Planted pots belong in every garden and can be a great way to express your personality. Whether you have sun or shade, live in an apartment or a house, you can introduce striking textures, forms, and colors with container plantings. The approach of winter does not mean your containers need to go dormant. There are many exciting plants you can grow in containers to provide interest and color to your fall and winter landscape.
Plants for winter containers
A visit to any garden center will quickly confirm there are lots of different plants you can grow in containers through the winter months. These include annuals such as pansies and violas, which will bloom all winter, as well as decorative vegetables like cabbage, kale, and red mustard. Several herbs stay green through the winter and make great container plants, serving as both ornamental and edible plants. Look for parsley, sage, and rosemary to add flavor to your containers as well as your cooking.
Consider adding an evergreen shrub if your planter needs more height. Nandina, loropetalum, junipers, and hollies all look great in containers and can be transplanted into the landscape in future years if they outgrow the pot. There are even a few evergreen perennials to consider. Look for silver leaved ‘Powis Castle’ Artemisia, spiky, gold variegated ‘Colorguard’ yucca, the many colorful varieties of heuchera, or evergreen ‘Breeze’ grass to add perennial interest to your planters. While you’re planting, throw in a few bulbs like daffodils or tulips, planted six to eight inches deep, to add a new dimension in spring.
Prepare a container for planting
When picking out your planters first make sure they have drainage holes in the bottom to prevent your plants from drowning. Larger containers, over 16” in diameter, will require less frequent watering. Fill your pots with a peat based potting soil to within three inches from the rim. Potting soils are designed to ensure proper drainage and aeration and work much better than soil from your garden. Combine plants with similar requirements for sun or shade depending on where the planter will be located. Once the container is planted, remove excess soil if necessary. Always maintain at least a one inch gap from the top of the soil to the rim of the container.
Where do containers look the best?
There are certain areas where pots look particularly nice. At the front door of the home, next to a bench or gazebo, in the corner of a patio, on steps, alongside a path, and even in perennial borders to fill blank spots. Putting containers together in a group can also have its advantages, especially when they are first planted. Newly planted containers often don't have that "full" look right away. By grouping containers closer together, you can give the illusion of fullness. As the containers fill out, they can be spread further apart to present a totally different look.
Landscaping with containers can be as simple as one well-chosen and planted pot. Sometimes the most dramatic effects are created when a pot has a single beautiful specimen planting. You may also cluster together several pots to make a statement and colorize an otherwise unplantable area. Container height can be varied by sitting some containers on overturned pots, bricks or other things to give them elevation.
How do I care for my container?
Watering is the most important part of caring for container plants. When you water container plants, water thoroughly, adding water until it drains out of the bottom. How often depends on many factors such as weather, plant size, and pot size. Don't let soils in containers dry out completely, as this makes them hard to rewet. To keep large containers attractive and reduce water needs, spread a layer of mulch on the soil surface as you would in the garden.
Keep your containers looking their best by removing tattered leaves and deadheading spent flowers. Prune back plants that get leggy or stop blooming. Apply a slow release fertilizer such as Osmocote to the soil surface at planting time and again in early spring.
For lawn and gardening advice, visit ces.ncsu.edu where you can submit questions via the ‘Ask an Expert’ link, or contact your local Cooperative Extension center by phone: If you live in Pender County, call 910-259-1238; in New Hanover County, call 910-798-7660; in Brunswick County call 910-253-2610.