Cultivating a Culture of Gardening™

Friday, October 2, 2009

Creating Containers for Your Winter Garden

My co-worker was adamant in his opinion. “Nothing looks good in a container during the winter”, he argued. His concern, I realized, was quite limited by not being a student of Dr. Seuss’s book, “O The Thinks You Can Think.” Having never considered to “think a trip of a ship to the vipper of vipp” or what he would do if he “met a jiboo”, my friend OBVIOUSLY hadn’t thought there are more planting options than pansies to do. (Dr. Seuss does inspire me!) Let’s look at some of the “thinks” you need for fall and winter containers.

Winter-safe Containers

While the “vipper of vipp” probably lives in a tropical zone, our zone 6 winters require us to only plant for this season in containers that won’t crack in the freeze. Stay away from using clay, terra cotta, or concrete pots that are not reinforced with steel wiring. You can seal the inside of these containers with products like roofing sealants, but the porous attributes of these pots make them easy prey to our infrequent but destructive deep freezes. In short, for winter containers, if you don’t want to loose it, don’t use it Campania International carries a huge variety of cast stone, polyethylene, and cast iron containers that can be used as long as you raise them off the ground so that the soil can drain without freezing to the ground. While some of these containers may cost more initially, the long lasting quality of these pots are well worth the investment. I’ve spotted Campania containers at Hewitt Garden Center, Mark Bates Garden Center, Gabriel’s Garden Shop, and Long Hollow Garden and Nursery. Fiberglass and pressed foam products can also be used in more protected areas.

Plant According to your Gardening Personality

Without recapping last month’s article, let me just remind the reader to plant with the awareness of what you KNOW you will keep up with. For those “jet-pilot” gardeners who want a bright spot in a sunny area, find a colorful container – blue, bright green, red – and simply plant a great mophead Chamaecyparis pisifera ‘Golden Mop’, ‘Sungold’, or ‘Golden Charm’. For a simple, more elegant look, use one of the Berri-Magic hollies (Ilex meserveae) or variegated boxwood underplanted with ivy or vinca. I love Vinca ‘Illumination’ to give any winter planting a bright pop as a trailing vine. For a shady container, try one of the Camellias in the ‘Ice Angel’ series – the only camellia truly hardy in our zone - underplanted with Carex ‘Evergold’, Acorus ‘Ogon’, or Heuchera ‘Purple Palace’. All of these plants can be found wherever Monrovia plants are sold.
I recommend winter windowboxes to gardeners not in jet-pilot category just because it is so easy to forget to water them. But “o the thinks…”! My favorite window box from last year was simple and elegant - lined in the back with several one gallon ‘Green Velvet’ boxwoods, filled with yellow and red pansies, and spilling out with large English ivy. In either a windowbox or container try small red-twig dogwoods (Cornus alba) surrounded by Juniperus horizontalis ‘Wiltonii’ (blue rug juniper) for an interesting texture and color combo. Shady containers will thrive with autumn fern, certain Heucheras like ‘Green Gem’ or ‘Obsidian’, Helleborus, Bergenia. Some extra “thinks” for sunny pots include Nadina ‘sienna sunrise’, Erica ‘Mediteranean pink’, Euonymus ‘emerald gold’, Iberis (evergreen candytuft), winter jasmine (Jasminum nudiflorum; is decidous but blooms very early), variegated holly, and Yucca ‘golden sword’.
And, not to totally malign my co-worker, a beautifully planted and maintained bowl of pansies or violas is hard to be beat, especially if you hide a surprise of spring bulbs in the soil before you add the flowers. Use daffodils, tulips, and hyacinth for this fall through early spring look.

Don’t Forget the Essentials
Have fun experimenting with different evergreens in your containers, including all the interesting topiary forms. Who knows, you may end up with a look even Dr. Seuss didn’t think of!
Winter plantings are usually created when you trade out your summer plants in early fall. (Some folks like to place mums in their pots for a month to provide an autumn feel. Just remember to get your winter container going before the first big freeze.) Water every day the first week as your plants get established, then cut back on watering as the temperature cools down. You can usually only water once or twice a week. If you add a few pansies to your mixed containers, don’t forget to give them a liquid feed high in nitrate once a month. Other than the pansies, your winter plantings are all perennials and shrubs that can be replanted in the spring in your yard. You could even check with your local master gardener program to see what charitable project they are working on and donate your plants next spring.


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