holiday container garden ideas

Winter container garden ideas

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I love decorating for the holidays—both indoors and outdoors. While I try to wait until December for the indoor fun, I figure I can start with my outdoor pot in November. This black iron urn is home to four seasons of arrangements. While Canadian Thanksgiving is at the beginning of October, if you live south of the border, you might want to wait until after American Thanksgiving before thinking about the holidays. But I figure you can at least begin with the green stuff and add any holiday-themed accessories after. Of course if you don’t celebrate Christmas, you can put together your winter container garden anytime.

For the most part, a winter container arrangement isn’t so much an assortment of planted items, as it is a collection of sticks, branches and accessories. With the exception of the shrub idea that’s illustrated below, you don’t have to worry about keeping anything alive!

Assemble the materials for your winter container arrangement

First things first, you want to gather your supplies. Sometimes this takes me a few days to pull together. I like to shop around and see what’s happening at different local nurseries, but I usually have some sort of theme or colour idea in mind. At Savvy Gardening, we also love to source from our gardens.

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If you’re cutting your own branches and boughs, you need to make sure that you’re making considerate cuts and not doing a hatchet job to some poor, unsuspecting tree. Here are a few “safe snipping” tips. I have a couple of varieties of cedar in my backyard that I always use (they’re free-ninety-nine!). I’ll supplement the design with pine boughs from a local nursery and any other interesting greenery—magnolia leaves, variegated holly, yew, etc. One year I took a few branches of euonymus. I also like to add a bit of height with sticks. And a few years ago on a hike, I found the perfect birch branch that I cut in three and use in my winter container garden almost every year.

Lastly, collect any accessories and materials you think you’ll want to use: Ribbon, lights, garland, seed pods, ornaments, fun items on a stick (you’ll see what I mean in a couple of ideas below).

Putting it all together

When you’re ready to assemble, it’s really just a matter of eyeballing it and putting everything in. Some people will mound the soil in their container to help add height (and depending where you live, to freeze the branches in place). Here’s a piece I wrote about applying the idea of choosing thrillers, fillers, and spillers to your winter containers. As you add materials, take a step back and see how your pot looks from afar, making small adjustments and additions, as necessary.

Winter container garden ideas

Accessorize, accessorize, accessorize!
I think it’s always fun to have some unexpected decorative element. Every year, I see fun items on sticks (or that can be added to sticks to secure in the pot)—skis, pinecones, glittery stars, fake bullrushes, bells, faux berries, etc. My go-to is a metal deer that’s rusted to a lovely patina and that doesn’t look Christmassy after the holidays.

accessorize your winter container garden

Apples, pine cones, seed pods… this arrangement has it all. I walk by this stone urn often when walking downtown where I live, and it changes with the seasons.

a rusted reindeer stake in a winter container arrangement

My trusty rusted reindeer adds a coppery hue to my winter container, and can withstand extreme wintry conditions.

Add unexpected greenery
Pine and cedar are pretty standard, so sometimes I like to add one more leafy green element. One year I fell in love with variegated holly branches (in fact, you can find some lovely faux holly branches that could be reused every year). They added some lovely contrast. I also love the double-sided leaves of magnolia, which add brown to the mix, and the frothy nature of seeded eucalyptus for its texture.

variegated holly in an outdoor winter arrangement

I fell in love with this two-toned, variegated holly, which provided an additional leaf colour (not to mention the vibrant red berries), adding great contrast to my winter container arrangement.

Decorate an evergreen
I had my eye on a perfectly shaped dwarf Alberta spruce this year, and decided to decorate it as well as putting together my urn. I was a bit dubious about it surviving the winter, but I was assured by the garden centre it would be okay. However, just to be sure, I lined the apple crate that it was going into with landscape fabric and filled the empty spaces around the pot with fall leaves. This also helped when I added a “skirt” of cedar branches. With the arrangement being close to the house and under an awning, overall, I hope it has enough insulation.

decorate a potted spruce for the holidays

Even if you’re not ready to put out holiday decorations, you can prepare your winter container garden with the greenery part of the project and add any themed elements later.

Source colourful sticks
There are so many colourful sticks available at my local nurseries—red and yellow dogwood, curly willow, burgundy pussy willows, and more. I also pull out the same birch logs that I found on a hike and carried home in my backpack a few years ago.

Colourful sticks, stars, pinecones and birch logs in a winter container garden

I’ll usually save my sticks for next year if they’re still in good shape after the winter. Though one year, my pussy willows rooted in the soil, so I put them in the garden! These silver stars were a great find, but the glittery paint washed away after a season.

Hang it on your window
If you have them, window boxes provide a different, elongated shape to work with. And they’re often protected by awnings or eaves, which may help determine which materials you use. Either way, don’t forget to fill them for the winter!

A holiday window box

I wish I had four-season window boxes. My mom has a lovely one on the side of her garden shed that she changes up each season.

Pack everything tightly
This lovely big container needs a hefty amount of materials to look lush and full. My urns are always a bit free-flowing and loosey goosey. This pot is well thought out and artfully put together. I love the addition of the neutral-coloured artificial roses and the dark leaves around the back by the birch logs. Another tip from this is that odd numbers rule!

a grand holiday container arrangement

I love the scale of this arrangement that I spotted at Uxbridge, Ontario’s Urban Pantry restaurant.

Include ribbon
Outdoor ribbon is sturdier than traditional ribbon, weatherproof, and should withstand rain and snow cover. A thicker ribbon that has wire running through it makes it easier to create sturdy (rather than floppy) bows. I’ll usually head over to YouTube to watch videos on how to craft the perfect bow. I also like the look that you can achieve by taking some types of ribbon that are lighter, almost like tulle, and shoving little handfuls here and there.

Add ribbon to a holiday container garden

Black likely isn’t the first colour you think of for the holidays, but this ribbon is surprisingly festive and can stay out all winter long.

weave ribbon in your holiday container arrangement

In this container arrangement, ribbon has been woven around the outer “spiller” branches for a nice dash of colour.

Don’t be afraid to go faux
There are some artificial materials that look absolutely real and others that look deliberately fake. Both can add a real pop of personality to a winter container garden. The roses in this stunning arrangement add a traditional pop of red, but in an unexpected way. Also, check out that curly willow!

Don't be afraid to add artificial elements to a holiday container

This is another delightfully lush container that I spotted at Uxbridge, Ontario’s Urban Pantry. Love the red roses and the curly willow.

Throw in unexpected hues
I would never think of adding purple to a winter container, but look at this, it totally works! Also, is that a real apple in there?

add an unexpected pop of colour to a holiday container

I can’t tell if those are real leaves painted purple, real purple leaves, or fake purple leaves…

Include seed pods, pine cones and other nature finds
A couple of the places I go to source winter container materials offer packages of interesting seed pods. One year I clipped some rose of Sharon branches with the seed pods hanging off the end (because I’d neglected to shear them off that year). I tucked them in the middle of my arrangement. Think about items you can grow in your garden that, when dried, will make it into holiday arrangements. Keep an eye to the ground on nature walks, too.

Seed pods and other natural materials can add colour and interest to a holiday container arrangement.

Seed pods and other natural materials can add colour and interest to a holiday container arrangement.

Light it up
There are some really fun miniature lights that illuminate your creation at night. Make sure the package indicates they’re for outdoor use. I’ve seen little stars and snowflakes. Find a way to wrap a string around an evergreen or entwine lights in your branches.

add mini lights to an outdoor holiday container arrangement

Clear or colourful lights will show off your holiday container at night. There are some fun strings of mini lights available on the market in various shapes and styles.

Do you have ideas for us? We’d love to see them!

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Find inspiration for winter container garden designs

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