COLUMN: Create colour in winter

Over the next two seasons, when the weather turns cooler and wetter with shorter hours of daylight ...

Gardening, by Brian Minter

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, 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 -8°C.  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 around the pots.  As soon as the worst of the cold is over, store these materials and your pot is good to go.

Now, for the best winter container plants, here is a list of my favourites.

Focal points:

Irish yews

Red and yellow twigs, especially ‘Midwinter Fire’ bush dogwoods

Clumping bamboo

Contorted willows and hazelnuts

Basic colour:

Evergreen euphorbias – ‘Tasmanian Tiger’ and ‘Glacier’ are particularly colourful

Colorful heucheras and heucherellas

Winter flowering heathers, especially the gold foliage varieties

Colorful conifers, like Rheingold cedars, ‘Gold Thread’ cypress and ‘Blue Star’ junipers

Broadleaved favourites:  Heavenly bamboo, nandinas and Osmanthus ‘Goshiki’

Berries:

Wintergreen

Pyracantha

Lingonberries

Spill-overs:

Evergreen grasses (like Carex ‘Evergold’, ‘Silver Scepter’, ‘Ice Dance’ and Acorus ‘Ogon’)

Variegated ivy

Berried cotoneasters

Winter flowers:

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.