DIY ~ Winter Containers Workshop

Pieris "Dorothy Wycoff"

Pieris “Dorothy Wycoff”

Just because winter is coming on doesn’t mean your gardening has to stop! Seasonal displays of winter-hardy plants can keep the color going in the landscape throughout those cold months. TheDCH, in collaboration with The Scott Arboretum, recently held a demonstration workshop to teach how to enhance the winter appeal of planted containers. Josh Coceano, Scott Arboretum horticulturist, and Lenny Wilson, Associate Director of Development at TheDCH, showed how to achieve gorgeous seasonal interest.

Starting off with an informative powerpoint, Josh Coceano recommended some basic guidelines for planning a winter container. First of all, bigger is better to accommodate freezing and thawing, provide root space and drainage. There are wide varieties of planting containers available such as terracotta, impruneta terracotta, glazed containers, metal, slate, concrete, hypertufa, drainage tiles, recycled/repurposed items, faux stone and faux terracotta. When choosing a container, keep in mind where it will be placed to help make your selection.

Considering your home’s architecture and the container’s color, size, shape and material are important in designing a container with visual presence. Since the plant color palette is more limited in winter, emphasis should be placed on line and texture. Conifers have the lead role in winter containers, either as plantings, stuck greens (branches & trimmings) or in combination. All eyes will focus on the containers in winter, so a full, lush look is desirable.

Plant suggestions include deciduous willows and dogwoods, conifers, evergreens, yuccas, rhododendrons, grasses and cold hardy perennials such as heurcheras, Christmas fern, bergenia and hellebores.┬áSpring bulbs and cold-tolerant annuals may be added in as well. To provide holiday touches, seasonal “stick-ins” of fruited stems, painted dried flowers, bamboo and branches may be put to use.

For ideas and plant selections, Josh gave us a great tip – go see the container plantings at local nursery centers and botanical gardens and use the computer to “Google” many more examples. He advised gathering and grouping plants together at the nursery to see how the combinations will fit and work together before purchasing them.

After seeing many inspiring winter container examples in the presentation, Josh and Lenny took the workshop outside and did the following hands-on demonstration.

Winter Containers

Prepare the container by scooping out the planting area and having some fresh soil to add as well. Fertilizer is not required in winter containers as the plants will not be actively growing.

Winter Containers

Josh Coceano and Lenny Wilson remove the conifer from its pot for planting. It is important to have as large a container as possible. This size tree can stay potted up to two years before being incorporated into the landscape.














Winter Containers

Daffodil bulbs were planted around the tree’s base and will carry this container garden into spring.



Winter Containers

Topping the planter with pine straw provides a finished, seasonal look. Don’t forget to water your winter containers and check them once a week.

Winter Containers

Josh Coceano explains that pinecones also make a great top dressing, alone or  combined with pine straw.







Winter Containers

A wide variety of cold-tolerant perennial plants, grasses and conifers may be combined for colorful winter containers.

Winter Containers

Josh Coceano & Lenny Wilson prepare a grouping of containers at TheDCH for planting.

Winter Containers

Horticulturist Josh Coceano demonstrates placing plants to plan the container design.

Winter Containers

All the plants are arranged and ready to be dug in! They will provide beauty in the winter landscape all season long.

8 Responses so far.

  1. Judy A Muche says:

    Great Stuff! Love the mix of Colors & Textures…

  2. Jane scorer says:

    How brave to use such large conifers ! I would never have thought to be so bold ! really works though, and you could move them into the garden once they became unhappy in the pot

    • Barb says:

      Jane ~ I was surprised by the large conifers too, but didn’t they make a wonderful statement? Those were #10 size and at a large facility. For home use a smaller tree might have just as nice a presence.

  3. Christina says:

    I was really interested to read about winter containers! After losing my husband, my large house and garden was too much for me so I have moved to an apartment home, so containers is all I can have. I am in Zone 5, do you think the plants mentioned would survive? Thanks for the information!


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