WINTER, Yes, WINTER Container Gardens!

I know this time of year, container gardens are not on the forefront of most people's thoughts. There are, however, many wonderful plant combinations that overwinter very well and add interest to your front porch or deck this time of year. I create container gardens for customers all year long here in the Triad. Let's take a look at some great plant combinations that you can do for yourself at your home!

First, lets back up for a container garden primer: The old formula to create a beautiful container garden still applies here: 'Thrillers, Spillers and Fillers.' The 'Thriller' is the focal point of the container. For our example here,  the winter container, this 'thriller' can be an unusual or interesting looking evergreen, a metal trellis or form for an evergreen vine. It also could be a plant with an interesting winter form (for example, a Harry Lauder's walking stick or Weeping Japanese Maple.) The 'Spiller' needs to drape over the sides of the container and add interest. In the winter this could be an evergreen vine or perennial. The 'Filler' needs to obviously fill out the body of the container. In winter this could be a small evergreen shrub or perennial, preferably with a different texture than the other plants.

For the examples below, I would use a 24" diameter container or larger. Proper drainage is essential so if you use a plastic container, make sure there is a hole in the bottom. Add several inches of gravel in the bottom for drainage and fill the rest with Miracle Grow or other high nutrient potting soil.

Winter Combination #1 (used in container shown above) Sunny spot

Blue Spruce, (OR Black Dragon Cryptomeria or Leyland Cypress)- Purchase a 1 or 2 gallon specimen
Gold Mop Cypress- 1 gallon
Firepower Nandina- 1 gallon
Pansies (in the South, these are planted in the fall winter and they return in the spring.)
Creeping Sedum- quart container
Christmas floral picks

Winter Combination #2- Sunny spot

Red/Yellow Twigged Dogwood OR Coral Bark Japanese Maple
Ornamental Cabbages
Heather- quart container
Creeping Juniper or Cypress- 1 gallon
Ajuga 'Burgundy Glow'- quart container

Winter Combination #3- Shady spot

Pieris 'Mountain Fire'- Purchase a 1 or 2 gallon specimen.
Nandina 'Firepower- 1 gallon
Euphorbia (green or variegated)- 1 gallon
Ivy, green or variegated- quart container

Winter Combination #4- Shady Spot

Cast Iron Plant- 1 or 2 gallon
Ornamental Cabbages
Creeping Juniper or Cypress-1 gallon
Ajuga 'Burgundy Glow'- quart container
Ivy- green or variegated- quart container

Other accents to add: To any of these containers there are a multitude of other decorative accents that can be added to dress up these containers and make them more festive.For example:

Floral or holiday picks-  Pick up artificial floral picks, berries, etc and add these based on which fall or winter holiday you are decorating for.
Pinecones- Use hot glue to put on skewers or sticks and place in arrangement.
Fresh fruit impaled on sticks or skewers
Fresh cut evergreen boughs
Holiday lights

Some final notes:

A few things to know about these containers as they age. First, check daily for water requirements. Since most irrigation systems are turned off for the winter, you will need to check and water as needed. Second, you can use shrub and tree varieties that tend to be larger, but purchase them in smaller, container sizes. Then, these shrubs and trees will need to be changed out periodically and moved to a larger container, or planted somewhere on your property. At my house,  every 3 months or so- I remove the shrubs and plant in my yard as they grow and become too big or get root-bound in the container.

Read more about container gardening at:

About the Author:

Lori Hawkins, RLA, ASLA has been a registered landscape architect and active in the landscape design/build industry for over 25 years. For additional inspiring project pictures, design ideas, or great garden gifts, take a look at these websites: