Adding color to a garden during fall and winter doesn't have to be limited to just pansies and mums, according to one local gardener. To spread the color of the winter months throughout a yard, consider containing the color in pots and planters.
"If you follow some very simple rules, your winter container garden will be a spectacular success," said Jil Powell, co-owner of Two Sisters and a Spade.
Powell said the right container is the first step to flowering success. The container needs to hold soil, have good drainage and be the proper size. It also needs to withstand possible freezing temperatures.
"Porous materials, such as ceramics, terra cottas and thin plastics, may not survive," she said. "Instead, use nonporous materials, such as fiberglass, metal, thick plastic, cast-concrete or wood."
The container should be mobile and able to withstand strong winds. It also needs to be large enough for the roots to breathe and grow.
"Opt for 14-inch diameter or larger and be sure it has drainage holes," said Powell. "That's very important. Good drainage means the plant never sits in water. Water will kill a plant quicker than drought."
After finding the right pot for the winter weather, it's imperative to choose good soil.
Growing trees, shrubs, herbs, flowers and grasses in a container doesn't change the required light and moisture requirements, Powell said. Plants with the same requirements should be grouped together.
"A good rule for choosing plants for your container is 'thriller, filler and spiller,'" said Powell. "The 'thriller' is the focal point or centerpiece plant. The 'filler' fills in around the 'thriller' and the 'spiller' will spill and hang over the edge of the pot."
Container gardening should be approached as if you're planting a mini garden, Powell said.
"Choose plants of varying heights, colors and textures," she said. "Put the 'thriller' in the middle or back, lower 'fillers' around it, then 'spillers' along the outside edge. Remember their mature size and space accordingly. Be careful not to overcrowd the plants."
Among some "thrillers" Powell suggests are conifers, boxwoods, grasses, Swiss chard, snapdragons, liriope, parsley and ferns. Ornamental cabbage and kale, dianthus, ferns, snapdragons, heuchera or Nemesia can be used as fillers. The "spiller" plants Powell suggests are English ivy, creeping jenny, violas, sedums and pansies.
"There are many choices for the winter landscape, not just a pansy and mum," she said.
Container gardens use up nutrients quickly, so Powell said it's important to add a slow-release fertilizer to the soil. Water-soluble fertilizer can be added every two to four weeks, or according to package direction.
"Typically, there is less rainfall in the winter, so adequately water your plants," said Powell, emphasizing not to over-water. "The ideal time to water is after the temperatures are above freezing, but not late in the day, because the leaves will not have time to dry and will be more susceptible to fungus and other diseases."
To provide added protection for the winter container gardens, group many plants together, with taller ones in the middle.
"When spring arrives, the evergreens can be planted in the flower bed, or you can just replant fillers and spillers for the summer months," said Powell. "Now, sit back and enjoy your new colorful mini-gardens and begin planning your spring and summer ones."
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