Winter Garden Design in a Container

Winter container with arbor vitae, nandina, kale and holly

We celebrated my friend Mia’s birthday with a trip to Longwood for the ‘Winter Garden Design in a Container’ class.  One of the best classes that I’ve taken there so far!  The instructor, Karl, (, shared a number of key tips that have kept my winter garden containers healthy and beautiful in the weeks since these photos were taken:

  • Choose a large, lightweight container – plastic is a great option since you can move it around easily and it won’t crack from the cold.
  • Use a soil-free potting mix – these are lighter and help maintain the plants through the winter.  Top them up with fertilizer or compost if you replant the container later on.
  • Select plans that are two zones hardier than your location.  I’m in Zone 7, so I need zone 5 plants.  Pick some for height and some for horizontal interest.  Then add the decorative accents like pine branches and holly sprigs.
  • Make the containers in late fall when nursery plants are on sale.
  • Keep the containers in a semi-shaded spot.  The plants will lose too much moisture in full sun, especially when the root ball freezes.  Water them with cold water once a week, or simply cover the tops with ice cubes.

I did a native plant container with a blueberry shrub and Christmas fern, accented with a low evergreen juniper, deciduous holly and gorgeous magnolia leaves.   It was so much fun that I bought more plants on the way home and made a second container – this one with an arborvitae, winter-hardy kale and nandina – plus some orange-berried holly from Mia’s yard, and yew and rhododendron clippings from my neighborhood.  I also dug in some tulip and daffodil bulbs.  In the spring, I’m going to pull out the greens, let the bulbs bloom, and then see if I can keep these containers going with summer annuals.  Otherwise, the shrubs can go into various spots in my garden.

All in all, a wonderful learning experience.  I’ve got a new appreciation for container gardening, and looking forward to making more of these next year.

Winter container featuring native plants


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