Winter is a slow time for gardeners, and with good reason. With so many plants entering dormancy or dying altogether when the temperature drops, there is little to look at and less to do in the garden. Cold weather doesn’t have to mean your containers must be empty, though. Here, we’ll share a few tips for winter containers to ensure your planters look beautiful throughout the cold season.
There are quite a few plants that retain their leaves and attractiveness despite the cold. There are also some steps you can take to give your container plants extra cold tolerance during the long winter nights. With a little TLC, you can potentially have beautiful, lush planters even in the dead of winter.
If you’re unsure where to start winterizing your planters, we’ve compiled some tips and ideas to help keep that front porch looking inviting and alive, even during the coldest months. From what to plant and how to care for them, here are 13 things you can do to keep your winter planters looking lively.
Use an Evergreen Foundation
Using evergreen plants in your containers ensures year-round greenery.
This may be stating the obvious, but using an evergreen plant as a foundation in your containers is a great way to maintain the look of live plants year-round. Shrubs such as boxwoods, laurels, and arborvitae make a wonderful backdrop for other seasonal container plants throughout the year.
Planting one of these plants in the center of your large container arrangements is a great way to keep things looking green all year. For smaller containers, consider a dwarf mugo pine. These feathery, many-branched shrubs make excellent container plants. Boxwoods can be shaped into stunning topiaries for a drastic yet manicured appearance.
Winter creeper is a great option for evergreen containers. With variegated varieties to add multi-colored interest, this compact evergreen is a great choice for the front porch or any space where you like to keep containers.
Consider Cold Weather Vegetables
Grow winter vegetables like kale and cabbage for a cold-weather garden.
Vegetables are an often overlooked tip for winter containers. Many favorite winter vegetables thrive in cold weather, especially when protected by a cozy pot. Veggies like kale, lettuce, cabbage, and other leafy greens taste better after they’ve experienced some frost. Think about adding some of these plants to your planters when you do away with your warm-weather annuals.
There are many beautiful varieties of ornamental kale and cabbage in shades of green, blue, and purple that can really dress up a winter planter. For more vertical interest, consider adding a few romaine heads to your planters.
Root vegetables often have attractive foliage above the ground that is frost tolerant. Plant some carrots, onions, and radishes for winter greenery and delicious veggies in early spring. Brussels sprouts are interesting to look at, and they don’t mind the cold, either.
You Can’t Go Wrong with a Classic
Poinsettias enhance winter outdoor decor in mild climates but need protection from frost.
If you live in a milder climate, poinsettias are the perfect plant to fill up your winter containers. These leafy plants, with their brightly colored bracts, are a dazzling addition to outdoor holiday decor.
Be careful with your poinsettias, though, as they are not frost-tolerant and must be brought indoors away from freezing weather. If you live in zone 8 or higher, you may be able to leave your poinsettias outdoors throughout the season by keeping them under cover. However, make sure to bring them indoors before an expected freeze.
Create a Mini Forest with Evergreens and Moss
Moss is a cold-resistant, winter-weather decor option with an enchanted feel.
Many people overlook moss as a decorative plant, but many types of mosses are quite resistant to cold. Moss will become dormant when the temperature drops below 40°F, but it will retain its color throughout the winter.
The texture of moss around the base of a small evergreen can have an enchanted vibe. You can create a forest of small evergreens in mossy pots to decorate the front porch throughout the coldest months. Mosses can even withstand being covered in snow and retain their color and health.
Pansies for Pop of Color
These colorful flowers are cold-tolerant, surviving temperatures down to 25°F.
Pansies, part of the same family as violets and violas, are some of the most cold-tolerant flowers available. Despite their delicate appearance, these pretty flowers thrive during cool weather. Pansies are frost-tolerant, thriving at below-freezing temperatures.
Pansies and other related flowers are cold tolerant to 25°F, at which point their foliage will begin to die back, and the plants will go dormant. Their roots are hardy to 20°F, so in very cold climates, bring your pansies indoors if the temperature is slated to drop below this point.
Fill in With Ferns
Frost-tolerant ferns are great for winter containers when planted in advance for year-round greenery.
Many types of ferns are frost-tolerant or evergreen, making them an excellent choice for winter containers. The interesting and unique shapes and textures of these plants combine well with other evergreens. The leatherleaf fern is especially hardy.
Make sure to plant your evergreen ferns long before a frost to give them a chance to set down roots before the cold weather. By planning ahead and planting evergreen ferns in your containers in spring or summer, you can have lush greenery in your containers through the winter chill and year-round texture.
Ornamental Grasses Tolerate the Cold Well
Cold-hardy ornamental grasses add winter beauty and texture to containers.
Many beautiful ornamental grasses are cold-hardy and tolerate frost exceptionally well. Adding these plants to your containers will give them new life for the cold season. Reed grass, sea oats, and fescue are all hardy, at least to zone 4, with some thriving in zone 3.
The tall, wispy fronds and blue-green foliage of blue fescue are a stunning statement in winter container gardens. These pretty plants have a lot of movement when the breeze moves through them, making them interesting and texturally pleasing.
Choose a Camellia
A cold-tolerant flower, camellia provides a captivating display of winter blossoms in varying colors.
Camellias are a favorite of mine. These stunning evergreen shrubs are at their best when most flowering plants are hunkering down to hide beneath a blanket of snow. Blooming through the colder months in shades of red, pink, white, and occasionally yellow, camellias are called winter roses for good reason.
For early-season blooms, consider Camellia sasanqua. These small, shrubby camellias typically have smaller blooms, but more of them. They begin blooming around October and continue into early winter.
C. japonica varieties are wonderful for mid-winter flowers. Although slightly larger, these shrubs still make good large container plants and are surprisingly cold-tolerant. They have larger blooms that make wonderful cut flowers and look magnificent, floating in a crystal bowl full of water on the dining room table.
Use Holly for a Festive Flair
This festive plant provides food for winter birds.
There is a wide range of sizes for holly shrubs and trees, with some larger varieties growing as tall as 50 feet at maturity. These may work in containers when they are young but are likely to outgrow even larger containers in a handful of years. Depending on your needs, this might be perfectly fine.
Smaller varieties like ‘Little Red’ or ‘Japanese Holly’ are great for growing in containers permanently. These smaller types rarely reach more than 10 feet tall and produce attractive red berries that glow against a backdrop of deep green, glossy leaves.
Holly has a distinctively festive appearance, making it great for complementing holiday decor. During spring and summer, small white flowers are a magnet for bees, and in winter, these are some of the best plants for bird watchers to plant.
Keep Your Planters Under Cover
Protecting plants from moisture in freezing temperatures extends their cold tolerance.
Experienced container gardeners will insist that one of their most overlooked tips for winter containers is simple pot coverage. Many plants that are not necessarily frost-tolerant can withstand cold temperatures as long as they are kept under cover. The thing that kills many potted plants in a freeze is not the cold weather itself but the freezing moisture that collects on the plants overnight.
You may notice that many outdoor plants are covered by a thin layer of moisture or morning dew. As the dew falls and collects on the leaves in below-freezing temperatures, the moisture can freeze, damaging or altogether killing your plant’s foliage.
The good news is that if you can prevent that moisture from forming on your plants, they may prove to be more cold-tolerant than you expect. Moving your potted plants under the cover of a porch or other structure can keep them healthy much longer than leaving them exposed. You can also use row fabric to protect tender plants. You may still need to bring them in on very cold nights, but you can enjoy them longer if you keep a roof over their heads.
Insulate Your Containers
Insulate potted plants with mulch and pot wrapping to keep the soil warm and protect the roots.
Keeping the soil warm is a great way to prolong the life of your potted plants. There are several ways to do this, one of which is to cover the top of the soil with a heavy layer of mulch or straw. This provides some insulation for the roots of your plants, keeping them from freezing.
Pot insulators can be purchased at retailers, and pots can also be wrapped in insulating materials. Another option is to place your potted plants in a large tub or pond liner and fill in around the pots with mulch or leaves, which will help to keep your roots warm as well.
Choose Larger Containers
Choose larger planters for better insulation and room for larger plants.
The larger the container, the more soil you can fill in around your plants. Soil acts as an insulator, protecting the roots of your plants. The more soil, the better, so consider sizing up when you select planters. Bigger planters also mean more and larger plants, and who doesn’t like that?
Don’t Forget to Water
Watering plants before a freeze insulates roots and protects them from damage.
It may sound counter-intuitive, but it is important to water your plants before a freeze. Keeping your containers watered will help to insulate the roots as well. Wet soil stays warmer than dry soil, which can have pockets of freezing air that do more damage to your plant’s roots.
Depending on the plants in your containers, watering them regularly through the colder months can go a long way toward preserving them. Even if they are dormant for the winter, watering can help prevent the loss of plants on the edge of surviving a certain temperature.
Gardening and enjoying plants doesn’t have to end just because the weather doesn’t support many of the plants we enjoy during the warmer months. Many plants thrive in cold weather and can be rotated into your planters to brighten the winter landscape. In addition to cold-hardy and evergreen plants, there are several great tips to help your winter containers survive those extra cold nights.