Decorate with fall foliage


October 23, 2003

By Sandy Knief

Victoria County Master Gardener


Although our area does not enjoy the fall foliage of the Eastern states, we can still decorate our homes and yards to welcome and reflect the autumn season. After a long, hot summer, we are ready for a change inside our homes as well as outside in the garden and yard.


We can often find items to be used to decorate from our own back yards whether they are plants, twigs, berries, acorns, pine cones or an endless list of other natural accents. Combine these with containers such as watering cans, old crocks, sap buckets, etc., and you have your own unique arrangement. Listed below are easy ideas that I hope will inspire you to create your own fallscape:


Garden wreath: Glue floral foam to the center bottom of a grapevine wreath, and also twist pipe cleaners around the foam to secure it. Cover the wreath and foam by gluing on sheet moss or Spanish moss. Insert wheat stems in the foam to create a fan shape. Add dried flowers of your choice such as yarrow, cockscomb, globe amaranth, goldenrod, Mexican bush sage and roses - by gluing small clusters in the foam. Add a touch of whimsy with a small bird, butterfly or garden fairy peeking out of the flowers.


Wheelbarrow display: Use an old wheelbarrow to display pumpkins, chrysanthemums in a tall crock, pine cones and gourds. Scarecrows sitting on the wheelbarrow and/or standing behind it add a good touch. Another option is to assemble a smaller group of these items on an old chair, which looks great on the front porch or indoors.


Pine cone wreath: Glue pine cones, nuts, and small twigs to a grapevine wreath. Add a decorative bow of rust, brown and gold hues and hang on the front door or over the fireplace. When Christmas season arrives, change to a bow of red and green ribbon, and add red berries and a white peace dove for a festive holiday look. I have also made a small wreath and used it as a candle ring.


Pumpkin character: Materials needed are three pumpkins in graduated sizes; clothes, hat and accessories of your choice; and three wooden dowels or iron rods.


Insert two dowels or rods near the center of the largest pumpkin. Center the middle pumpkin on the rod. Add the last pumpkin and put in another rod from the top to bottom pumpkin to secure in place.


Dress pumpkins in your favorite character's outfit. Have fun with this project and have your children or grandchildren help you decide on the special look you want to achieve. I used a cowboy hat, bandana and stick (or twig) arms for our little pumpkin cowboy. I also drew his eyes and mouth with a permanent black marker.

Many little trick-or-treaters stopped at our home on Halloween night to touch our pumpkin man, and our neighbor children had fun having their pictures taken with him.


I also made mini versions of these pumpkin people to use inside on my entry table, which was covered with an old quilt in autumn hues of brown, orange and gold. The little pumpkin characters surrounded a rustic birdhouse along with small pine cones, acorns and scarecrows on a moss setting. Add a few witches and spiders to complete the scene.


Pumpkin topiary: Follow same directions as above to assemble the three pumpkins, but place the largest pumpkin in an urn, clay pot or other container. Make sure it fits securely so it will not fall over. It is a good idea to fill the container with rocks, bricks or sand to help keep it upright. Add the other two pumpkins as noted above.


Wrap pieces of grapevine or honeysuckle vine around the pumpkins and the top of the urn. Add red berries, moss or your choice of decorative accents. Your pumpkin topiary would be a nice fall accent on your front porch or on your fireplace hearth if small pumpkins were used.


Grapevine door basket: Materials needed are chicken wire, 24 inches by 30 inches; green spray paint; 24-inch grapevine wreath; light gauge spool wire; green sheet moss; and plants of your choice.


Paint the chicken wire green. After the wire has dried thoroughly, place it halfway up from the bottom of the wreath with the 24-inch edge reaching from side to side. Using the light gauge wire, thread it through one side of the wreath and the chicken wire to attach it securely. Repeat on the other side, and leave the wire at the bottom unattached.

Fold the extended length of chicken wire back up onto the front of the wreath, creating a crease in the wire to run along the bottom of the wreath. Secure each side of chicken wire with the spool wire, forming a rounded pouch or basket. Crimp the chicken wire along the bottom to follow the shape of the wreath. Place sheet moss with the green side facing out on the inside of the basket to cover the chicken wire. Fold back approximately 6 inches of chicken wire along the top edge, which will form a rolled edge on the basket. Cover with moss, and wrap with spool wire to secure. If desired, attach pieces of grapevine or bittersweet to the outside of the basket. Place the basket on your door using a wreath hanger.


Fill the basket with traditional autumn plants of chrysanthemums, crotons or plants you may already have in your garden. Those with fall colors include coleus, gold lantana, zinnias, marigolds, and black-eyed Susan. It is best to leave plants in a container so you can change them out when necessary. Add ivy or other trailing plants to the basket. It may be necessary to fill in the wire with more of the sheet moss if any was knocked off while assembling your grouping. During the Christmas season I am going to put poinsettias and white peace doves in the basket.


If you don't want to take the time and effort to make the basket, there are other items that could be used. As an alternative, I also used a small iron wall basket, which looks good with a colorful deep wine and yellow coleus, new gold lantana, and black-eyed Susan tucked into it. I also added a small birdhouse to give it a whimsical touch. This one ended up on our wooden gate. A window box would also make a good container.


I especially recommend using coleus from your garden in these decorative items. Botanically known as Solenostemon scutellarioides, coleus is native to the tropics and also a tender perennial although we manage it as an annual due to its freeze susceptibility in our area. Cuttings should be taken well before the first frost for next year's supply of plants, and should also be taken to encourage bushiness with removal of blooms as they appear so plants will concentrate on producing leaves. Coleus is one of the easiest plants I have ever propagated. Cut 4-6 inch stems just below a node with a clean, sharp knife, and remove lower leaves. My favorite method is to root them in water. Keep your container filled with water so that the lower stems of cuttings are always submerged. They usually have well developed roots in 2 weeks and should then be potted in a 3-inch pot. They can also be rooted in a mixture of vermiculite and peat moss, or directly into potting soil. A fellow Master Gardener told me that she pinches cuttings from her New Orleans red coleus, and plants them directly in the flowerbed where they have thrived beautifully. Texas Superstar varieties like Plum Parfait and Burgundy Sun also bloom profusely. You can't get any easier than that! I tried it last week, and my plants are doing fine.


Coleus colors include green, chartreuse, yellow, buff, salmon, orange, red, purple and brown, and often have many colors on one leaf. The more red pigment there is in the leaves, the more sun tolerant the plant tends to be. Most coleuses perform best in strong, indirect light or filtered shade. They like rich, loose, well-drained soil and being fed regularly with 20-20-20 fertilizer. Do not let them completely dry out. Coleuses are used in summer borders and grow well in containers including hanging baskets, and for fall garden wreaths that have a container like the one described in the grapevine door basket. I like to move coleuses in containers to spots outdoors that need a dash of bright color. They make good indoor plants for their foliage.


Fall garden designs add color to any setting. Whether you use pumpkins and gourds, fall flowers on wreaths, in old cans or wheelbarrows, or have a landscape rich in different varieties of coleus, the orange, gold, purple and brown hues transition us from Back to School to Halloween and Thanksgiving and into the Christmas season. Why not try your hand at one or more of these easy fall garden displays? They will help bring the fall season into full bloom in your homes and gardens.