February 2018

Step-by-step creation of an outdoor winter container

If you don't have hollies or magnolias in your landscape, you can buy this and other greenery at area garden centers, florists and tree farms and lots. (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

Whether you buy greenery at the garden center or snip it from the landscape, it’s easy to create a winter container that’s perfect for outdoor holiday decoration.

As a bonus, the arrangement likely will last until it’s pansy planting time in spring.

 What you need

 Container: Select a container that can withstand the freezing and thawing of winter temperatures. These include fiberglass, heavy plastic and cast concrete. Fill the container with potting mix or mulch, or use the soil that remains from summer or fall plantings.

Ceramic and terra cotta containers filled with soil will disintegrate over time when allowed to freeze and thaw. To use your favorite ceramic pot, empty the soil, make a ball of chicken wire and stuff it in the container. Chicken wire also can be taped across the top of the pot as a grid.

Tools or supplies: Use pruners or snips to make a 45-degree angle cut on the branches of greenery. This makes it easier to poke them in the soil, says Pam Parker, an award winning floral designer and owner of JP Parker Flowers in Indianapolis and Franklin, Ind. If cutting large branches, you may need loppers or a tree saw.

Some cuttings from the garden that have brittle branches, such as dried hydrangeas, are easier to insert in the soil if they are wired to floral stakes. These wood and wire accessories can be found at craft stores.

Greenery: Select various types of greenery or cuttings so that you have a good variety of textures, forms, hues of green and other colors. Be conservative when cutting evergreens in the garden this time of year. Always use sharp, clean tools and follow basic pruning methods so that a plant won’t be misshapened or damaged.

“Not everything has to be evergreen,” said Debra Prinzing, author of The 50 Mile Bouquet: Seasonal, Local and Sustainable Flowers (St. Lynn’s Press, 2012), and blog.

“Look for interest bark and seed heads, too. I also like branches with lichen or moss for even more interest,” Prinzing said in a phone interview.

“When doing garden cleanup, I used to toss these things into the compost pile, but now I save them and use them in fall and winter arrangements,” said Prinzing, who lives in Seattle. “And, when the containers are done, the material can still go in the compost pile.”

Cutting your own greenery, seed heads, berries and colored branches “is local, seasonal and has about a zero carbon footprint, so it’s sustainable, too,” she said.

Parker supplements greenery she buys from out-of-state growers with American holly, red stem dogwoods, southern magnolia, arborvitae, junipers and other plants she harvests from her farm and the property of a friend.

Getting started

Parker recommends soaking the container with water before making the arrangement. “The containers also should be watered weekly until it freezes. This helps the greenery last longer,” she said.

Lay out the greenery and cuttings so that you can clearly see what you have.

Start with the thriller or centerpiece of the container, usually tall pieces or plants that will serve as a focal point. Add filler plants to create a pleasant, full look. Use branches that arch naturally or have a nice drape to spill over and soften the edges of the container.

Step back and look at the arrangement. Fill in any gaps as needed.

Add a bit of glitter, such as a colorful branch, ornaments, beads or other material. Dried hydrangea flowers can be spray painted red and gold. Artificial berries also can be added for color and used year after year.

After the holidays, remove decorations and enjoy the container in all of its winter splendor.

Pam Parker, owner of JP Parker Flowers, created this winter container. (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp





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