With the weather 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, resin and quality plastic containers are fine. 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 enough fine bark mulch so that the mulch equals a one-third portion. This is essentially a nursery mix that is ideal for all winter plants.
Most hardy plants will thrive in containers over winter and with cooler temperatures will need minimal maintenance. 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 minus eight degrees Celsius. Beyond that they need 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 patio pots, wrap insulating materials, like the new N-Sulate cloth, around the pots. As soon as the worst of the cold is over, simply store these materials and your pot is good to go unless it gets severely cold again.
Now, for the best winter container plants, here is a list of my favourites.
• Irish yews
• Red and yellow twigs, especially Midwinter Fire bush dogwoods
• Clumping bamboo
• Contorted willows and hazelnuts
• Evergreen euphorbias – Tasmanian Tiger and Glacier are particularly colourful
• Colorful heucheras and heucherellas
• Winter -flowering heathers, especially the gold foliage varieties
• Colourful conifers, like Rheingold cedars, Gold Thread cypress and Blue Star junipers
• Broadleaved favourites: Heavenly bamboo, nandinas and Osmanthus Goshiki
• Evergreen grasses (like Carex Evergold, Silver Scepter, Ice Dance and Acorus Ogon)
• Variegated ivy
• Berried cotoneasters
• Winter violas and pansies work best
• Mini cyclamen
If you’ve never created your own winter container before, you’ll be surprised how easy it is and how attractive they look. There is so much beautiful evergreen foliage available today, even without flowers these containers can be stunning.
Brian Minter is a master gardener who operates Minter Gardens in Chilliwack.