Best fall container plants – 16 potted showstoppers for late season color

Grow the best fall containers with our selection of charming, low maintenance plants and shrubs for vibrant seasonal accents

best fall containers: dahlia totally tangerine flowering in autumn display
The best fall containers like Dahlia ‘Totally Tangerine’ combine vivid color with hardiness
(Image credit: P Tomlins / Alamy)

Looking for the best fall container plants and not sure where to start? The new season brings interesting planting opportunities. It’s a chance to refresh containers and fill them with shrubs, trees, perennials and bedding. Put simply, your container gardening ideas can be just as spectacular in fall as in summer if you choose the right plants. 

Evergreens give year-round interest, structure and permanence as the anchor plant. Simply change the supporting plants with the seasons, bringing in winter flowering violas, pansies or perennials like asters and rudbeckias for a fall flourish. 

Color comes from stems, berries, late flowers and foliage. For the best low-maintenance shrubs, choose one plant or tree for a fall container. Plants such as skimmia with bright berries or buds, acers or sorbus with hot fall color and long-flowering fuchsias will make striking focal points on their own. If you look for varieties with more than one season of interest, your fall container plants will add significant impact for little effort. 

Alternatively, combine three or more plants for a varied display that can offer fiery foliage and flowers. Combine a central plant that offers flowers or height, fillers or groundcover plants, and trailing plants for a balanced, eye-catching display. Grasses, phormium and cornus bring an upright element to a fall pot, while perennials such as dahlias add vibrant color. Use bedding or trailing plants like violas or ivy to fill gaps. Do all this, and you’re well on your way to cultivating the best plants for fall containers. 

16 of the best fall containers for powerful seasonal statements

fall containers of skimmia and cyclamen flowering in sunshine

Skimmia and cyclamen give a lively tone to fall and winter months

(Image credit: Clive Nichols Photography)

When gathering and combining plants for the best fall containers, bear in mind that the height on the label is the eventual height, and often only reached after many years. Unless you are dealing with fast growing plants, there’s no need to worry that a small shrub will be too big for your fall container. Use as generous a pot as you can accommodate to give your plants and shrubs the best chance. Finally, once a plant does outgrow a container, repot it or plant it out in the border. 

1. Dahlia ‘Totally Tangerine’

containers of dahlias flowering in the fall

Dahlia ‘Totally Tangerine’

(Image credit: Alex Manders / Shutterstock)
  • Height: 24in
  • Spread: 30in
  • Flowers: July-November
  • Good for: Showstopping color

You can rely on many different types of dahlias to keep flowering right through the fall. If you are after the best fall container plants that really deliver on color, Dahlia ‘Totally Tangerine’ is guaranteed to brighten up a patio. These dramatic blooms have single flowers with pink petals and an orange center. Just make sure you stake your dahlias, even if they are compact like this one. 

2. Rudbeckia ‘Little Goldstar’

flowering rudbeckia in fall containers

Rudbeckia ‘Little Goldstar’

(Image credit: Andrew Fletcher / Shutterstock)
  • Height: 20in
  • Spread: 15in
  • Flowers: July-October
  • Good for: Pollinators

Rudbeckia ‘Little Goldstar’, also known as black eyed Susan, with its yellow daisy-like flowers will brighten any container combination. This short variety flowers for months and is good for attracting pollinators. If you are after the most effective partners, it works well with grasses such as Stipa tenuissima or purple-flowered perennials like asters. ‘Goldsturm’ and ‘Prairie Sun’ also work well if you want to grow rudbeckia as one of your fall container plants.

3. Penstemon ‘Pensham Plum Jerkum’

flowering penstemons in fall container display

Penstemon ‘Pensham Plum Jerkum’

(Image credit: Dorling Kindersley Ltd / Alamy)
  • Height: 40in
  • Spread: 12in
  • Flowers: July-October
  • Good for: Late flowers, purple color themes

Penstemons make excellent plants for pollinators and provide delightful late flowers. They are simple to look after and are easily propagated from cuttings. ‘Pensham Plum Jerkum’ has deep purple flowers and would not look out of place in a cottage garden. Although plant labels often say penstemons flower until October, you’ll find that if you keep deadheading, many will keep going until the first frosts.

4. Winter-flowering violas

mixed flowering violas in fall container display

Winter flowering violas 

(Image credit: Claire Gainey / Alamy)
  • Height: 6in
  • Spread: 6in
  • Flowers: October-February
  • Good for: Mixed color, hardy flowers

These tiny flowers are tough and will put up with mixed fall weather. As well as being great groundcover plants, they make some of the best fall container plants and winter plants for pots because they flower until late February, depending on the variety. There are many winter-flowering violas to choose from, and it is easy to pick up a pack of seeds from a garden center. Great varieties include ‘Phantom’ and ‘Sorbet Morpho’. 

5. Heuchera ‘Forever Purple’

heuchera flourishing in fall container display

Heuchera ‘Forever Purple’

(Image credit: Shutterstock)
  • Height: 20in
  • Spread: 20in
  • Flowers: June-August
  • Good for: Groundcover

Foliage plants like this one make excellent groundcover and fillers for container combinations. There’s a range of hues to choose from, so you should find it easy to get hold of one to suit your preferred color scheme. Heuchera ‘Forever Purple’ is one of the best fall container plants if you are after purple plants that flower on long, upright stems.

6. Ivy

trailing ivy in fall container display

Trailing ivy display

(Image credit: Thrillerfillerspiller / Alamy)
  • Height: 10ft
  • Spread: 10ft
  • Flowers: N/A
  • Good for: Trailers, evergreens

As well as being amongst the best trailing plants for hanging baskets, ivy is useful in larger containers. Small plants are inexpensive and grow fast. They can be used to fill gaps and will dangle naturalistically over the edge of pots, softening the edges. Depending on what you are planting with it, you can use an evergreen variety or lighten up a shady spot with a variegated type such as ‘White Wonder’.

7. Stipa tenuissima

stipa tenuissima thriving in fall container display

Stipa tenuissima

(Image credit: Steffen Hauser / Botanikfoto / Alamy)
  • Height: 24in
  • Spread: 12in
  • Flowers: June-September
  • Good for: Ornamental grasses

If you like to grow ornamental grasses, Stipa tenuissima is easy to combine with late-flowering perennials to create some of the best fall containers. Stipa looks lovely alongside rudbeckia or asters, and gives excellent height to a container. Flowerheads look good until September, but the plant goes on adding interest with seed heads well into the fall. 

8. Cornus sanguinea ‘Midwinter Fire’

Cornus sanguinea Midwinter Fire in fall display

Cornus sanguinea ‘Midwinter Fire’

(Image credit: Mike Russell / Shutterstock)
  • Height: 6.5ft
  • Spread: 6.5ft
  • Flowers: June (branches color in fall)
  • Good for: Height, branch color

Amongst the best for fall container plants, a small cornus plant will add impact in winter and beyond. First, leaves turn from green to orange and yellow. Then, when they fall, they reveal bright orange, red and yellow stems. As well as being great plants for fall color, Cornus sanguinea ‘Midwinter Fire’ is an excellent choice if you want to create height in your pot. Once it’s outgrown the space, it can be replanted in the border. 

9. Carex testacea

potted carex testacea in fall display

Carex testacea

(Image credit: Martin Hughes Jones / Alamy)
  • Height: 27in
  • Spread: 24in
  • Flowers: June-August
  • Good for: Ornamental grasses

Carex testacea is one of the most striking low maintenance garden border ideas, but also works well as a fall container plant. This is another useful grass as it looks good alone but is also easy to partner with late-flowering perennials. Its olive green leaves turn a gorgeous shade of coppery orange and as it is evergreen, it looks good all year. 

10. Acer ‘Crimson Queen’

acer crimson queen flourishing in fall display

Acer ‘Crimson Queen’

(Image credit: Aidan Stock / Alamy)
  • Height: 10ft
  • Spread: 10ft
  • Flowers: N/A
  • Good for: Vibrant foliage

For those searching for trees to complement fall container plants, Acer ‘Crimson Queen’ is an astonishing choice. This is one of the most dramatic varieties of Japanese maple and is a compact weeping tree. Finely divided leaves turn from burgundy to a striking crimson red in the fall. It provides interest for three seasons and requires very little maintenance. 

11. Sorbus ‘Copper Kettle’

sorbus with berries in fall container display

Sorbus ‘Copper Kettle’ 

(Image credit: Clive Nichols / Getty Images)
  • Height: 16ft
  • Spread: 10ft
  • Flowers: April-May (foliage color in fall)
  • Good for: Red and orange foliage

Some of the best trees for autumn color are also some of the best fall container plants. Sorbus ‘Copper Kettle’ is one of the most impactful small trees as it delivers on several visual fronts. The neatly paired leaves of this mountain ash are orange and red in the fall, while the berries are a vivid copper orange. This tree also has cream spring flowers and fresh green foliage in summer. 

12. Malus ‘Jelly King’

potted malus fruiting in the fall

Malus ‘Jelly King’

(Image credit: Martin Hughes Jones / Alamy)
  • Height: 13ft
  • Spread: 13ft
  • Flowers: May
  • Good for: Apples for cooking

Another stunning option if you want one of the best fall container plants is Malus ‘Jelly King’. For anyone who knows how to plant crab apple trees, just remember to grow this variety in the largest container you can. It is self-fertile and known for its large fruits that turn orange and pink in the fall. These provide undeniable visual interest, plus the ingredients for crab apple jelly. This tree has the added bonus of spring flowers that are attractive to bees. 

13. Skimmia japonica ‘Rubella’

flowering skimmia 'rubella' in container garden in the fall

Skimmia japonica ‘Rubella’

(Image credit: Future)
  • Height: 4ft
  • Spread: 4ft
  • Flowers: April-May
  • Good for: Evergreen shrub, partial shade

Skimmia japonica ‘Rubella’ is one of the best shrubs for containers with its dainty blooms and striking foliage. Planting an evergreen shrub in a container is an easy way to bring interest to your patio all year. Skimmia will make a good feature plant on its own, but can also be combined with violas, grasses, cyclamen and heuchera. Its red buds look good through the fall and winter – and in spring, it has scented white flowers. It will also grow well in partial shade. 

14. Hebe ‘Silver Dollar’

hebe silver dollar flourishing in fall container display

Hebe ‘Silver Dollar’

(Image credit: Claudia G Cooper / Shutterstock)
  • Height: 24in
  • Spread: 24in
  • Flowers: May-July
  • Good for: Bees, variegated color

Loving a sunny spot and producing pretty flowers that attract bees, this is one of the most dramatic shrubs for pots. Hebes like a sunny spot and will look good year round. ‘Silver Dollar’ is a variegated variety with cream edged leaves that turn burgundy in the fall, remaining colorful through winter. Its lilac-blue flowers, which appear in early summer, are attractive to bees. These low maintenance shrubs make some of the best fall container plants, and require little pruning, apart from a bit of reshaping.

15. Berberis ‘Atropurpurea Nana’

berberis ‘Atropurpurea Nana’ flourishing in fall container display

Berberis ‘Atropurpurea Nana’

(Image credit: Belikart / Getty Images)
  • Height: 20in
  • Spread: 20in
  • Flowers: April (foliage color in fall)
  • Good for: Berries, dwarf shrubs

As well as being one of the best fall shrubs for privacy, Berberis ‘Atropurpurea Nana’ produces year-round interest which peaks in the fall. This dwarf shrub has red leaves that intensify in color, as well as deep red berries. It’s deciduous so will lose its leaves in winter, but in spring it produces small yellow flowers. Many of the smaller berberis can also be used to bring color to the best fall containers. 

16. Fuchsia ‘Dollar Princess’

flowering fuchsia Dollar Princess in fall container

Fuchsia ‘Dollar Princess’

(Image credit: Clickmanis / Shutterstock)
  • Height: 18in
  • Spread: 18in
  • Flowers: July to November
  • Good for: Compact flowering shrubs

Knowing how to care for fuchsias will give you an advantage with this potted shrub. Not all fiery color in the fall has to come from leaves and berries. Fuchsias are long flowering, and ‘Dollar Princess’ will go on until the first frosts. This hardy shrub has purple and pink double flowers and remains compact at only 18in high, making it one of the best fall container plants. Place the pot in sun or partial shade. 


How much should you water your fall containers?

Minimal watering is needed through fall and winter. Stand containers on pot feet. That way, if there is a lot of rainfall, plants won’t get waterlogged. The best fall container plants need to be cultivated in well-draining conditions. You don’t need to water plants if frost is forecast, either. If the weather is very dry, some plants may need watering, however. These include evergreen shrubs and trees. 

Do fall container plants need to be fed regularly?

The best fall containers include plants that will need feeding in spring and summer when they are growing. However, feeding plants in containers over the fall isn’t necessary. Adding plant fertilizer can even lead to soft growth which will get damaged in winter temperatures. Bear in mind that the plant will get nutrients from the compost you add to their container. 

If you are wondering how to protect plants from frost over the late fall and winter months, it’s all about taking cover. If frost is forecast, wrap any tender plants in pots in bubble wrap or horticultural fleece. Alternatively, move them under cover until the cold weather has passed. 

Plus, as Halloween approaches, you can of course have a lot of fun with your fall planter ideas by adding pumpkins, gourds and dried flowers to your displays. 

Tamsin Hope Thomson

Tamsin Hope Thomson is a freelance writer and editor. She has worked for gardening magazines such as The English Garden and Gardeners’ World, edited bookazines and gardening books, and been a regular contributor to longstanding heritage title Amateur Gardening magazine. Her own garden in West Sussex is a work in progress, but her favourite thing to do is pruning, and she loves to get her children involved in gardening projects.