Monday, December 3, 2012

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Ten Steps to Great Winter Containers

Winter container garden with fresh evergreen (Photo credit: Karen Geisler)
With the start of December, it's time to go full speed ahead on everything Christmas -- even if the temperatures in Chicago are near 60 degrees. For me, that means decorating the front door with a container full of fresh evergreen branches.

I still customize and hang a wreath as I've done for more Christmases than I'd care to admit. A winter container garden, though, is a recent addition and has proven to be a nice complement.  It was a bit intimidating at first, but with a few helpful hints from my co-workers, the pots have started looking better and better.

Tip #1 -- Use many different types of evergreens. Spruce and pine are all well and good, but other evergreens can add different colors, textures and fragrance. The more the merrier!

Tip #2 -- Use topsoil, not potting soil, in your winter container. Topsoil is heavier and therefore much better at holding evergreen stems upright.

Tip #3 -- Make it your own. Add berries and other natural materials. Throw some glitter in the mix. Or omit red to make it more of a generic winter pot. It's all up to you.

Below is the official Chalet Nursery winter container "recipe" formulated by horticulturalist Jennifer Brennan. Its 10 easy steps will help you add a classy touch to your home's entrance in no time flat.

Ingredients:            Spruce tops, small or medium
      White pine tips
      Noble fir tips
      Port Orford cedar
Blueberry juniper
Incense cedar
Winterberry and red twig dogwood 

Tools needed:         Top soil, placed in container and watered
                                    Polyurethane container
                                    Pruning shears
                                    Wire cutters
Step by step directions:
  1. Select a spruce top that is twice the height of your container and insert into the middle of the container.
  2. Insert 3 more spruce tops that are shorter than the first, placing one in each third of the surrounding area. This is your “foundation,” the basic form of your arrangement.
  3. Select 5 white pine cuttings to insert through out the spruce top foliage for texture and color variation.
  4. Add 3-5 Noble fir tips.
  5. Accent with 3-5 Port Orford cedar tips for an arching soft shape and for the lemon scent it provides.
  6. Place 3-5 incense cedar tips throughout the arrangement to accent with the yellow color; one in the middle of the arrangement, 1-2 cascading over the edge of the pot, and 1 echoing the central spruce top.
  7. Do the same with blueberry juniper if desired.
  8. Use 5 redtwig dogwood stems as color extensions, placed throughout the arrangement.
  9. Place 3 winterberry stems for the final accent. Use as you would use lipstick – the focal point, to draw the eye into the most interesting part of the arrangement. You can also add pine cones, lotus pods, eucalyptus and other materials.
  10. Spray the entire arrangement with Wilt-Pruf (to prevent drying) and place outside to enjoy until March.
Yes, that's right -- March. A few branches may turn brown, but most of the arrangement should last until you can almost smell spring in the air. For the best results, try planting some miniature evergreen trees in your pots and generously water them in.

In the picture above, I kept the arrangement low because my container, the base on an old fountain, was shallow and already pretty high. It includes white pine, Noble fir, Port Orford cedar, incense cedar, red twig dogwood, huckleberry stems, seeded eucalyptus, lotus pods and some red balls.

A note about containers: Use one made of metal, resin, plastic or concrete. If you use ceramic or terra cotta, it could crack if the soil has water in it and freezes.

Picture below are some pictures of winter container gardens done by Chalet. How do you decorate your front door for the holidays?

Winter pot with winterberries by Chalet Specialty Garden Care staff

Winter pot with blue eucalyptus and white sticks by Chalet's Specialty Garden Care staff

Winter container garden with oregonia and orange berries by Chalet's Specialty Garden Care staff
Winter container gardens with dogwood and winterberry by Chalet's Specialty Garden Care staff

By Karen Geisler


  1. Great style with your containers. Nice. Glad I stopped by today. Jack

    1. Thanks. See you already have had some snow. We're still waiting for our first measurable snow.

  2. So pretty. I need to get going with my indoor and outdoor decorations. Thanks for the great ideas!

    1. Thanks. I think it's hard to get going this year because Thanksgiving was so early. Still so much to do!

  3. Very pretty. I make them every year, along with wreaths at the Christmas tree farm. There is an endless supply of greens and berries. I don't think it is possible not to find new combinations there. I use a lot of dried field finds too. Curly willow is a nice addition as well. We do them right at clients houses. Is that how Chalet does it? Chalet and you do a great job. Love the designs.

    1. We do some pots that are available at the nursery. We also go out to client's homes. I also love curly willow!

  4. Wish my winter containers looked this good. I must admit too having never heard of wilt professional though. I will take inspiration from this and 'must try harder next year' will be added to my 'note to self' this week

    1. Don't give up. It's important to distribute the main evergreens evenly and then go from there. Jennifer's receipe has helped many people on the North Shore. You can do it!

  5. Beautiful containers! I love the colors - red, and purples - And the variety of evergreens make a great impact. thanks. c

    1. Thanks. It's great to have something green as the garden goes to sleep for the winter.

  6. Karen these are great tips as I need to get going as well...