Design Gorgeous Winter Container Gardens

Think you can only plant container gardens when it’s warm outside? Think again! We asked Nashville, TN-based horticulturist Barbara Wise from Crescent Garden, who wrote Container Gardening For All Seasons, to share her best tips for creating winter container gardens that provide glorious color and texture both indoors and out.

Why did you include winter in your book about container gardening?

Many people just plant annuals in their planters, so when winter comes and annual flower selections are slim, they opt out. In fact, I had to convince my first boss that winter containers were an option for the 100+ planters we maintained for a local community. He was very skeptical but after that first winter of container displays, our container gardening business never slowed down! Winter planters can take on a lovely artist look that plays off the texture, form, and architectural interest of the plants themselves. 

What do you suggest for people living in cold climates?

For winter indoor gardens, either bring inside some of your favorite summer annuals or use this time to create some fun indoor projects like terrariums or miniature garden displays. One of the most important things is to provide them with enough light, whether with windows or artificial grow lights. Use attractive lightweight planters that can be easily moved in or outdoors or around the home to find the perfect lighting. Make sure the indoor planter has a drainage hole and use a saucer to protect the floor, or use a cache-pot for a pot-within-a-pot display. 

Which plants do you enjoy using to make up winter container gardens?

Some of my all-time favorites are red-twig dogwoods Cornus sericea, Heuchera, Pansies and Violas, Carex and Acorus grasses, ‘Fat Albert’ Colorado Blue spruce, Yucca ‘Color Guard, evergreen sedums, and ‘Illumination’ vinca. I also like to mix in interesting cut branches, unique garden art, or obelisks that I can wrap with lights.  

For folks living in areas with no snow but cooler temperatures, what can they plant for outdoor container gardens?

So many options! Coral bark maple trees (Acer palmatum ‘Sango-kaku’) are striking all by themselves in a planter surrounded by white rock. Camellias, Helleborus, Autumn ferns, Variegated False Holly (Osmanthus heterophyllus ‘Goshiki’), and many of the new nandina shrubs grow fabulously in planters. Make sure you know which plants like shade and sun, so they have the best growing environment. 

Any other tips for designing winter container gardens?

Visit your local garden center during the winter and see what they have that looks good growing outside. Combine some of those plants in your planter. And don’t forget that these still may need a drink a water throughout the winter, though on a much more limited scale. Think beyond flowers and embrace the beauty and variety of foliage. Use miniature conifers or one-gallon Magnolias or Acuba to line your window boxes and then surround them with LED lights for the winter season. A planter is a frame for you to fill with whatever your imagination leads you! 


All images courtesy of Barbara Wise

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