The perfect potted plants for a gorgeous fall display

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What is it about the colors of fall? They are muted but richly satisfying, with all the hues of a crackling fire — deep oranges, dusky reds and golds, and a dreamy range of purples from violet to aubergine.

Plant a display of these colors at your entry or on your patio, and you instantly signal the warmth and camaraderie of Thanksgiving.

Mums are the traditional flowers of autumn, but Southern California’s elastic growing season means we can also plant colorful annuals that thrive in the mild temperatures of fall and early winter.


Many of these plants prefer full sun, but they are also cold resistant, says Marian Stevens, a California certified nursery professional and sales associate at Armstrong Garden Center in Torrance. In fact, she said, cold temperatures make their colors more vibrant.

For a Thanksgiving display, Stevens suggests buying your plants just a week or two ahead and you will be rewarded with flowers that are still fresh for the holiday.

She recommends planting pots in groupings of three or five, using the “thriller, filler, spiller” method: choose a handful of taller, showstopping plans, a handful of shorter plants that will fill up the gaps and a few trailing blooms that spill over the side.

Finally, don’t over water your fall display, she said. Wait until the soil feels dry to the touch and then only water at the base of the plants. Moisture on the leaves and flowers can lead to rot during cool weather.

Here are Stevens’ suggestions for plants with great fall color:


Chrysanthemums are blooming this time a year.
Chrysanthemums are blooming this time a year.
(Annie Wells / Los Angeles Times )

Chrysanthemums come in such a wide variety of colors and blooms that you could plan a whole display around these plants alone. One added benefit: They’re perennials. Steven said. Just plant them in a sunny, well-drained garden spot when you’re done with your potted display for years of fall color.

Pansies and violas

These cheerful, low-growing annuals come in a huge range of colors and are remarkably cold tolerant, Stevens said. She’s seen whole flats encased in ice after a pipe broke in freezing temperatures one year, “but when the ice melted, they were as good as new.”



Tall, sun-loving annuals that prefer cooler temperatures and come in a wide range of brilliant colors. Bonus: Snapdragon blooms make charming little puppets if you pinch them at the throat, making their mouths open and close.


These annuals will reseed and return again and again, with vibrant prolific blooms of yellow and orange. Stevens calls them “winter marigolds,” and the flowers are edible in salads or in cooking, where they provide a saffron-like flavor and color.

Heuchera (coral bells)


These perennials have delicate flowers, but gardeners prize them for their deeply colored leaves, which range from greens and purples to stunning oranges and reds. (Check online for varieties such as “Marmalade” and “Autumn Leaves.”) They grow well in sun or partial shade.

Ornamental kale

Ornamental kales.
Ornamental kales.
(Dorling Kindersley / Getty Images )

These showstoppers look great in pots, thrive in cold weather and come in several colors. One favorite is Osaka Pink, a frilly mix of gray-green leaves with a deep lavender flower.