COLUMN: Add some colour during cool weather

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

  • Sep. 14, 2013 1:00 p.m.

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 colour?

Enhancing our patios with colourful containers is easier than you may think.  You just need a different strategy for fall and 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, 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 fall and 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 measure of bark mulch. This is essentially a nursery mix which is ideal for all fall and 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. Lower than 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 patios, it is easy to wrap insulating materials, like fibreglass, around the pots and bubble poly around that to keep the fibreglass dry. 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.

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

Focal points:

Irish yews

Red and yellow twigs and ‘Midwinter Fire’ bush dogwoods

Dwarf miscanthus grass

Basic colour:

Evergreen euphorbias (try ‘Rudolph’)

Colorful heucheras (try ‘Citronelle’ and ‘Tiramasu’)

Winter flowering heathers (whites are best)

Colorful conifers (I like Rheingold cedars and Gold Thread cypress)

Heavenly Bamboo


Winter green

Deciduous holly


Spill Overs:

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

Variegated ivy

Berried cotoneasters

Winter flowers:

Violas and pansies work best

Mini cyclamen

If you’ve never created your own cool weather container before, you’ll be surprised how easy it is and how attractive they look.