15 Tips for Great Winter Pots
To get the hottest ideas for cool-weather containers, we asked the experts at Riverbanks Zoo and Garden in Columbia, South Carolina.
Rely on foliage for texture and color. While pansies, cabbage, and kale are cool-weather favorites, they may not always deliver the wow you were hoping for when presented alone.
Excellent evergreen choices for winter include yucca, ‘Dorothy Wyckoff’ Japanese andromeda, cleyera, liriope, false cypress, and windmill palm.
Create an outdoor room without driving the first nail. Divide a large space into more intimate settings with, you guessed it, pots.
Don’t be shy about adding shrubs that are leafless in winter. The buds of a deciduous azalea, such as ‘Varnadoe’s Pink’ Piedmont azalea (Rhododendron canescens ‘Varnadoe’s Pink’) can be quite stunning when viewed up close.
Remember the veggies. ‘Redbor’ kale looks amazing paired with ‘Golden Mop’ false cypress and ‘Color Guard’ Adam’s needle.
Buy less, buy big, and buy quality. Regardless of your style, a plain rolled-rimmed terra-cotta pot (at least 20 inches in diameter) is always a good investment. Set it on pot feet or bricks to enable draining and prevent cracking.
Purchase containers that are the same color as your hardscape or the surface they will sit on. Riverbanks has a lot of brick, so terra-cotta is perfect here.
Fill voids with fragrant herbs such as purple sage. They’re not only pretty but edible too.
Riverbanks has had huge success amending traditional potting soil with one-third organic matter such as Black Hen Composted Chicken Manure or another compost. It gives the soil more water-holding capacity and structure for supporting heavy plants (such as palms, small trees, and shrubs), and it also drains well.
Stabilize tall, narrow pots with several inches of gravel added prior to the soil. That will keep them from tipping over if you have kids who play nearby.
Add interest to containers with pots of forced bulbs. At Riverbanks, greenhouse-grown tulips tucked into containers offer two weeks of show, as opposed to three days from bulbs planted in the ground.
Always water plants prior to fertilizing. A water-soluble product (such as 20-20-20) applied according to label directions will do the trick.
Water as needed. You’ll have to stick your finger in the soil to decide. It should feel moist but not wet. Drip-irrigation systems are convenient but don’t always deliver the right amount of moisture, which is why Riverbanks waters all containers by hand. Don’t let plants dry out in winter, because wind + freezing temps + drought = bye-bye.
Supersize winter annuals. Plant at least a 4-inch pot to ensure developed roots and stronger plants. Winter annuals grow much slower than summer ones, which thrive when started small.
Install annuals last. While Melodie prefers the neat, tiny, and abundant blooms of Johnny-jump-ups (such as the ‘Penny Yellow’ violas pictured below), Andy prefers pansies because of their larger flowers.