Late fall brings the end to the showy colors and rich foliage in most landscapes. But it is also a festive time of year with a couple major holidays running from late November until the New Year. Now is the time to empty the landscape containers and create winter landscape decorating. Mums and annual cabbages will carry the color through the Halloween season, but what to do for Thanksgiving and the December holidays? That is the time to empty your pots and urns of the summer plantings and replace them with fall-winter arrangements.
Start by taking out the old plants from your urns but leave the soil. Pick a couple or few central evergreen feature plant or deciduous twigs for the center and height of the pot. Cuttings from evergreen trees such as holly, spruce, pine, juniper or arborvitae work well. You can also use the bare branches of a red twig dogwood or the winterberry holly with its red berries. Trim the branch ends and insert them directly into the soil.
Next pick mid-level cuttings for the urn. Boxwood, cherry laurel and holly cutting with the red berries work well for the mid-level fillers and are easy to find. Blue color juniper can add a dynamic to the overall color scheme. Magnolia leaves and branches will add a varied texture. Think of these plants as the skirt that hides the bases and gives foundation to the central feature plants. Don’t be afraid to subtly add some fake fruit or ornament to this level.
Finally, the base level foliage can be added. You will want to look for something that hangs over the edges a bit and acts as the lower hem of the skirt. Low growing or weeping type junipers work well for this. If you have access to Russian Juniper (Microbiota) it makes a wonderful accent because the needles turn a beautiful bronze color. Ivy and Euonymus are long trailing plants that will hang low over the edges.
Winter Urns can be a fun and easy project for anyone. The required materials should be easy to find throughout the neighborhood. Finding and procuring them affords a good excuse to meet new neighbors during a holiday season.
Landscape Containers an architectural object added to the space. Don’t skimp of the size or character of the container even though the plants may flow and cover much of it. The container itself sets the tone for the quality of what will be installed. I prefer containers made from clay, wood or metals. The quality of these materials is worth the extra price. But, there are situations where those materials make a container far too heavy to be practical for some locations. Plastic containers have come a long way and certainly have a place. They are easier to more in and out at either end of a season and for that matter can stay out all winter long. They are also better for rooftop gardens where weight may become an issue.
The design principles for Landscape Containers are similar to other landscape planting design paradigms. Think in layers in order to create varied interest and character. Use the tallest plant material in the middle if the pot is viewed from all sides or the back if it is viewed only from one side. This is the ‘Anchor’ of the container, the central features, and the show piece. I like to use variegated Canna lilies, Pennisetum rubrum or my favorite is Caladiums (elephant ears). The mid-section can be thought of as the ‘Fill’. Here you want to pick one to three plants types that will grow to layer in front of the anchor plants ‘legs’. Coleus is my favorite colorful fill plant for those playful and lively pots. Geraniums, dahlias, cuphea, or Persian shield work well for the fill layer and may be a little more toned down and elegant than the playful coleus. The perimeter layer is the ‘Spill’ or ‘Drapes’. This is the layer of plants that flow over the edge of the pot. Some may flow to the ground and run out from there. Ipomoea is a great vine like plant for this approach. Its leaves are heavily cut and provide great texture contrasts. There are deep red leaf, chartreuses and variegated leaf varieties. Aggressive and exotic ivy varieties work in a similar manner. Some pot designs call for a more restrained spill layer. Verbena is a mid-length spill with colors that will pop. Lobularia or lantana is also somewhat loose and draping plants that will hang moderately far over a container. Calibrochoa, red purslane and licorice plant are tighter in growth habit and will only slightly spill the edges.
As with landscape design in general, think about your design concept. Are you creating a playful lush container for a private space or a formal more manicured container for the front entry to the house? Do you prefer predictable or spontaneous? A wild mix of tropical feeling plants or the simple and elegant statement made with a couple more subtle colors? Will the Landscape Containers be a monochromatic, complimentary or contrasting color scheme? My advice is not to take yourself too seriously and have fun. Experiment and enjoy the learning process. Try something new each year even if it is only in one of the layers. And don’t cheat yourself on the quality of the Landscape Containers.
Why leave your outdoor containers that held your annuals this past summer empty? Fill them with all kinds of greens from your landscape. If you have any holly, great! If you have hydrangeas, seed heads of Autumn Joy Sedum, use them for interest. They can be spray painted for color as well as ornamental grass
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