When the fog hides the sky and the winter chills set in, odds are that your planters are starting to look a ‘wee bit’ tired. While most of us decide to casually look the other way, there is really no good reason for avoiding giving them a seasonal refresh.
There are lots of different plants you can use for fall and winter planters. Many of them are either shrubby or perennial, meaning that the investment won’t be wasted. When spring comes, you can yank the plants out and use them in different spots. Or, choose to keep them in containers and add some extra spring interest.
Colour in winter planters usually comes from foliage, bark and berries as opposed to flowers. This is not to say there aren’t winter bloomers. Hellebores, Pansies, Witchhazels, SweetBox and Camellias are all lovely winter flowering plants. It’s just that flower colour in winter is fleeting. It’s best to use flowers as the accent while relying on foliage, texture and colourful berries to do the heavy lifting through the cool season.
Before we move on, it’s important to change our perception about winter gardening. It’s not about longevity. It’s about creating a piece of living art that you can enjoy until spring. It’s ok to put the wrong plant in the wrong place. If it stretches for light – we can prune it in spring. If it dies, it dies … it’s ok. Get over it. In winter, there are no rules, you can do anything you want in the container – and have fun doing it.
Most planters follow the formula of thriller, fillers and spillers. That is, there is one dominant center piece in the container that just screams “look at me – I am the most important!”.
Surrounding it are its minions, the fillers. Tidy nice little accent plants that all look up to the thriller. Finally, the spillers cascade over the sides of the pot - softening its appearance.
In the winter, thrillers tend to be evergreens or deciduous shrubs with winter interest. Yews, Alberta Spruces, Topiary Boxwoods as well as Hollies, Camellias and Heavenly Bamboos are all great choices as evergreens.
Interesting leafless thrillers include Harry Lauders Walking Sticks, Coral Bark Japanese Maples, and Witchhazels.
You can also use a few old favourites like Ornamental cabbages and Kale. The thriller does not have to be living. In Whistler, you often see pieces of birch and deciduous holly stems jammed into containers in an upright fashion. Or you could use a lantern or gazing ball. Anything that grabs the attention of the passer-by is fair game.
Have fun with the fillers. There are lots of interesting choices including:
Cool season ornamental grasses like Carex ‘Evergold’, Black Mondo Grass and Acorus ‘Ogon’ are fantastic fillers.
Smaller evergreens like the fragrant winter blooming Sarcococca, the colourful Skimmia or Goshiki Osmanthus or False Holly are great options too.
Conifers too are comfortable in pots. Two of my personal favourites are Carsten’s Winter Gold or Mugo SlowMound Pine. A nice up and comer is ‘GoldStrike’ Cedar. Green throughout the season, it turns a brilliant golden yellow in winter and spring.
Don’t forget about berries. They provide a lot of nice colour in winter. Four great choices include: Gaultheria procumbens or ‘Wintergreen’, Lingonberry, Vaccinium vitis-ideae, Pernettya and Pyracantha.
If you absolutely must have flowers in winter, then Hellebores, cyclamens and pansies are your solution.
For bonus points, fill your containers with lots of little bulbs like snowdrops, crocus or grape hyacinths before putting in the rest of the plants. In spring ,these bulbs will start to flower and fill your container with colour until it’s time to visit us again :)
Finally, we come to the spillers. In the winter, there are a few options. Euonymous, or Winter Creeper, Evergreen Ivy or a trailing grass are probably your best options.
It’s possible that container designer experts may freak out if you don’t follow the rules by having your thriller, the fillers and the spillers, but that’s ok.
I believe that winter planters can be simple too. Put one gorgeous plant in one pot. If you want more colour or combinations, then just plant up more containers. I love front door arrangements made up of large, medium and small sized pots. Yes, designing in threes always works. Three on either side of the front door is even better! With that said, simplicity is the key. Allow each plant can stand on its own rather than being crammed in with others. They’ll also be healthier next season too!
A word about colour. I love mono-colour planters in the winter. Try making up a planter that is dominant in one colour, say white, or perhaps pink, or even different shades of green. The results can be striking.
When it comes to winter care, remember that plants in containers need water in winter too. They just need less. There is no substitute for getting your hand into the dirt. If it’s dry and crumbly, the plants need water. If it’s wet and gooey, they are fine – but make sure the water is actually draining out of the pot. Too much water is just as deadly as too little.
If all of this sounds daunting, remember that Art’s Nursery can help you design winter planters and even plant them up for you. Just give us a sense of your style, the sizes required and your budget. We’ll work up something beautiful for your fall and winter entertaining.
If you have any questions about fall and winter containers, please feel free to give us a call at 604.882.1201 or visit us in person at Art’s Nursery.