Over the next two seasons, when the weather turns cooler and wetter with shorter hours of daylight, wouldn’t it be wonderful to brighten up your patio with some great winter colour? Enhancing our patios with colourful containers is easier than you may think. You just need a different strategy for winter.
First: the containers. Terracotta in our climate is not the best for winter. Well-fired, quality pots with a lacquer finish are usually fine, but most inexpensive clay absorbs moisture and is more susceptible to cracking and chipping in winter. Well-fired ceramics are fine as are zinc, resin and well made plastic containers. As a rule of thumb, the larger the container, the better the plants do in winter conditions, simply because of the larger soil mass. For a nicer look, try grouping the planters together and if you can, varying the heights.
Soil is a key issue in winter. Open, porous, well-drained soil is a must. Regular potting soils hold too much moisture that tends to rot roots. Your best bet is to get a quality potting soil and add a third of bark mulch. This is essentially a nursery mix which is ideal for all winter plants.
Most hardy plants will thrive in containers over winter and with cooler temperatures will need minimal maintencance. They will, however, need to be kept moist, especially if the containers are under eaves. The main winter issue is the degree of cold temperatures. Hardy plants in winter containers will do nicely down to about -8°C. Beyond that they need some protection. The easiest shelter is to simply create a protected area that is insulated properly to keep the containers out of severely cold winds and deep freeze conditions. On patios, it is easier to wrap insulating materials, like the new ‘N-Sulate’, around the pots and plants. As soon as the worst of the cold is over, simply store these materials and your pot is good to go until it gets severely cold again.
As you select your plants, remember to ruffle up the rootballs a bit so they are more flexible and easier to fit into your containers. Pack your plants in tightly to get that attractive full look you are hoping for. I like using tall, thin unique conifers or broadleaved evergreens as focal points and surrounding them with colourful heucheras, evergreen euphorbias and evergreen grasses. Berries liven up planters nicely, and small pyracanthus, wintergreen, compact evergreen cotoneasters, trailing sedums, rich purple ajugas and violas add that special finishing touch. Popping in some stems of contorted willows or filberts add height and drama, and if you add mini lights or new LED lights, you’ll be able to enjoy the container at night as well.
If you’ve never created your own winter container before, you’ll be surprised how easy it is and how attractive it looks. So much beautiful evergreen foliage is available today, that even without flowers, these containers can be stunning. Now is the time to add new life for a new season on your patio, so be adventurous and creative with all today’s exciting new winter plants.
Brian Minter is a master gardener who operates Minter Gardens in Chilliwack.