Winter hasn’t arrived — well, not technically, anyway — but it’s time to give it a warm welcome. Which means we’re getting an early start on winter pot and window-box season.

“I can’t be without them,” said Beth Rau of Pahl’s Market in Apple Valley, Minnesota, about winter containers. “They’re welcoming, a pop of color, and they add so much to a front door or a porch.”

Whether you build your own planter or buy one ready-made, whether you stick with traditional spruce tips, or go wild with cuttings from your garden, wintertime containers are “little pieces of art that make a house a home,” said Madeline Parks, assistant manager at Leitner’s Garden Center in St. Paul.

That’s why we enlisted Rau and Parks to share their pro tips.

Plan your palette. Don’t use a rainbow of colors. “The more different colors you have, the more chaotic it looks,” said Parks. She recommends limiting your palette to a few colors. She also advises against going overboard on the “ingredients.” She often relies on four or five.

Create impact. Don’t use a single branch of Norway pine or one stem of berries. Instead, use a handful and repeat them throughout the design.


Build or buy for your location. If your container will be against the wall of your house, design the focal point in the front, advised Rau. If it can be seen from all sides, go for a 360-degree design.

Go wild. “I generally do natural materials,” said Parks. They start fresh, dry beautifully and hold up to the weather. Silks add a festive touch, but may show winter wear and tear.

Feel free. “There’s no right or wrong,” said Rau. “I let the greens tell me what I should do.”

Raid your garden. “I encourage people to use whatever they like or think is interesting — a pod, spray-painted twigs or dried flowers,” said Parks.

Build a solid foundation. Instead of using potting soil, Parks opts for sand. It’s easier to work with, and its weight helps prevent pots from tipping over.