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Container Gardening: Swapping for the Season

Season swapping in containers

I love a good container planting, don’t you? They’re perfect for small spaces but also provide seasonal interest and focal points in the garden. The only problem is that the plants that are planted in the containers are usually annuals, which can be expensive to change out every season. If you’re lucky, you can stretch a planting over two seasons (spring and summer, for example), but often, it’s a single season.

However, there is a remedy for this problem that saves both time and money. As a landscape designer, I love to start with an evergreen plant in the middle of the planter, as this plant stays great-looking all year long. Then all you have to do is swap out the plants around it as the seasons change.


The evergreen plant choice depends upon the size of the planter — it can be a small ornamental tree, a stately clipped topiary, or a simple shrub. In warmer climates, you can even use an ornamental grass that still looks attractive in the winter. Now, have fun with seasonal elements that spice up the container quickly — here are my suggestions, but be sure to use plants that thrive seasonally in your area.

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SPRING: Spring flowering bulbs and flowing ivy are stunning additions to your planter, as are cool (but not cold) season annuals like petunias. Some of your winter annuals may still look great — if so, leave them in, take out what’s not blooming, and add in your spring annuals.

SUMMER: When summer’s heat hits, those spring bloomers usually poop out, so go ahead and remove them. If you’re lucky, you can get another month out of those plants, but if not, add in those hot weather lovers like calibrachoa, vincas, verbena, or some hot tropical flowers.


FALL: By the end of the summer, all of your warm-to-hot season plantings will be done — remove them and place in the compost pile. Depending upon if you live in a cold or mild climate, you can add cool season annuals along with autumnal accents like small pumpkins, moss, and gourds. Feeling motivated? Go ahead and pop in some spring-blooming bulbs — they’ll be dormant throughout the winter, then burst into bloom next spring.

WINTER: If your climate is mild, go ahead and switch out your fall flowers or decorative elements with holiday-hued winter annuals. In my Zone 8b area, this means pansies, allyssum, snapdragons, ornamental cabbage, or cyclamen. Those in colder climates may not have that option, so a soft layer of moss with some battery-operated string lights is a delightful treatment.

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