Funky Fall Container Gardening

Small pumpkin teacup with flowers
A small pumpkin makes a whimsical “ teacup.”

A “funky” fall container planting is any combination of container, plants and other materials that is unusual, quaint or full of unique character. Just about any vessel can serve as a planter, from old shoes to hollowed-out pumpkins. Add further funkiness by filling with unusually colored or fancifully arranged seasonal plants and enhance the display with interesting elements including fruits, vegetables, dried flowers, and even garden implements. Imagination is the only limit. The cost of these container arrangements varies widely, depending on the choice of individual elements, but in reality, funkiness is priceless.

Consider Containers

To find unusual containers, look around your kitchen, garage, cellar or attic. Anything that can hold soil can hold plants. Think about the fall theme and use an old trick-or-treat bucket, wooden fruit basket or an assortment of canning jars. With a little paint and/or stencils, a terra cotta plant pot can take on bright fall hues or vivid patterns. Hot glue ears of decorative Indian corn all the way around a straight-sided plastic plant pot for an inexpensive funky effect.

Watering can as a planter with flowers
Anything that can hold soil can serve as a planter.

If you don’t want your container of choice to serve as a permanent plant pot, simply place the plants in a slightly smaller plastic pot and drop into the container. Use sheet moss to disguise the edges of the plastic pot, if necessary.
Hollowed-out pumpkins and gourds, available in many sizes and shapes, also make excellent temporary planters. When you are carving pumpkins, clean out an extra one and use it to hold an ornamental cabbage, an arrangement of pansies, mums and curly willow or multi-colored dyed cattails. A carved pumpkin looks especially funky with ornamental grass “hair” emerging from its open top. A large, swan-shaped gourd is transformed into an unusual container when you hollow out its middle and insert trailing variegated ivy.

Plant Choices

Ornamental cabbages in pumpkin
Big, bold ornamental cabbages pair well with bright orange pumpkins.

For a funky take on a traditional favorite, seek out and combine unusually-colored mums. Vibrant tropical stalwarts, like crotons (Codiaeum variegatum var. pictum) and calathea or peacock plant (Calathea makoyana) amp up the color quotient and might be paired with brightly colored pansies or dahlias for eye-catching container displays that will last outdoors as long as nighttime temperatures stay above the low fifties.

Ornamental cabbages and kales are a great choice for funky fall container plantings. By themselves, they resemble giant green, white, purple or variegated roses. A purple cabbage planted in a large, hollowed-out pumpkin makes a neat contrast with orange and yellow pansies or mums. A hollowed-out acorn squash might make a one-of-a-kind planter for multi-colored coleus (Solenostemon scutellarioides).

Prepping the Planters

If planters will remain outdoors in below-freezing temperatures, make sure that both containers and plants can withstand the rigors of the climate. For permanent and temporary container arrangements, start with a quality potting medium, like Fafard Natural and Organic Potting Mix. Make sure containers have drainage holes. Firm soil around plants and water well before inserting decorative elements such as curly willow branches. If you are using hollowed-out pumpkins or gourds, drop in containerized plants or line each pumpkin or gourd with a plastic bag before filling with potting medium. This makes it much easier to relocate the plants once the pumpkins have passed their prime.

Pumpkins and gourds, when displayed outside, may also attract the attention of squirrels or other hungry animals. To discourage destruction of your unique creations, spray the finished products with an organic deer/animal repellent.

October is the perfect time for a final horticultural hurrah before the cold weather sets in. Celebrate plants and imagination by creating some funky fall container arrangements.

Flowers in watering cans
Find funky containers in garages and attics.

About Elisabeth Ginsburg

Born into a gardening family, Elisabeth Ginsburg grew her first plants as a young child. Her hands-on experiences range from container gardening on a Missouri balcony to mixed borders in the New Jersey suburbs and vacation gardening in Central New York State. She has studied horticulture at the New York Botanical Garden and elsewhere and has also written about gardens, landscape history and ecology for years in traditional and online publications including The New York Times Sunday “Cuttings” column, the Times Regional Weeklies, Horticulture, Garden Design, Flower & Garden, The Christian Science Monitor and many others. Her “Gardener’s Apprentice” weekly column appears in papers belonging to the Worrall chain of suburban northern and central New Jersey weekly newspapers and online at She and her feline “garden supervisors” live in northern New Jersey.

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