Winter Containers and Holiday Wreaths

Ahhh… the holidays.   You’ve put up your decorations and perhaps a  tree or what ever your family does  traditionally.   Friends and neighbors wave  ‘ Merry Christmas ‘  when you see them in town.  The  relatives from back east are arriving soon to celebrate with you. 

What?    Did you say… people will be coming from parts of the country where it’s bleak and cold and miserable?   Well,  show them how lucky we are that our ground doesn’t freeze.  Put together some  handsome winter containers using  these cool ideas for those big empty pots by the front door or on the patio. 

Cool season annuals like pansies and primroses are great for containers but there are many more plants that are hardy, easy to care for and offer texture and color, too.   White artemisia combines well with almost any other color.  Here’s a good place to show off those burgundy pansies.  Or combine it with the silvery and purple-patterned foliage of heuchera ‘Amethyst Mist‘ .    Dwarf nandina is perfect in winter containers,  especially now that their foliage has taken on red and orange tints.  Use them  with a grass like orange sedge or reddish bronze carex buchananii.  Rainbow chard would look equally stunning.   Dwarf conifers look elegant surrounded with white primroses.  How about a container with the bluish foliage of euphorbia ‘Silver Swan‘  combined with ajuga ‘ Black Scallop ‘  or  an ajuga like ‘Burgundy Glow‘  with variegated pink, purple and cream leaves?  Add lavender pansies and pinkish coral bells to set off your container.   For those really dark places, fragrant sarcococca is perfect combined with red primroses and best of all, they will be blooming very soon.  Hellebores bloom in the winter, too and offer texture in your containers.  A variegated osmanthus will hold up in even our harshest weather and will be a show stopper in a Chinese red container.  
Here are some tips for keeping your containers looking good through winter:

Any good potting soil will work but drainage is particularly important for plants that will be out in the rain.     To improve drainage in containers that once held summer annuals, dump out the soil and add one quarter perlite.   Don’t use a pot of soil that had polymers in it to retain summer water.  Winter plants don’t need the extra dampness. 

When filling the containers, don’t add gravel or bits of broken pots to the bottom.  Gravel and pot shards will hamper drainage.  Instead, fill the entire pot with the soil mixture.  A paper coffee filter or screen over the drainage hole will keep the soil from slipping out andl allow water to disperse.  And it will keep earwigs and sow bugs from finding a new home in the bottom of your pots.

Choose the biggest containers you have.  Not only can you tuck more plants into it, but the room will also help protect roots from the cold.   Unlike summer containers, winter plantings won’t be growing much so you can put the plants closer together.  Don’t use saucers under containers.  Plantings that are left standing in water-filled saucers can rot.  Instead, set containers on planter feet or bricks. 

Wreaths and swags

What else should you be doing to get ready for the relatives?   How about making a wreath or a swag to drape over the mantel or front door and in the process getting a little pruning done? While you’re in the decorating mood,  take advantage of this opportunity to prune your evergreens to use in wreaths and swags.  Cuttings from Douglas fir, redwoods,  pine, holly, mahonia, make fine additions to your wreaths and swags.  But don’t whack off snippets indiscriminately.  To reveal the plant’s naturally handsome form, prune from the bottom up and from the inside out.  Avoid ugly stubs by cutting back to the next largest branch or to the trunk.  If the plant has grown too dense, selectively remove whole branches to allow more air and sunlight to reach into the plant.  To force upward growth, cut the branch just beyond an upward facing shoot.  To foster spreading growth, cut the branch just beyond a downward facing shoot. 

After you’ve finished pruning, spray the greens with water to remove dust and insects.  Trim cuttings to desired size.  To keep them fresh, immerse the cut ends in a bucket of water and store outdoors in a shady spot until your ready to decorate.  Be sure to strip the foliage from the portions of the stems that will be under water if you are using the cuttings in a bouquet.       
Most of all, whatever you do (and even if you don’t get everything done you planned) , enjoy the season with friends and family. 


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