• Choose a focal or anchor plant with an interesting shape or texture. If the pot is free-standing, place this plant in the middle. If your container is to stand against a house or fence, position this plant at the back.
• Consider hierarchy and texture. Arrange your choices in their original pots on the ground to get a feeling for what looks best next to what, then plant.
• Don't be afraid to cram plants close together for a full, luxurious look. Growth stops with cooler weather.
• Experiment with non-traditional choices. A touch of frost gives sedum, ajuga, euphorbia, ornamental cabbage and some grasses a russet or bronzed glow; other grasses turn golden; artemisias retain their ghostly gleam. Hollies, Smaragd cedar, creeping thyme, veronicas and ivies add texture.
• Buy evergreens and broadleaf evergreens in one-quart containers. They'll look good without breaking the bank. Later, plant them in the garden to overwinter.
• Your container should be at least twice as deep as the pot of your anchor plant (or the plant with the tallest pot). First, measure down from the top of your container, allowing enough room to add good-quality soil to equal the depth of the tallest pot, plus three centimetres. Mark this. Now, fill your container with vermiculite up to that mark. The vermiculite makes the container easier to move.
• Next, add three centimetres of soil on top of the vermiculite and position your largest, or anchor, plant on top. Layer on more soil until the next largest plant can be positioned at the anchor plant's surface level.
• Keep layering soil, tamping down well after each addition, adding plants in order of size so that all the plants' surface soil levels are equal. Do not bury the plants by adding more soil on top-their soil levels should be the same as they were in their original pots.
• Water gently with lukewarm water, to which you've added a diluted solution of 5-15-5 transplanting fertilizer. Do not fertilize again. Do not let pots dry out.
You'll enjoy your chrysanthemums for six weeks or more if you choose plants with plenty of buds and flowers that feel slightly firm and springy to the touch. Deadhead regularly to keep blooms coming and botrytis (which causes sudden flower bud wilt and droop) at bay. Though sometimes iffy, it's worth trying to transplant mums later into the garden, up to Zone 6. Mulch well. Otherwise, propagate through cuttings.
And so to bed
Before you switch your planters to winter arrangements of branches, berries and evergreen boughs, transfer the fall perennials and evergreens into a prepared garden bed. Heel plants in, water gently and mulch well after freeze-up. Move into permanent spots next spring.