Ingredients For Late Fall and Winter Containers

by | Oct 26, 2020

As the weather turns cooler and wetter with shorter hours of daylight, wouldn’t it be wonderful to brighten up your patio with some great colour? Enhancing our patios with colourful containers is easier than you may think. You just need to be both creative and strategic.

First: the containers. There’s a great selection out there, but avoid clay and cheap ceramics as they can crack with heavy frost. Well-fired frost-resistant ceramics are fine, as are zinc, resin, and well-made plastic containers. Size matters when selecting your pots. As a rule of thumb, the larger the container, the better the plants do, simply because of the greater soil mass they hold. For a great look, try grouping the planters together in varying heights.

Soil is a key issue in fall and winter. Open, porous, well-drained soil is a must. Regular potting soils hold too much moisture and that tends to rot roots. Your best bet is to get a quality potting soil and add a third measure of fine fir or hemlock bark mulch. This is essentially a nursery mix which is ideal for all fall and winter plants. We carry a special bagged Container Blend, which is what we use for our own plantings, and it is ideal.

Most hardy zone 6 plants will thrive in containers over winter in our area, and even with cooler temperatures they will need minimal maintenance. They will, however, need to be kept moist, especially if the containers are under eaves or on covered patios or decks. The main winter issue is the degree of cold temperatures. Hardy plants in winter containers will do nicely down to about -8°C. Lower than that, they need protection. 

A couple of tricks that work nicely are keeping them out of cold winter winds and wrapping them with insulating materials, like the N-Sulate fabric that not only blocks the wind but also makes about a 6-8°C difference in temperature. As soon as the worst of the cold is over, simply unwrap your container and store these materials away (they can be used many times over), and your pot is good to go unless/until it gets severely cold again. 

Now, for the best winter container plants, here is a list of our favourites. Unless otherwise stated, plants listed prefer full to part sun.

Focal Point Plants:

  • Columnar Irish yews, ‘Green Spire’ euonymus and ‘Sky Pencil’ Japanese holly
  • Red, yellow and ‘Midwinter Fire’ bush dogwoods
  • Funky conifers like cryptomeria ‘Cristata’ and Golden Hinoki cypress

Accent Plants:

  • Evergreen euphorbias like ‘Ascot Rainbow’
  • Colourful heucheras – there are so many to choose from!
  • Winter-flowering heathers, especially varieties with gold foliage.
  • Colourful conifers like ‘Rheingold’ cedars and dwarf ‘Gold Thread’ cypress
  • Dwarf Heavenly Bamboo (nandina) – newer varieties have bold foliage colour.
  • Osmanthus ‘Goshiki’
  • Leucothoe ‘Rainbow’ – tolerant of lower light locations.
  • Sarcococca – This evergreen shrub produces incredibly fragrant blooms in the middle of winter. Sarcococca is best in part sun to shade.
  • *Some of these shrubs will ultimately grow to quite a good size. If you wish, you can transplant them from your container into your garden in early spring.

Berries:

  • Wintergreen (gaultheria) – has bright red, white, or pink berries depending on the variety.
  • Deciduous holly (ilex verticillata) – ‘Berry Poppins’ by PW is lovely!
  • Pyracantha – has orange, red, and yellow berries. Pyracantha can be used as a focal point plant, too.

Spill Overs:

  • Evergreen grasses like Carex ‘Evergold’, lime coloured ‘Everillo’ or blue fescues.
  • Variegated ivy
  • Evergreen hardy trailing sedums

Winter Flowers:

  • Hellebores – Larger containers would showcase these evergreen perennial bloomers very nicely. They are happiest in part sun to light shade.
  • Violas and pansies 
  • Mini cyclamen

Add Ons:

  • Contorted willow or filbert stems to add height, shape, and interest. For very large planters, thick and sturdy stems could be strong enough to hold small bird feeders or seed balls, too!

There is so much beautiful evergreen foliage available today; even without flowers, these containers can be stunning. If you’ve never created your own cool weather container before, you’ll be surprised how easy they are to make and how attractive they look all season long!