Fall Decorating Ideas for a Harvest Theme

  • 01 of 14

    Fall Mums and Ornamental Kale: Killer Fall Decorating Combo

    Yellow mums provide a nice background for ornamental kale.
    Yellow mums give you a terrific backdrop for ornamental kale. David Beaulieu

    Those of us who eagerly anticipate Halloween decorating season every year may find this hard to believe, but some folks prefer to keep Halloween out of their fall decorating agendas. They stick strictly to a harvest theme. If this describes you and you're seeking ideas for a harvest display, you've come to the right place.

    One disadvantage in restricting yourself to a harvest theme in your fall decorating is that you're limiting your options severely. I will help you overcome this challenge...MORE in the pages that follow by suggesting ways to expand your horizons. By pushing the envelope regarding what constitutes a harvest them, I will give you ideas you may not have considered before.

    One advantage with the harvest theme is that it is not tied to a particular celebration. This allows you to set out your decorations as early as September and keep them up as late as the end of November (see my separate piece for ideas for outdoor Thanksgiving decorations). Stretching the lifespan of your decor in this way not only makes life easier for you, but it also helps you save money landscaping.

    The picture above shows an ornamental kale mixed in with Chrysanthemums. Use of the latter will be a recurring theme throughout much of this photo gallery. The idea illustrated above is that the color of the mums you choose can make all the difference. The ornamental kale is set off magnificently by the yellow of the mum flowers. With a darker backdrop (a rust-colored mum, for example), the kale wouldn't show up nearly as well.

    Mums appear in the image on Page 2, as well, but this time with a rather unexpected companion (my first example of "pushing the envelope" to broaden your choices for fall harvest themes)....

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  • 02 of 14

    Mums and Bananas? Don't Knock This Combination!

    Image: mums and bananas.
    Tropical foliage such as banana leaves expands your fall decorating palette. David Beaulieu

    The photo of the fall display above, featuring mums and banana plants, was taken in northern New England (U.S.). That's right, New England, which is not exactly the tropics. It may be surprising to see banana plants being used in a fall display in a cold climate, but you have to admit that they're a great addition, right, not least of all because they're unexpected?

    The use of bananas and other tropical plants is just one way you can push the envelope to expand on your fall decorating choices....MORE Another great choice would be gerbera daisies with red, yellow, or orange flowers (all classic fall colors). If you're worried about losing your tropical plants to frost, simply grow them in containers so that you can move them indoors on nights with frost potential.

    Plants of almost any type work well in fall harvest scenes. Plants naturally suggest the harvest since, after all, anything that we harvest in the garden comes off of a plant. I think that late-bloomers are especially suitable in harvest displays, as are, again, plants with red, yellow, or orange blossoms. If you have shrubs with good fall color, they can serve as ideal backgrounds for your displays.

    But never underestimate the value of the element of surprise. Banana plants will turn more heads in New England than will burning bush shrubs, because the latter are omnipresent and therefore offer no novelty.

    If you've been waiting for a scene that includes pumpkins and squash, you won't be disappointed on Page 3....

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  • 03 of 14

    Fall Harvest Display of Flowers, Squash, Pumpkins, Gourds

    Pumpkins, delphinium, foxglove and more grouped together: image.
    Pumpkins, squash, and gourds are complemented by a number of plants in this diverse ensemble. David Beaulieu

    This bright fall harvest display is the most robust one I've shown to you thus far. It is brimming with both plants and harvest produce.

    You see in this picture not only mums, but also ornamental grass, delphinium, and foxglove. And there's a nice mix of pumpkins, squash, and ornamental gourds. The jumble of colors reflects the inherent diversity of the harvest.

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  • 04 of 14

    Small Fall Display With Perennial Flower Border as Background

    Pumpkins in front of a fall flower border: image.
    Here a flower border serves as background for a small fall display. David Beaulieu

    Here is another scene that combines harvest produce and flowers, only this time the emphasis is more on the flowers.

    A flower border of perennial plants serves as a backdrop for this fall harvest display. In addition to mums, the discerning eye will be able to detect black-eyed Susans and 'Autumn Joy' sedums (among others) in the background. These are late-blooming perennials, perfect for fall decorating. I especially value black-eyed susans for such displays, since they give me a classic...MORE fall color (gold) with which to work.

    Notice that the focal point of the display, namely, the pumpkins and squash perched on the rock (along with some suitably-colored artificial flowers), is quite small. A display doesn't always have to be mammoth to be effective. This one works because the background holds so much visual interest.

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  • 05 of 14

    Fall Decorating Idea for Urban Settings: Symmetry Rules

    Pumpkins on this porch offer symmetry (image).
    Lovers of symmetry will admire this design. David Beaulieu

    But what if you live in the city and don't have the space for a flower border such as that pictured on the prior page? Here is a delightful display that's perfect for those seeking fall decorating ideas for urban environments.

    What the decorators at this urban home lack in front-yard space they more than make up for with creativity. A love for symmetry is evident in their design. Small pumpkins climb the flight of porch steps two by two, reaching symmetrically arranged yellow mums at the top....MORE Geraniums in decorative urns join in on the tightly-organized fun. Even the placement of the porch chairs conform to the theme. This may be too fussy a design for some of you, but you have to admit that a lot of care was put into it.

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  • 06 of 14

    Fall Harvest Display for a Farmhouse

    Image: cornstalks and Alberta spruce give this porch a symmetrical look.
    Cornstalks and Alberta spruce are arranged symmetrically in this fall porch display. David Beaulieu

    Do you live in the country? If so, while you may have admired the symmetrical design on the prior page, you may also have found it inappropriate for your own neighborhood. Not to worry: There are ways to mix symmetry into a more rural look.

    The symmetry of the fall porch display at this rural homestead is not as tidy as that in the urban setting of the prior picture, nor should it be. A sprawling design suits a farmhouse better than a tight, overly fussy arrangement.

    The cornstalks on either side...MORE of the entry are obviously central in this example, but the symmetry is continued even with the dwarf Alberta spruces in the foundation planting. Potted mums, pumpkins, and a harvest-themed wreath complete the ensemble.

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  • 07 of 14

    Annual Ground Cover Paves the Way to Harvest Scene

    Alyssum provides foreground for this fall display: image.
    Alyssum does the heavy lifting in this display, providing a nice foreground. David Beaulieu

    The designers of this harvest scene could have left grass on the slope leading up to their harvest scene of cornstalks, pumpkins, squash, gourds, and mums -- but they didn't. They went the extra mile and planted sweet alyssum to provide a more colorful foreground. I think they made a good choice. The annual ground cover adds extra visual interest to the design.

    It's easy to overlook annuals in fall decorating, but they give you some additional options for injecting color into your displays....MORE Grow them in containers to extend their use into November in the North (that way, you'll be able to take them indoors at night). 

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  • 08 of 14

    Corn Shocks Outstanding Focal Points for Fall Harvest Displays

    Image: cornstalk pile and indian corn.
    Cornstalk piles like this one are impressive. David Beaulieu

    Cornstalks are used here in a very different way than we've seen thus far.

    A corn shock is defined as a large bundle of cornstalks stood upright out in a cornfield for the purpose of drying. The bundle may be tied or left loose; likewise, the bundle may consist either of loose cornstalks or of mini-bundles. With the advent of mechanization in agriculture, our main interest in corn shocks nowadays is primarily in the potential for ornamental use.

    The shock of corn in the image above forms an...MORE impressive centerpiece for its fall harvest scene. Notice the Indian corn hanging from the fence in the back. Other background elements in this harvest scene are scarecrows and colorful wooden cut-outs. Pushing the envelope with cut-outs (which don't immediately come to mind as fall decorations) is a smart way to expand your palette. I'll show you a better example of a wooden cut-out on Page 14.

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  • 09 of 14

    What's the Difference Between Squashes and Pumpkins?

    Rouge Vif d'Etampes pumpkin image.
    The Rouge Vif d'Etampes pumpkin is red-orange and hassock-shaped. David Beaulieu

    This picture shows a simple but elegant porch display with a fall harvest theme. ​ Several displays have been presented in this photo gallery with pumpkins and/or squash. Have you ever wondered how these autumnal standouts are classified? 

    Along with Red Kuri pumpkins, turban squash, Red Warty Thing pumpkins (yes, that's a real name), etc., the pumpkin in the picture above is one of the choices you have for injecting a vibrant red-orange color into your fall harvest-themed decorations....MORE Technically called by the French name, Rouge Vif d'Etampes, it is sometimes more loosely referred to as the Cinderella pumpkin.

    How Do Squashes and Pumpkins Differ?

    The short answer: Not much.

    Along with both the ornamental gourds (Cucurbita pepo) and hardshell gourds (Cucurbita lagenaria), squash and pumpkins belong to the Cucurbitaceae family. In North America, we tend to call any orange squash that is rounded a "pumpkin." But it's still a squash, too. "Pumpkin" is more of a cute nickname than it is a strict classification.

    Rouge Vif d'Etampes is edible, but I'm much more interested in the bright color it provides. It is clearly the standout in this collection of squashes, although the gray and white ones are effective in performing the ancillary function of furnishing variety. The holly shrub provides additional red for this porch display with its berries. Potted plants, wall ornaments, and antiques complete the picture. The look the homeowner is going for is rural and understated but elegant.

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  • 10 of 14

    Small Painted Pumpkins Nice for Fall Decorating in Small Spaces

    Small painted pumpkins adorn the haybale in this image.
    To make an impact, small pumpkins must be massed together. David Beaulieu

    I showed you a good fall decorating idea for small spaces on Page 5. Here's another one. Even the smallest of yards has enough room for a fall harvest display such as that shown in the picture above.

    This autumn display consists entirely of a straw bale used as a shelf on which small pumpkins can be displayed. It would be perfect to fit into a corner near the entry to a home in the city. As small as the pumpkins are, they need to be massed together to have an effect. Even at that, the display is...MORE clearly meant to be viewed up-close, not at a distance.

    Some of you may question whether this decoration leans too far in the direction of a Halloween theme (as opposed to a strict harvest theme). It's a subjective call, but, personally, I don't think these painted pumpkins cross the line. I would, however, disqualify the following as being too suggestive of Halloween:

    • Carved pumpkins (since they are considered "jack-o'-lanterns,"  a term with "Halloween" written all over it)
    • Pumpkins painted with scary faces
    • Painted pumpkins that are overly gaudy

    An advantage to painting faces on pumpkins (as opposed to carving them) is that you can set such decorations out in September and not worry that they will rot in a couple of weeks. Access my full photo gallery on the topic for more pictures of pumpkin faces.

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  • 11 of 14

    Hay Bale Figures

    Hay bale man with pumpkins (image).
    In rural America, hay bale figures are popular fall decorations. David Beaulieu

    Here is a type of fall harvest decoration that's hard for anyone to miss when driving by.

    Even more so than with corn shocks (Page 8), the use of hay bale figures as fall decorations is largely relegated to farming communities. Here's one I encountered in Oklahoma (U.S.). Sometimes, the local businesses in a town get together and draw attention to themselves and to their community by erecting these figures in front of their establishments (each supplies its own twist on the theme). I've...MORE seen this phenomenon in, for example, Killington, VT (U.S.).

    In the example above, pumpkins form the mouth of the hay bale figure, squashes the nose and eyes, and ears of corn the eyebrows.

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  • 12 of 14

    Fall Decorating With Window Boxes

    Pumpkin and gourds in windowboxes: image.
    You don't have to "go big" in your fall decorating to be effective. David Beaulieu

    This home doesn't have a huge front yard, but the owners have succeeded in their fall decorating efforts by thinking outside the box and making efficient use of the space available to them. The old mantra says, "If you can't build out, build up." Well, these folks have "decorated up."

    The design unfolds on three levels:

    1. Gourds and mini-scarecrows at ground level
    2. Potted mums elevated to a second level through the use of chairs
    3. Window boxes at the uppermost level

    The window boxes are the real coup...MORE here. They're filled with small pumpkins and squashes, ornamental gourds, and faux fall leaves. Like some of the earlier fall displays I showed you, the owner of this one clearly has a penchant for symmetry. Notice how:

    • The lone yellow crookneck squash is placed exactly in the center of the entire scene
    • Its window box is flanked by window boxes that contain matching butternut squashes

    Such details may seem small, but they contribute to the overall effectiveness of the display.

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  • 13 of 14

    Unique Fall Decorating Idea: Tin Man Scarecrow

    Image: a tinman scarecrow.
    This Tin Man scarecrow makes for a unique fall decoration. David Beaulieu

    The last two entries present examples of novel scarecrows used in harvest-themed displays, beginning with the one pictured here.

    You knew the topic of fall decorating with scarecrows was bound to come up sooner or later in this photo gallery, right? The question is, How tied to Halloween are scarecrow figures? Can scarecrows satisfy the requirements for inclusion in this photo gallery, namely, decorations with a non-Halloween harvest theme? My answer is that it depends on the scarecrow. Is the...MORE figure designed so as to convey a sense of creepiness? If so, that would disqualify it as being too Halloween-oriented. If not, it's a perfectly fine choice for a harvest theme. After all, the scarecrow's ancestral home is the garden, making it the harvest figure par excellence.

    If the Tin Man scarecrow in the picture above grabs your attention, you're not the only one. Upon viewing this unique decoration, reader, Janice wrote:

    "My husband is trying to make the tin man scarecrow you posted on the internet. I was wondering what I could use for the buttons, mouth, and dark part of eyes. Did you use painted bottle caps? So far, ours looks great. I can't wait to put it out back in my garden. This one won't fall apart like the rest I have made! If there is anything you could suggest, I'd really appreciate it. This scarecrow is just fantastic!"

    My response:

    "That's not my own tin man scarecrow. Like many of the photos on my site, that's a photo that I snapped while I was out driving around (I get tons of fall decorating ideas by just jumping in my car and keeping my eyes open!).

    "But here's a thought regarding what to use for the 1) buttons, 2) mouth, and 3) dark part of the eyes (in that order):

    1.bottle caps flipped over

    2.a strip of tire cut into the shape of a mouth

    3.actual buttons (dark ones)

    "#2 obviously won't mimic the mouth in the photo you're referencing -- but I think it might actually be an improvement."

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  • 14 of 14

    Mother Goose Scarecrow: Peter, Peter, Pumpkin Eater

    Peter, Peter, Pumpkin Eater as a scarecrow: image.
    This Peter, Peter, Pumpkin Eater scarecrow injects a touch of whimsy into the fall landscape. David Beaulieu

    There's surely nothing scary about this scarecrow scene, meaning it should be acceptable to those who wish to exclude Halloween themes from their fall decorating in favor of strictly harvest themes. In fact, the way in which straw has been used to build these scarecrows clearly marks them as creatures of the harvest.

    I love the whimsy of this outdoor fall decoration. Drawing inspiration from Mother Goose to design an unusual scarecrow display was pure genius. The fact that the Peter, Peter,...MORE Pumpkin Eater nursery rhyme contains a major element (namely, the pumpkin, represented here by a wooden cut-out) that also happens to be an iconic figure in harvest decorations is just a bonus.