Small evergreens to get your containers through the winter. 

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Now that the leaves have fallen, things outside are looking pretty bleak. One thing you can do to spruce things up is plant some containers that feature a small evergreen in the center. You can plant cool-weather flowers, like pansies and violas, around them and then switch out these flowers for warm-weather ones next year. Grumpy presents three good choices from our Southern Living Plant Collection.

Our first candidate is ‘Obsession’ nandina, shown above. Yes, I know many people hate old-fashioned nandina, but this one is a big improvement. For one thing, it has a small, compact, upright form and never gets big and leggy. Second, the new foliage emerges bright red, so you’ll enjoy attractive red and green leaves on the same plant. Three, it grows only 3 to 4 feet tall, so you’ll seldom need to prune. Fourth, it doesn’t produce berries, so you won’t be smothered in seedlings. Finally, ‘Obsession’ is hard to kill. Just give it well-drained soil and full to part sun in USDA Zones 6-10.

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Next up—‘Purple Pixie’ dwarf loropetalum. Loropetalums aka “them purple bushes” are quickly supplanting azaleas as favorite spring-flowering shrubs for gardens with acid soil. Zillions of different varieties exist, however, so you need to be careful about which ones you plant. Some grow as big as a bus in the blink of an eye. Not ‘Purple Pixie.’ The only weeping loropetalum I know of, it grows but 1-2 feet tall and 4-5 feet wide. Its cascading form makes it a superb choice for pots, hanging baskets, and window boxes. Deep purple foliage lasts year-round; pink, ribbonlike flowers appear in early spring. This drought-tolerant and deer-resistant shrub is easy to grow in USDA Zones 7-10. It likes well-drained soil and full to part sun.

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I’m not a big fan of variegated plants, unless they offer big advantages over plain, green ones. ‘Meerlo’ lavender does. Unlike most lavenders that melt in the South’s heat and humidity, ‘Meerlo’ thrives in these conditions. It’s quite drought tolerant too and deer don’t like it. Fragrant, light-blue flowers join the highly aromatic foliage in summer. This shrubby perennial grows 2-3 feet tall and wide. Give it well-drained soil and full sun. Unfortunately, it isn’t cold-hardy below 20 degrees, so if you live in a cold-winter area either pick something else or bring it inside to a sunny window in winter.