Ideas for Outdoor Christmas Container Gardens
Deck your container gardens with evergreen boughs and ornaments that hold their own well into the New Year.
Herald the holidays by taking the celebration to your porch, patio and garden with evergreen-filled containers. Include holiday-themed decorations to create Christmas pots, or stick with natural ornaments for winter containers that sparkle from winter all the way to spring.
Many gardeners tackle creating Christmas pots as part of their early deck the halls routine, but I like to wait until cold weather looks like it’s here to stay. Once temps don’t nudge beyond the forties each day (often late December in the Mid-Atlantic), evergreens easily keep their good looks — with little effort on my part. Follow these goof-proof tips to create outdoor Christmas pots that shine through winter snows to earliest spring rains.
Design Like a Pro
Follow traditional container design tenets by including thriller, filler and spiller elements in your outdoor Christmas pot arrangements. Thriller items are strongly upright — roughly twice as tall as the container. Good thriller items include branches, like white paper birch, redtwig dogwood or curly willow. I often use ornamental grasses as the thriller in outdoor winter container gardens. I cut bunches of ornamental grasses to the desired height, jam them into a smaller pot and sink that pot into soil in the larger, final container.
For filler items, use cut evergreens, eucalyptus bundles (these retain color all winter) or berried branches. Tuck short trimmings from evergreen boughs along pot edges for a spilling effect. Cypress, boxwood and white pine all have a natural flowing appearance that plays an artful spiller role.
Which Greens Work Best?
Most evergreens provide a long-lasting show when tucked into moist soil or sand. I’ve found that cypress and white pine brown fastest, typically about the two-month mark. Fir, spruce and pine all hold up well through winter, reliably remaining green. Broadleaf evergreens, like holly and rhododendron, tend to wilt unless you treat them with an anti-desiccant like Wilt Pruf or Vapor Gard. Soaking in an anti-desiccant is also the secret to keeping holly berries merry and bright all winter long.
Look for evergreen bundles at your local garden center or florist. What you want is a mix of different green shades and leaf and needle textures. Ask what kinds of greens come in a standard bundle. Florists and garden centers often order greens in bulk and may customize bundles for you. (I always request extra spruce stems.) Consider adding to your landscape any plants that you find particularly appealing in a winter container garden.
Choose Ornaments Carefully
If you want to savor pots of greens all winter long, opt for holiday-neutral add-ons, such as coconut hulls, rattan balls or an electric lantern. I save twigs through the year, bundling stems by size, and make wooden stars to decorate my winter container gardens. Twig stars offer a nice holiday flair but are rustic enough to serve as wintry décor.
If you stick with purely Christmas-themed ornaments, consider removing some after the holiday if you plan to keep your pots in place all winter. This method only works if soil doesn’t freeze solid or you can easily remove ornaments from stakes.
Think Outside The Pot
Consider containers beyond the traditional flower pot. A metal mail holder becomes a one-of-a-kind winter container garden (above) when it’s stuffed with evergreens and berried branches. Troll summer yard sales, secondhand stores and flea markets for containers you can press into service for outdoor winter decor.
In non-traditional pots, use floral foam (sold at craft stores) instead of soil to hold stems. Cut pieces to size to fit your container; hot glue thin pieces together to create a thick base that can support stems. Floral foam also works well in containers to hold stems, or simply fill pots with play sand or soil. If seriously cold weather arrives before you get your containers ready, arrange them in a garage or shed with a space heater.
If a pot that’s too large to move freezes solid, pour boiling water on soil to thaw it enough to insert greens. Have stems cut to size before thawing soil, and work quickly to insert greens, using a screw driver to open a hole. Don’t pour boiling water on ceramic or pottery containers or you risk cracking them.
- Store stems. Buy stems early for the best selection, but wait to arrange until temperatures are reliably in the forties. Store stems on a porch until you’re ready to arrange. Cut ends seal, which allows stems to store up to two weeks. Don’t forget to make fresh cuts on stems at the time of arranging.
- Clean pruners. Sticky sap can turn pruners into a gooey mess. Wipe blades with rubbing alcohol to remove traces of sap and sterilize blades at the same time.
- Make a point. Snip woody stems at a sharp angle — this enhances water uptake by exposing a larger surface area to moisture. Remove lower branches on stems to avoid inserting any needles below the soil line. As needles dry, they contract, and buried needles can cause stems to wobble and even topple in winter winds.
- Water pots. Evergreen pots look their best when stems are kept moist. Water pots any time the temperature is above freezing. If you’re in a snowy climate, heaping a little snow onto open soil can help water pots when temps nudge upwards.
- Remove snow. After heavy snows, use a broom to gently brush snow off greens. This is especially important with leafy greens, like eucalyptus, boxwood or leatherleaf-type hollies.
- Midwinter makeover. In February, I freshen up winter container gardens by pulling or clipping (if soil is frozen solid) any faded greens that have become an eyesore.