Dress up spent summer and fall container gardens with boughs of fresh evergreens for a colorful winter display. Greens like spruce, fir, mountain hemlock and Virginia pine retain color and needles to provide a long winter display. Treat cut greenery with an anti-transpirant to help stems retain moisture. Use bunched ornamental grass stems or bundled branches to add a strong vertical element to designs.
Begonias as a group, including ‘Dragon Wing’ types, unfurl leaves and flowers that are thicker, offering a bite that Japanese beetles don’t savor. Use ‘Dragon Wing’ begonias in containers or planting beds in part shade to full sun settings.
Look for this topiary style of dwarf Alberta spruce featuring spheres. In the nursery trade, this form is known as a two-ball poodle or pom-pom spruce. It’s a great choice for complementing a formal garden or making a statement in containers. When growing dwarf Alberta spruce in containers, use a commercial bagged soil blended for acid-loving plants. Consider adding shredded pine bark to the mix. Layer a few inches of bark mulch over soil to help it retain moisture.
Shady spots explode with color when you draft botany’s big guns for shade: caladium, begonia and ivy. This pot showcases classic container garden design. A white and green caladium stands in as thriller, with Dragon Wing Pink begonia as filler and green ivy as spiller. It’s a blend that easily fits on any porch or deck to bring season-long color. Dragon Wing begonias are a shade all-star, strutting their stuff in part to full shade. These begonias are low maintenance, heat tolerant beauties that pump out flowers until fall’s first frost. This planting combination looks great in a pot, but would transition easily to planting beds, too.
Pack a tall container full of cold-hardy succulents that will give you foliage ranging from chartreuse to ruby red to black during the winter and blooms that open in the fall and last through the winter. Use fast-draining soil and place in full sun. RECIPE: ‘Wildfire’ Sedum (Sedum SunSparkler ‘Wildfire’, Zones 4-8), 2 plants; Job’s Beard (Sempervivum heuffelii ‘Jade’, Zones 4-8); ‘Boromir’ Hens-and-Chicks (Sempervivum ‘Boromir’, Zones 4-8), 3 plants; ‘Elsie’s Gold’ Sedum (Sedum spectabile 'Elsie's Gold', Zones 3-8), 2 plants; ‘Dream Dazzler’ Sedum (Sedum SunSparkler ‘Dream Dazzler’, Zones 3-9); ‘Touchdown Teak’ Sedum (Terra Nova TOUCHDOWN Series Sedum ‘Touchdown Teak’, Zones 4-9)
Don’t let this collection of cute little hens-and-chicks (sempervivums) fool you. They’re giants when it comes to cold-hardiness, tough enough to handle a brutal winter. Leave them on the porch or patio all winter, and they’ll provide color, even when the rosettes are peeking out from under a layer of snow. Some of these varieties hit peak color in the summer and others in the winter, so you’ll have a lovely little garden year-round. RECIPE: Sempervivum ‘Grammens’ (Zones 5-8); Sempervivum ‘Bronco’ (Zones 5-8), 2 plants; Sempervivum ‘Thayne’ (Zones 5-8); Sempervivum ‘Pinkerine’ (Zones 5-8), 2 plants; Sempervivum ‘C. William’ (Zones 5-8)
Plants have filled out and are blooming strongly one month after planting. Approximately four to six weeks after planting is the right time to start giving containers a weekly dose of soluble plant food. Otherwise, wait until midseason to add a handful of slow-release fertilizer to the top of soil (if you can find it) and water well. Wait to add a saucer beneath large planters until you need to water the pot daily to keep plants from wilting. Otherwise, you may deal create root rot if roots have not filled the entire soil volume.
Cool Wave Spreading pansies strut their stuff beautifully in hanging baskets, where stems cascade 18 to 24 inches. Water is one secret to success with fall-planted pansies. Water well at planting time, and be sure to water plants thoroughly before cold snaps. If cold is strong enough to freeze soil around pansy rootballs, roots cannot absorb water until soil thaws.
The huge rosettes of the aeoniums and the ruffly, aquamarine leaves of the Lady Aquarius echevaria make this succulent container look like a bouquet of aquatic flowers and coral, but foliage is the star of this show. Add a trailing vine like String of Pearls and a couple of mini jade plants, and you get a heat-tolerant container that looks downright aquatic. RECIPE: String of Pearls (Senecio rowleyanus, Zones 10-11); Echeveria ‘Flag Day’ (Zones 9-11); Echeveria ‘Lady Aquarius’ (Zones 9-11); Black Rose (Aeonium arboreum var. atropurpureum ‘Black Rose’, Zone 9); Elephant Bush (Portulacaria afra 'Green', Zones 10-11); Kalanchoe ‘Oak Leaf’ (Zones 9-11); Blushing Beauty (Aeonium ‘Blushing Beauty’, Zones 10-11); Large Leaf Elephant Food (Portulacaria afra forma macrophylla, Zones 10-11)
This container is packed with hot oranges, reds and burgundies and balanced with cool limes. The echeveria, stonecrops and kalanchoe will keep their color in the heat, giving you a spring and summer of nonstop color. RECIPE: Coppertone Stonecrop (Sedum nussbaumerianum, Zone 10); Six-Angled Kalanchoe (Kalanchoe sexangularis, Zone 9); ‘Sorrento' (Sedeveria 'Sorrento', Zone 10); Sedum adolphii X (Zone 10); 'Frank Reinelt' (Echeveria agavoides 'Frank Reinelt', Zone 9); 'Melaco' (Echeveria 'Melaco', Zone 9); 'Black Prince' (Echeveria 'Black Prince', Zone 9)
With succulent containers, you’re going for foliage, not flowers, so zero in on the leaves and mix a variety of shapes, textures and colors. This container recipe mixes and matches hens-and-chicks and sedum varieties hardy to 20 degrees below zero, so it can survive outside on your patio in deepest winter, under a blanket of snow. RECIPE: ‘Cebenese’ Hens-and-Chicks (Sempervivum arachnoideum ‘Cebenese’, Zones 5-8); ‘Black Pearl’ Sedum (Sedum album ‘Black Pearl’, Zones 5-8); ‘Old Copper’ Hens-and-Chicks (Sempervivum ‘Old Copper’, Zones 5-8); ‘Oktoberfest’ Sedum (Sempervivum ‘Oktoberfest’, Zones 5-8); Job’s Beard (Sempervivum heuffelii ‘Irene’, Zones 4-8); ‘Ruby Mantle’ Stonecrop (Phedimus spurius ‘Ruby Mantle’, Zones 4-8)
Go all out and mix in smaller containers and single plants as well. If using a small container like this one, limit the amount of vegetation planted to just one or two varieties so they can flourish without competing for room and nutrients.