Replant your pots now with lively new shrubs and flowering plants that defy the dead of winter.
NOTHING DETRACTS FROM the winter garden more than pots filled with dead plants left over from the summer display. This is a great time to replant those pots with a combination of colorful evergreen shrubs, perennials and flowering annuals that will look great all winter long. Nurseries are well-stocked with attractive plants, and replanting your containers now will give the plants plenty of time to acclimate before cold weather sets in.
The key to creating a stunning winter combination is to use a variety of colorful evergreen plants with varied form and texture. You don’t have to worry about sun or shade because the winter sun isn’t strong enough to make a difference.
Choose plants that are well-proportioned to the size of the pot you’re working with. Begin by choosing an evergreen centerpiece hardy enough to survive and look great all winter.
My favorite centerpieces for a winter pot have golden leaves. Those really brighten the winter garden. A longtime favorite of my TV partner, Meeghan Black, is goldcrest Monterey Cypress (Cupressus macrocarpa ‘Wilma Goldcrest’). You might think she likes it for its lovely conical shape and cheery bright green-yellow foliage, but the real reason is because she swears the lemony scent of the foliage smells exactly like Lemon Pledge furniture polish. Nurseries carry this dwarf tree in a variety of sizes, so it’s easy to find one perfectly proportioned for the size of your pot.
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Another centerpiece with colorful foliage is Gold Coast English Holly (Ilex aquifolium ‘Monvila’). The dense covering of small, sharply toothed dark-green leaves on this evergreen shrub is edged in bright golden-yellow. It glows like a beacon in a winter container, and it can be pruned to any desired shape.
The columnar golden yew (Taxus baccata ‘Standishii’) also adds the Midas touch to your container. The attractive needles on this narrow columnar yew project a golden radiance all winter. It holds its upright shape and never splays out in storms, and can easily be pruned at any height to fit its space.
Once you’ve decided on your centerpiece, you’re ready to fill in around it with midsized evergreen shrubs and perennials with colorful foliage or flowers and interesting form and texture.
The dark leaves and stems of Blackbird spurge (Euphorbia ‘Blackbird’) contrast beautifully with gold, making it a great choice. It grows to nearly 2 feet tall and wide with dark-purple velvety foliage.
An exotic perennial to add brightness is Helleborus argutifolius ‘Snow Fever’. The thick, heavily white-speckled green leaves on this evergreen will add color and bold texture. Coral bells (Heucheras) come in so many shades, from lime-green to black-purple, it will be difficult to limit yourself to only one.
For slightly bolder texture, the leathery green, fat, 10-inch-long leaves of Winter Glow Bergenia (Bergenia cordifolia ‘Winter Glow’) add color when they turn red and bronze in winter cold.
Add a bit of spiky form by mixing in a few Libertia peregrinans. The swordlike orange leaves give off a luminous glow, especially when backlit by the sun.
For a softer touch, go with the fine, textured feathery foliage of a few upright growing heathers. The foliage on a number of varieties turns spectacular shades of yellow, gold or red in winter. Include a few 8-inch-tall, pitch-black mondo grass plants (Ophiopogon planiscapus ‘Nigrescens’), and add a dash of color by tucking in as many winter-blooming pansies as you can.
Finally, make sure to leave room for a few colorful variegated bigleaf periwinkle (Vinca major) or variegated ivy to trail over the side of the pot. Your newly planted masterpiece will make your winter garden look so cheery and attractive, it might end up featured on the cover of “Sunset” magazine.