Colorful Container Gardens for Chilly Weather

You don't have to settle for the drab grays and browns of fall and winter: create a cool container garden. Plus, get ideas for trees and shrubs that shine in cold weather.

Spicy Hot

The winter-red foliage of heavenly bamboo (Nandina domestica) accompanies Heuchera 'Amber Waves' (USDA Zones 4 to 9) and Sedum 'Angelina' (hardy to Zone 3). The pastel pink and yellow pansy mix helps tie the other plants together. 'Amber Waves' is valued for its amber-colored foliage with rose undersides, which is virtually evergreen in warmer climates. Its ability to remain evergreen and hold its color in colder climates depends on the severity of cold temperatures. Hardy to USDA Zone 6, the nandina is the least cold-tolerant of the grouping.

Beating the Winter Blues

Check out the vibrant colors of golden variegated sweet flag and wood spurge, and the blue pansies add just the right spark. Sweet flag (Acorus gramineus 'Ogon') is hardy to Zone 5 (although it may not be reliably so in the colder parts of Zone 5) and is evergreen, or rather ever-golden, in warmer climates. Its partner, golden wood spurge (Sedum 'Angelina'), can be planted in full sun to partial shade and is hardy to USDA Zone 3. Its needled foliage is a perfect complement to needled conifers.

Art with Foliage

Copper-colored and dark green, the fronds of the autumn fern (left) complement the orange-pink leaves of coral bells (right). Erupting with an assortment of bold foliage textures and colors, this pot is a horticultural tour de force. And, notice, no flowers. The green sedge (Carex dipsacea, hardy to USDA Zone 7), will eventually go dormant for the winter, turning soft russet tones. Ornamental grasses are not only great for providing a flush of color and texture but also for adding sound in the winter, swishing in the wind.

Lime-Green and Yellow

Golden creeping jenny (Lysimachia nummularia 'Aurea'), with its spreading habit and brilliant color, spills over the edge of this winter container. It's hardy to USDA Zone 3. In deep cold, creeping jenny fades, but next season it will strike back with a vengeance.

Sweet November

Looking for a plant that adds both texture and color in the winter? Autumn fern (Dryopteris erythrosora) is known for its coppery new foliage. Once the new foliage matures, it will turn a glossy, deep green. Hardy to USDA Zones 5 to 9, it is evergreen if protected by drying winds. (Make sure to keep it watered.) In colder areas, autumn fern is semi-evergreen. By the end of winter, as with many evergreen perennials, it benefits from pruning. However, be careful about going crazy with cutting back — if you remove too much, it'll lose some vigor.

Glowing Red

Red-twig dogwood (Cornus sericea) is one of the hardiest dogwoods in the U.S., tolerating extremely cold temperatures (to USDA Zone 2). Plus, its brilliant red stems show up nicely against snow. Here it's combined with Rheingold arborvitae (Thuja occidentalis 'Rheingold'), blue rug juniper (Juniperus horizontalis 'Blue Rug') and blue star juniper (Juniperus squamata 'Blue Star'). Tip: only the immature wood of clippings of red-twig dogwood (or, redosier dogwood) are red. To keep the glowing red color, prune back one-third of the older canes every year. Also, the red stems make a striking cutflower display outdoors, holding up very well in cold temperatures.

Chilly Trough

Hardy shrubs and small trees offer a variety of colors and textures and provide interest throughout the winter. Instead of the trusty ole dwarf Alberta spruce, why not add evergreen conifers and shrubs that offer variegation or golden hues? Variegated English boxwood and variegated Hinoki cypress add a cream-and-pale-yellow element to this trough. Spreading wintergreen provides the reddish hue. These evergreens will look great all through winter. The trough is a good place to grow young, small conifers and other evergreens before transplanting into the garden, but watch the size of the trough: Too small, and the plants' roots won't have protection from the cold.

Intimate Color

Adding a splash of color to the winter garden is made easy with brightly painted containers and rocks. To create your own colorful container garden, use spray paint (preferably one that's suitable for use on plastic surfaces) and a durable container that will withstand the freeze/thaw cycle. In a non-breezy, well-ventilated area, cover the area where you will be working with newspapers. On the prepared area, spray the external sides and inner rim of the pot. After adding potting soil, select and plant winter-hardy plants that will provide color and texture throughout the season. Keep a can of spray paint and protective covering for plants (to avoid runaway spray) handy for touch-ups if needed. Paint some rocks found around the garden for added effect.

The Zen of Green

Sometimes in the middle of winter, you're just grateful for green. Safely ensconced in an extra-large foam container, this dwarf conifer forms the focal point of a simple arrangement with rocks and a small copper dragonfly.

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