This is my container arrangement for this autumn. I was really inspired by the dark purple, almost black foliage and round bulb-like peppers on this black pearl ornamental pepper bush and the whole design just revealed itself from there. If you really like this container, check out my YouTube video where I plant this up and explain why I chose these particular plants in my fall flower container.

  1. Black pearl ornamental pepper Capsicum annuum black pearl
  2. Celosia twisted Orange Cockscomb Celosia argentea var. cristata ‘Twisted Orange’
  3. Mambo ornamental pepper bush Capsicum annuum Mambo
  4. Millet Jade princess Pennisetum glaucum ‘Jade Princess’

Rich & Rusty Fall Container Design

Tall and short rusty metal containers with rich orange and purple flowers
Rich and rusty fall container design from Nunohomez.

This container arrangement is just… so… rich. I love the short and tall galvanized metal containers and how they play off the orange flowers. What a perfectly saturated and beautiful design perfect for fall.

I don’t have the actual flower names for this arrangement but here are my best guesses/options that you can try to get this look.

  • Endless orange evening primrose Oenothera versicolor ‘Endless Orange’
  • Orange Zest Garden Mum Chrysanthemum grandiflorum
  • Main Street ‘Beale Street’ Coleus
  • Dark Star Coleus
  • Purple Fountain Grass Pennisetum setaceum ‘Rubrum’
  • Grape Expectations Coral Bells Heuchera ‘Grape Expectations’

Sunshine with an edible twist

yellow flowers and ornamental cabbage in an outdoor planter
This sunny fall container design was found on Pinterest – original source of this image is unknown.

I love the unique twist of this planter filled with bright and sunny brown-eyed susans (or maybe Heliopsis, ‘Tuscan Sun’?) offset by the texture of the deep purple ornamental cabbage.

Although this is a simple arrangement, this design still includes a little filler and spiller to give it height and personality.

Purple and Lavender Curly Cue Container

Planter in front of brick house with purple and lavender plants and jackolantern decor
Purple and Lavender Curly Cue Container Design by Deborah Silver at Dirt Simple. (I am making up these names, by the way).

This is just a gorgeous monochromatic and easy to emulate fall container design using deep purple cabbages and lavender eucalyptus. You can get the look of the white “curly cues” (as I like to call them) using dyed birch branches.

I love the advice given by garden designer Deborah Silver, about using ornamental cabbage in fall planters. She says, “Ornamental cabbages and kales can be had of considerable size; I like my fall pots stuffed to overflowing.   Buy big. Stuff as many plants as you can manage into your pots. The fall is fleeting-do not be late to the concert.”

What Blooms with What?

Never know what to plant together? Find out with this FREE Plant Pairing Guide and become a pro at combining plants for the best garden design possible!

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Hairs on Fire Fall Container

Hairs on Fire Container Design by Deborah Silver at Dirt Simple.

Really love so many of Deborah Silver’s container arrangements, so here’s another one.

The dried and dyed yellow twigs provide lots of color at a time of year when color is at a premium. Preserved eucalyptus is another great source of color.  The plum eucalyptus in this arrangement is subtle, but it picks up the dark carmine pink of the cabbage and kale. “I like fall represented as a celebration,” she says.

I love how the vibrant orange-yellow twigs play off the orange of the bittersweet. This is just accentuated by the dark folate of the eucalyptus, cabbage and kale.

Bittersweet is a beautiful plant for container arrangements, although due to its highly invasive nature, I would definitely not plant bittersweet free in the garden.

Layered Peach Cobbler Fall Container Design

orange container by picket fence with peach colored flowers
Layered Peach Cobbler Fall Container Design from Proven Winners.

I love the purple fountain grass in this fall flower container paired with orange and yellow plants. This is a great container to try for the transition from late summer into fall because it gives that “hint” of autumn without being too overbearing about it (if you know what I mean).

Plus, the purple fountain grass will last all the way through November and looks great when grouped with pumpkins and gourds too. To get this look, try:

  1. ColorBlaze® Sedona Sunset® Coleus Solenostemon scutellarioides
  2. Purple Fountain Grass Pennisetum setaceum ‘Rubrum’
  3. Superbells® ‘Peach’ Calibrachoa hybrid

Carve out a Mumkin

Pumpkin used as a planter with mums
Mumkin Fall Container Design from Southern Living

What do you get when you combine the fun of a pumpkin with the beauty of a mum? A “mumkin,” of course! You can also fill up your smaller gourds with containers of pansies to add to the ensemble..

This mumkin wins a place on my list because of it’s simplicity and unique twist. Just carve out a pumpkin and fill it with your mums (leave them in the container). So cute and creative. I especially love the “salsa” colors in this particular silhouette.

Monochromatic Minimal Fall Urn

White urn planter with graceful plants spilling out
Monochromatic planting with graceful greens from Mod Vintage Life

This is an interesting fall container design. It feels so light and fresh but it would work great for the fall season. Cabbage, gourds and greenery all in neutral tones offer zero blooms but I can’t seem to look away from its beauty.

Crunchy Cabbage Urn

Concrete urn on a table with large head of cabbage
Crunchy Cabbage Urn Unique Fall Container Deisgn from LovelieGreen Tumblr

Wow! Look at the texture in this crunchy head of cabbage in this gorgeous weathered urn. I just want to quietly tear a tiny little piece off and taste this fresh cabbage. Do you think anyone would notice?

This is a really great container design for fall. It’s so cheap and simple to do and uses an old urn as a planter. I love the deep dark hunter green the on the edges combined with the bright, fresh summer green center. Another great “transition” container from summer to fall. Add some gourds, like the one on the table, for yet another texture. Done and done.

Sunshine Peeking Fall Container Design

Persian Shield mums, cabbage and ivy surround an evergreen in a container
Sunshine Peeking Fall Container Design via Pinterest. Original image source is unknown.

Last but not least is this really interesting combination for your fall container. I just LOVE the yellow blooms peeking out from underneath the deep dark purple foliage, don’t you? A twisted topiary evergreen anchors this container that elegantly combines Persian shield (Strobilanthes dyerianus), yellow mums, cabbage and ivy into a masterpiece of form, texture and color.

Wrapping Up

Fall is a great time to experiment with your containers and really flex your creative muscles. I hope that these fall container designs gave you some inspiration to think outside the box this year. Since the fall container season is short, be brave and try something new and different!

Be sure to follow Pretty Purple Door on Facebook so you can share your container arrangements and ask questions, too. Can’t wait to see you over there!


More Gardening Posts You’ll Love

Grid with unique fall planter examples
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6 Awesome Small Garden Ideas To Try Today

6 Awesome Small Garden Ideas To Try Today

Love tulips, daffodils, crocuses and other bulbs but have limited space to plant? Or, like me are just plain outta space because you are a planting machine. These 6 awesome small garden ideas I use myself will show you how to layer your bulbs and use vertical space to make the most of your garden – no matter how big or small you think it is.

Plant a vertical garden

Small Garden Ideas: Plant a vertical garden with a canvas shoe holder

Plant a vertical garden using a hanging shoe organizer (link to Amazon). Hang it outside and fill it with herbs, trailing vines, creeping jenny, and/or different varieties of sedum (which are drought-tolerant and super low maintenance)

Use tiered or stacking planters

Small Garden Ideas: Use Tiered or Stacking Pots

Use tiered or stacking planters, like this one on Amazon, make great use of the vertical space you have. You can even try this with an old pallet by attaching some mason jars to the planks. Or use a simple step stool to place small bouquets.

Grow some hanging baskets

small garden ideas: diy self watering hanging basket

Hanging baskets are an awesome way to maximize space. Using the vertical space adds a  lot of impact without taking up any space on the ground. Check out this post on creating a SELF-WATERING hanging basket for even less maintenance.

What Blooms with What?

Never know what to plant together? Find out with this FREE Plant Pairing Guide and become a pro at combining plants for the best garden design possible!

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Add a trellis or low fence behind planters

Adding a trellis or low fence behind existing plantings is a great small garden idea

Add a trellis or low fence BEHIND your existing planting beds. Instantly get twice the flowers and vegetables in your small garden. Here’s a great option that you can purchase on Amazon.

Plant on your railings

Using railing boxes is another great small garden idea if you are short on space

Really, you can do this. They actually sell railing planter boxes – attach right onto your porch or deck (like this on Amazon). These also come in self-watering varieties!

Plant in a window box

Small Garden Ideas: Plant in a window box

Planting in a window box is a great way to expand your planting space. Not only that, but it will add great curb appeal to your home! This window box on Amazon is one I really like.

What Blooms with What?

Never know what to plant together? Find out with this FREE Plant Pairing Guide and become a pro at combining plants for the best garden design possible!

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Layer Bulbs in Pots for Maximum Impact

Love tulips, daffodils, crocuses and other bulbs but have limited space to plant? Or, like me are just plain outta space because you are a planting machine. Next I’ll show you how to layer your bulbs to make the most of your container plantings.

Small Garden Ideas: Use Tiered or Stacking Pots

Layering bulbs is a great way to save space and time in your garden.

By choosing the right flower bulbs, you can stack the bulbs for a beautiful flower show in a small area. This is a great small garden idea because you are taking up a very small space and maximizing the results you get!

Making a bulb lasagna

The optimal time to plant new bulbs is in the fall, before it frosts. This will give your bulbs time to acclimate to their new environment and go dormant for winter. When spring arrives, they will bloom beautifully!

This how-to guide shows how to plant layers of bulbs in pots, but this same bulb layering technique can also be used right in the ground. The great part about putting them right in the ground  is that it’s a huge space AND time saver. To accomplish this, just dig a hole to the deepest layer depth (in this case it will be 6″), then cover with 2″ dirt, put in the 4″ layer, and so on. Hey, digging holes is hard work… right? This is a great way to save space AND time.

Which bulbs are good for layering?

Choose bulbs that bloom come up sequentially (such as early spring, mid spring, late spring)

The bulbs can (and should) be planted at different depths (such as 2″, 4″ and 6″)

The earliest blooming bulbs need to be the highest depth bulbs (i.e. the early spring blooming bulb would have to be planted at the 2″ depth, and the late spring bulb would have to be planted at the 6″ depth)

Plant for color and variety! There are tons of bulbs to choose from! I’ll give you some examples, or try searching layering bulbs on Pinterest or Google.

If you’d like to keep it simple for your first time around, choose bulbs that are easy to grow and care for.  A good choice is a basic planting of:

  • Tulips (Bottom — about 6″ deep)
  • Daffodils (Middle — about 4″ deep)
  • Crocus (Top — about 2″ deep)

How-To Layer Bulbs in Pots Step by Step

Layering Bulbs in Pots - How-To Instructions

Step 1: Place a layer of gravel across the bottom of the container, then apply a thick layer of potting soil mixed with bulb food. 

You can find bulb food via this link, or at your local hardware store or garden center. Bone meal is also a great option! You can layer the bulbs shoulder-to-shoulder if you have a lot of them. You don’t have to space them out like you would in the garden. The tighter the better. I wish I had more actually.

Layering Bulbs in Pots - Pretty Purple Door

Step 2: Place the first layer of bulbs in the pot and cover with a layer of soil.

Layering Bulbs in Pots - Tulip Bottom Layer

Step 3: Continue layering, and place your second layer of bulbs in the soil.

Layering Bulbs in Pots - Daffodil Middle Layer

Step 4: Cover the top layer of bulbs with a final layer of soil, as if you were planting outdoors.

Keep from hard frost and enjoy this Spring!

Layering Bulbs in Pots - Crocus Top Layer

Tips for Layering Bulbs in Colder Climates

  • Use durable containers that won’t crack in the cold: More durable containers made of stone, cast concrete, fiberglass, cast iron, or plastic are suitable for colder winter climates.
  • Use small plastic pots and transplant in spring: You can also plant your bulbs in small 6-inch or 8-inch plastic pots and come spring transfer them into your larger pots or containers.
  • Insulate your pots: If you plan to leave your pots outside through winter, you’ll have to protect your bulbs from the severe weather. You can surround the pots in tightly packed straw or bury them in sawdust and put a good 18 inches of mulch on top.
  • Store them in a garage or shed:  You can also store your bulb pots in a garage, shed, cold basement, car port, or outbuilding that won’t get too far below freezing but will also not heat up during the day.


Bring your containers outside in the spring when the danger of hard frost has passed or when you see other bulbs in the ground outside starting to emerge.

Some Resources for Small Garden Ideas

Image Credits: Canvas Shoe Hanger Planter: Inhabitat | Trellis behind existing planters: Better Homes & Gardens

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