Q: A friend gave me a beautiful yellow chrysanthemum wrapped in foil. It's starting to look limp. Should I plant it out in the garden? A A: Get that...

Share story

Q: A friend gave me a beautiful yellow chrysanthemum wrapped in foil. It’s starting to look limp. Should I plant it out in the garden?

A: Get that foil off it, first of all. The foil traps moisture and the plant suffers, so always free a potted plant from its foil wrap right away.

Chrysanthemums are perennials, so they can be safely planted outdoors, on the balcony or porch, once you’ve enjoyed their bloom inside. Even though it’s been my experience that some of the showy florist chrysanthemums, like the one your friend gave you, behave more like annuals than perennials, it’s always worth giving them a chance in the garden.

When the flowers fade, cut the stems back to about 6 inches, and go ahead and plant it outside. It’ll die back over the winter and may well appear again in spring and bloom next autumn. Chrysanthemums do best in sunny locations with well-draining soil.

Q: I’ve emptied the big container on my porch of all its summer flowers. I’m wondering what would look good in there until it’s time to plant begonias again. The pot is about 3 feet high and dark gray, with an urn shape. I’d appreciate some suggestions for winter interest besides cabbages.

A: Because you mention begonias, my guess is that your porch is shady. And your pot sounds large enough to hold a real winter display, so you have many more choices than the all-too-common winter cabbages.

Start by filling your pot, at least the top foot or so, with fresh potting soil, because the existing soil will be thoroughly depleted after growing summer flowers. For inspiration, check out the great plant combinations in autumn and winter containers at nurseries like Molbak’s, Swansons and Wells Medina.

For long-lasting color and texture through the cold season, rely on foliage plants. And since your pot is by your front door, add at least one fragrant plant to tantalize as you and your guests come and go. You might layer in an Oregon grape (Mahonia aquifolium) for height and texture.

Skirt it with several small sweet box (Sarcococca hookeriana humilis is the smallest type, ideal for containers). These evergreen shrubs have glossy leaves and little white flowers with an intense vanilla fragrance in the dead of winter.

Drape the sides of your urn with a variegated little-leaf ivy like ‘Gold Heart,’ and tuck some winter pansies in your favorite color around the edges. All these plants will thrive in shade and can be moved into the garden next May if you prefer to fill the pot with annual flowers for summer.

Or you could take a quite different design route and plant your container with one plant that’s showy year-round. Choose a colored-leafed nandina like ‘Plum Passion’ for the center of the urn. Bury narcissus bulbs to pack the pot around it. ‘Bell Song’ and ‘Quail’ bloom in early spring and are sweetly fragrant.

Above the bulbs, plant a display of bright orange winter pansies, which will brighten winter days, contrast well with the purple nandina and bow out just as the narcissus grow up in late winter. Then next spring, when the daffodils fade, you can surround the nandina with summer-blooming begonias.

If your container is under the eaves of the porch, remember that it will need to be kept watered even when it’s rainy outside. And pinch back the winter pansies as they fade to keep them blooming through the winter months.

Valerie Easton also writes about Plant Life in Sunday’s Pacific Northwest Magazine. Write to her at P.O. Box 70, Seattle, WA 98111 or e-mail planttalk@seattletimes.com with your questions. Sorry, no personal replies.