Winter Porch Pots

by | Nov 27, 2018

I love the idea of continuing colour into the winter months using outside porch pots. They are beautifully assembled collections of hardy evergreens, deciduous plants, or cut branches that really pop in winter artistically arranged in an attractive container. In addition to looking amazing, though, they need to withstand the abuse of winter weather (with some protection in the worst conditions) without losing their aesthetic appeal.

Porch Pots in Winter

This whole idea of winter pots started about twelve or so years ago in independent garden stores and has blossomed into mainstream winter culture. They are an art form and, like all great containers, no matter the time of the year, they should be so much more than just okay. They should be personalized and brought to a much higher level. They may just be the only ‘garden’ you have in winter, so let’s make them spectacular!

Winter Porch Pot Basics

As with most things in life, you’ll need to have a strategy for success. Winter presents a very different environment than the one enjoyed during the warm days of spring and summer, so a few key issues need to be addressed. First is the container: you need a suitable size and adequate sturdiness to withstand winter winds and driving rain.

holiday decorated porch pot

Let it glow! Unique pots really make the arrangement.

The soil needs to be very open and porous, and even if you use a high porosity mix, like ProMix HP, it’s important to add a ⅓ measure of fine fir or hemlock bark mulch or sawdust to get the level of porosity you need. In winter, roots survive far better in very well drained mixes. Excess moisture can damage roots as it freezes. Just the opposite is true when using cut branches. To keep the stems fresh and in place you need heavy, wet soil. Surprisingly, most potting soils are great if they are saturated with moisture. The weight of wet soil will also keep the pot steady in blustery weather.

Choosing Cut Greens

burgundy red huckleberry stems
Huckleberry stems add a great pop of burgundy-red colour!
  When creating a container of cut greens, you need a mix of greens that will withstand winter cold and not desiccate in windy conditions. Pine is, by far, the best. Both the soft, white pine (Pinus strobus) and Scotch pine (Pinus sylvestris), along with blue spruce (Picea glauca) and noble and silver fir (Abies nobilis), when cut in late October and November, should last until the weather warms up in early spring. Soft, textured cedar (Thuja plicata) and weeping hemlock (Tsuga canadensis) are nice looking, but they are more susceptible to drying out. The colour, shape, texture and fragrance of these cut boughs are delightful enough to make them worth trying, though. Mist them with water occasionally or leave them out in winter rains to help keep their moisture content at an optimum level.

Designing Your Pot

Design is where artistry brings your arrangements to life – a few focal points work wonders. Once you arrange the greens into the style you love, the next step should be layering in colourful stems of shrub dogwoods. I particularly like the vibrant, red stems of Cornus ‘Sibirica’, the yellows of C. ‘Flaviramea’, and the yellow and orange stems of C. ‘Midwinter Fire’.  Arranged among the greens, they jump out with popping stark contrast. The pure white stems of birch, especially ones with nicely textured bark, are fabulous as well. Not to be outdone, the curly willows (Salix ‘Tortuosa’) especially the golden and red-stemmed varieties, add a whole new dimension of twists and curls that play with your eyes. Large, colourful cones – like the long, gently curved cones of white pine (Pinus strobus) – naturally frosted with hardened sap, are among the best.

showy colourful proteas

Showy, colourful proteas.

The long, thin cones of Norway spruce (Picea abies) are nice to work with, too. There are many pine cones that look attractive, like P. ponderosa or its larger cousin P. arizonica, and if you simply touch the tips of each cone with some white latex paint, it creates that fantastic ‘fresh snow’ look. Layering in some colourful berries adds another level of richness to your arrangements. Perhaps the very best are the berries of Ilex verticillata or those of deciduous holly. These also make wonderful Zone 4 garden plants. Their vibrant red and now gold berries will make your arrangements rock!

Decorating Your Porch Pots

give your winter porch pots the tropical look

Lovely magnolia stems

If you’d like to ‘glam up’ your arrangements – and I certainly do – incorporate some larger glass stem balls. I like to use muted tones for a more classy look. Well-made artificial birds perched on a few twigs fit in nicely but avoid any cheesy stuff. You can also keep your arrangements looking sophisticated by adding clear mini lights or LED microlights to make all your porch pots, both cut and living, really sparkle.

In Zone 6 and higher, for a little something different you can also create a tropical look. To achieve this, use native BC greens and fill in with stems of evergreen magnolia. Their big, rich, shiny green leaves and brown undersides add a whole different perspective. They also tolerate light frosts and are truly unique and fun.

Large proteas from Australia and other southern countries also have an amazing cold tolerance and are truly eye-popping as focal points. Exotic dried tropical cones, seed pods, and dried foliage add quite a new dimension for an elegant look and a nice, tropical, ‘Christmas Island’ touch.

Winter porch pots are amazing creations that we can enjoy for the Christmas season and right through winter. After Christmas, take out the obvious holiday décor pieces and replace them with pussy willow stems and bird feeders to carry the container through to spring. Get creative and have some fun!