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Coastal gardening: Be strategic in filling, placing fall planters

Fall finally has arrived on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, and most of us couldn’t be happier! What’s not to like about cooler temperatures, falling leaves, pumpkins, Halloween, Thanksgiving and the anticipation of Christmas? 

As colorful piles of leaves collect across the Coast, the comfort of home fires, pumpkin spice and cuddly wraps beckon us to appreciate the warmth of our homes and families. Thus, our thoughts turn to bringing the color and cheerfulness of fall closer to our doorsteps. 

Living in a milder climate means we can enjoy flowers year-round. Selecting those that survive cooler temperatures is key to successful fall and winter gardens and planters. 

The mantra for beautiful planters is selecting a “thriller” a “filler” and a “spiller.” Planters need to be large enough to accommodate at least three to five different plants and enough potting soil to meet the plants’ needs. As the early part of fall tends to be drier than later in the season, a moisture-retentive soil is helpful. This can be purchased in the prepared soil mixture or added separately if needed. 

Placement of the planter must be considered carefully, as some areas may get more sun or wind than others — like a swimming pool or an exposed patio. If you put the planter at your home’s entrance, will there be full sun exposure, or mostly shade created by an overhang or trees? Will drying winds impact the plants? Will guests be brushing against any plants placed in certain spots? Weigh these factors when deciding a location. 

A grouping of plants will help maintain moisture and warmth and shield planters from wind. Will water be readily available to keep your planter looking good? Are you lucky enough to have an irrigation system to maintain moisture? 

Although you can choose from among many beautiful plants, it’s best to select those with similar horticultural needs, such as moisture, sun and shade requirements and wind tolerance. Whatever choices you make will have a direct impact on the success of the planter and grouping. 

At some point in the life of a planter, you may need to make substitutions. For instance, chrysanthemums past their prime can be replaced with ornamental cabbage or poinsettias, hardy herbs or other winter-tolerant flowering plants. The last few years, I’ve noticed more cyclamens available in our area. These flowers native to Europe and the Mediterranean do well here and should be utilized for their beautiful colored flowers and strikingly veined leaves. Consider adding these to this year’s planters. 

Written by Darlene Underwood

Darlene Underwood is a Mississippi master gardener, national
accredited flower show judge and Garden Clubs of Mississippi
third vice-president. Reach her at

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