Expert shares a bread knife hack that will transform how you replant containers in fall

In the rush to update outdoor planting with fresh fall color, it’s important to save the plants you want to keep – here's a simple trick from a garden expert

potting plants in containers for fall and winter color
(Image credit: Petra Schüller/Alamy Stock Photo)

If you’re looking at your planters and thinking it’s time to update them for fall and the coming winter, don’t feel you have to throw everything out and start again. 

For a start it’s bad for the environment, and if you can carefully curate what you have, you’ll save money when refreshing your fall planters too. 

With that in mind, one garden expert has a simple bread knife hack that could make the process of refreshing your planters a whole lot easier this season. 

Using a bread knife to refresh planters

Garden coach Denise Hodgins recommends using a a shaped, serrated knife or root knife, like this Hori Hori knife from Amazon, to remove the plants which really are past their best.

'But if you don’t have one, pick up a basic bread knife at a discount store. It will work just as well,' she explains. 

'Simply cut around the plants you want to remove from your garden planter. By doing this, you will not disrupt the plants you want to keep. Once the plants have been removed, you can now add some fall flowers for seasonal interest.'

colourful pots filled with plants on a patio

(Image credit: Jacky Hobbs/Future)

Which plants to use? 

But do you have to use the best winter plants for pots every time, or are there some alternatives?

In San Diego, where frost is a rarity, gardener Nan Sterman of The Waterwise Gardener, keeps most of her container plants year-round, thinning out only those that have grown too large or succumbed to disease. 

'In general, what we grow in containers are not necessarily "container plants" but rather plants that will grow in containers. Succulents, for example, have shallow roots make them very adaptable to containers.'

Fall and winter bloomers she adds include pelargonium, perennial salvia, aloe, tagetes lemmonii, alstroemeria, lavandula, bougainvillea, and arctotis.

Colorful autumn chrysanthemums planted in containers

(Image credit: GKSFlorapics/Alamy Stock Photo)

Embrace a range of different plants

Fresh fall foliage doesn’t have to be flower-focused either. Denise says that as well as traditional favorites such as ‘mums’ (chrysanthemums) and multi-colored asters, 'ornamental peppers, flowering cabbages and kale' will fill those holes and make a stunning container gardening display that reflects the seasonal themes of harvest and Thanksgiving. 

peppers and gerberas growing in rattan pots

(Image credit: Sproutl)

Gardening expert Francesca Cocchi at The Pioneer Woman has a top fall planting tip too. 'You can stick to just one flower variety per pot or follow the popular "thriller, filler, and spiller" approach by combining a tall, eye-catching flower with a shorter bloom and a trailing bloom.

'Just make sure flowers planted in the same pot have similar requirements for soil, light, and watering.'

A tall grass, coneflowers or black-eyed Susans, plus pansies and a trailing plant such creeping Jenny would work well in this kind of scheme, suggests Denise.

What are your favorite fall plant combos?

Jayne Dowle
Freelance writer

Jayne Dowle is an award-winning gardening, homes and property writer who writes for publications including Sunday Times Home, Times Bricks & Mortar, Grand Designs, House Beautiful and The Spectator. She was awarded the Garden Journalist of the Year accolade at the Property Press Awards in 2021.