If you think about it, colorful, fragrant cool-season containers near the front door or entryway will serve as welcoming beacons to friends and visitors coming your way. If you’re willing to take a chance on a mild winter, here are a few ideas. Some of these plants would even survive night-time lows hovering around freezing. Too much below freezing, though, and you’ll wake up to a permantly damaged display.
The first order of business is to choose a container large enough to hold several plants and equipped with that mandatory drainage hole in the bottom. If you are using the lightweight containers that look like terra-cotta or stone, you may have to drill your own holes. While you are at it, add four or five holes that are about three-fourths of an inch in diameter.
Don’t forget to use colorful bowls as well. Bowls are easy to tuck indoors should the winter really turn nasty for a few days. Choose a good lightweight, fluffy potting mix that already has controlled-released granular fertilizer mixed in. The same theory or rule of thumb for the “thriller, spiller and filler” holds true in the winter just as it does in the summer: you need a “thriller” for the center plant, a “spiller” to cascade over the edge and a “filler” for any empty spots.
If the container is large enough, choose a thrilling evergreen like a juniper, holly or topiary rosemary as the center plant. At my house I am using native Iris virginica as thriller plants in large containers and Bouquet Rose dianthus in smaller ones. If the container is smaller, your thriller is naturally smaller. Try using Swiss chard, Redbor kale or Red Giant mustard and build around it. If you don’t want to use dianthus like I did, consider snapdragons and their relatives, linaria, nemesia and diascia, as well as stock and erysimum, all of which will give you a virtual perfume factory.
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The first options for flowers to fill around the rim or to spill over the edges are pansies and violas. Here, you can pick your favorite color and design around them. For pockets of greenery, use ivy, dwarf sweet flags, lemon ball sedum and even sages. So you can see we have options not only for color and beauty but for enticing fragrance and culinary use as well.
Even though the temperatures will be much cooler during your pansy growing season, we must pay attention to plants’ water and fertilizer needs. You certainly will not have to water every day like you did in the summer, but supplemental irrigation will be needed and don’t forget these plants are hungry too. Mix up the water-soluble fertilizer and feed every couple of weeks.
The winter landscape becomes wonderful with the dark silhouettes of trees towering above evergreens, such as hollies, ligustrums, wax myrtles, azaleas and camellias. A few containers of color however will be the finishing touch around any home.