Colorful containers can add all kinds of flavor to your landscape year-round, but too many gardeners only fill them for the summer. Sure, marigolds, petunias, impatiens and other tender plants offer all kinds of warm-weather color, but what about the rest of the year?
Before fall frosts hit, replace warm-season annuals with mums and other fall flowers that do well despite cold nighttime temperatures.
Photo Credit: Sam Spiro
Dress up your winter containers by simply cutting branches from evergreen trees in the garden and tucking them into planters along with pinecones, berries and twinkling lights.
Photo Credit: Veronica Lorson Fowler
Start your spring pots out with early season bloomers.
Photo Credit: Netherlands Bulb Information Center
As spring turns into summer, remove the bulbs and other spring plants from your containers and replace with warm-season annuals.
Photo Credit: Freeze Frame Studio
Consider changing out your pots each season for beautiful displays every month of the year. (This is especially nice to do with permanent containers like window boxes and built-in planters.)
Here’s how to have beautiful, full containers and planters, no matter the season:
While most of your neighbors are storing their containers in the garage for the winter, you can be filling yours with mums, ornamental cabbages and kale, as well as other fall-blooming plants. If you can find them in your garden center, pansies are a good choice, too – they’ll bloom into the winter in mild-winter climates (USDA hardiness Zone 6 and warmer).
Fall is also the perfect time to get creative and tuck in cut branches of shrubs and trees that have beautiful fall color, berries or showy grass seed heads for additional interest. Just push the cut ends into a container’s soil, much in the way you would with a flower arrangement in a large vase. If autumn weather is reliably below 50 degrees F, snip long-lasting bits of perennials like tall sedums, and insert their cut ends into the soil, too. Or tuck tiny pumpkins, pinecones, Indian corn, gourds or other adornments in and around your potted plants. These cold-hardy, seasonal plantings should last you a few months until the heart of winter.
Snow, frost and ice will kill even the most cold-tolerant mums and other fall plants in containers. So after your region’s first heavy frost, pull out your damaged container plants for a seasonal change.
Evergreens are a natural for winter. You can usually find tiny ones at garden centers to use as centerpieces for a winter planting. While these beauties work well in containers all year in Zone 8 and warmer (and sometimes even in zones 6-7), they won’t last in cooler climates. They’ll look nice most of winter, but unless you try some good overwintering practices, they’re likely to brown and drop their needles come spring.
If you’re not keen on treating small evergreens more like annuals and replanting them each year, an alternative is to cut evergreen branches from around your garden and tuck them into the container’s soil. No evergreens around your house? You can always buy branches from a florist or a Christmas tree stand or farm. Nice additions to this arrangement include branches with bright berries, rose hips and pinecones. Around the holidays, add bits of holiday decorations, glass balls and even lights for a festive show.
Get your spring planters off to a roaring start with gorgeous bulbs. Tulips, daffodils and hyacinths are all top picks for containers. In warm climates (Zone 8 and warmer), plant pre-chilled bulbs in late winter or early spring to enjoy in a matter of weeks. In climates with milder winters (roughly Zone 7 and the Pacific Northwest), plant your bulbs in fall in containers just as you would directly in the ground. In cold-winter regions (Zone 6 and colder), it’s best to limit your bulb planting to the ground. For containers, just buy tulips and daffodils already in bloom at your garden center and plant those in your pots or window boxes, otherwise the bulbs will freeze solid and won’t bloom.
Other good spring planting options for containers include pansies and violas, which look great in pots and happily take an occasional dusting of unexpected snow. Annual primulas also do beautifully in spring pots.
Most spring-blooming bulbs start to fade and brown after blooming for a few weeks, and many cold-tolerant annuals begin to wilt as temperatures regularly hit the 80s. When this happens, dig them up from the container and toss them in the compost heap. You’re ready for the next hit of seasonal color!
Options for summer containers are nearly limitless, since there’s such a huge array of plants that do well in the growing season’s heat. For the purposes of changing out containers, however, it’s easiest to choose warm-season annuals (those that won’t tolerate frost). So consider brightly colored marigolds, petunias, impatiens and annual salvias (among others).
Most of these annuals do beautifully until late summer or early autumn when the first frost hits. Once freezing temperatures start to damage your annuals, it’s time to pull them out and start over with another container of gorgeous fall color.
Whatever you plant, don’t just think of your decorative containers and window boxes as one-season wonders. No matter where you live, you can add beautiful selections to your pots and planters so you’ve got gorgeous plantings to look at every month of the year!