Planting Containers for Winter

Planting Containers for Winter

On Cape Cod, the summer plantings in pots and window boxes often last until our first hard frost in November, but once the temperatures dip below 32° it’s time to replant. When you fill your containers with living plants that last through the winter, you’ll have colorful foliage, berries and even flowers through the winter. And if you choose some small evergreens, you’ll be able to place those into your yard and garden to enjoy for years to come.

This large trough was planted with small Cryptomeria (left) and Holly (right) in the center, along with yellow-foliaged arborvitae (left) and hinoki false cypress (right) on the ends. Ornamental kale and a variegated Liriope were placed on the edges, and a branch filled with pale green lichen was stuck in the center for height. This planting was beautiful and colorful all winter, and the small evergreens were planted on the edge of the property the following spring to grow into a mixed shrub border. This planting was beautiful after a snowfall as well!

To design a pretty container for winter, look for a variety of colors and textures of plants. There are many evergreens available in assorted sizes that will remain colorful all winter.

At this time of year Hyannis Country Garden brings in fresh, small evergreens that will be beautiful in pots and boxes all winter, and can be planted into your landscape next spring.
A favorite for larger containers such as whisky barrels is the variegated boxwood. These are favorites for gardens as well as pots, and in future years will provide colorful boxwood tips for creating Christmas arrangements.

Once you have chosen your evergreens, look for smaller plants that add more color with their leaves, flowers and berries. Hellebores (Helleborus niger – “the Christmas rose”) will bloom all winter, ornamental kales and cabbages just grow more colorful in the cold, and the brilliant berries on our native wintergreen (Gaultheria procumbens) all add to a winter pot or box. The hellebores and wintergreen can be planted in a shade garden in the spring, and will last for years to come.

Hellebore flowers are long-lasting because the sepals look like petals.
Gaultheria – aka wintergreen – is perfect for filling small containers such as this wall planter. it also combines well with larger plants. This is a good understory plant for shade gardens and the wildlife enjoys the berries.

Add height to a pot with branches from your property or purchased at Hyannis Country Garden. We typically have assorted red and yellow twig dogwood stems, plus thin birch poles that look good in groups of three or five.

Branches and thin birch poles are a great way to add height and drama to pots and boxes.

At this time of year you can plant containers that will be pretty for Thanksgiving, and if you want to convert them to a Christmas theme, it’s easy to add red bows or branches, or even some red silk hydrangeas, glittery leaves or birds. A very natural looking urn or pot can be made glitzy for Christmas and then go back to being more understated after the holidays.

Here is an example of an urn that was planted for Thanksgiving. In early December, red branches and bows were added, and those were replaced by white stems in January.
You don’t have to use red in a container for the winter. These urns were planted with white ornamental kale, yellow variegated Osmanthus and white hellebores. Yellow twig dogwood stems added the height and repeated the color in the Osmanthus. (Added bonus: C.L. took three of those yellow-twig dogwood branches in January and rooted them in a vase of water indoors. Now she has a yellow-twig shrub of her own in the garden so in the future she can cut her own stems.)
This is a miniature garden pot that was planted by our custom department at Hyannis Country Garden last year. It contains six of the small evergreens and some moss, plus a small bird. Consider creating one for yourself, or as a weekend project with your kids or grandchildren. A container such as this can be enjoyed on a front porch, set in a birdbath, or placed on an outdoor table for the winter. Next spring all of these small evergreens can be either placed in the garden or potted up separately to grow larger over the summer and then used in a new container next year.

Small evergreens and winter perennials are good investments for those who hate to throw a plant away. They will provide colors and leaf-textures in your garden or containers for years to come.

For tips for winter container success:

  1. Either loosen the existing soil in your containers or add some new potting mix. No fertilizer is needed at this time of year – you can fertilize these plants with Holly-tone when you plant them in pots or in the garden next spring.
  2. Water the container well after you plant, and once a week for through December if it doesn’t rain or if rainfall can’t reach your pots and boxes.
  3. After the New Year soil usually freezes and you won’t have to water until the containers thaw.
  4. Clip off any browned leaves or other faded material in January or February as needed.


  1. Carol Pizzo on November 17, 2022 at 8:53 am

    I moved here from VT
    Pots (ceramic) freeze in winter and will crack. Are the pots you use metal, plastic?
    Thank you

    • CLFornari on November 21, 2022 at 11:07 am

      Any plant that’s in a container outside for the winter needs to be in a plastic, fiberglass, wood or metal container. The freezing and thawing will crack most ceramic pots and even many cement containers. If we are potting up outdoor pots for our customers for winter decor, we always use pots that can last through the winter.

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