Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Western Mountains and High Plains
January, 2008
Regional Report

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Use small conifers to decorate window boxes and containers.

Greening Up Window Boxes and Containers in Winter

As more and more homeowners are planting smaller yards and landscapes, window boxes are gaining popularity. Once full of blooming annuals in spring and summer, the boxes can look drab in winter. But you don't have to let them languish just because cold weather has arrived. You can decorate or plant your outside window boxes and other containers to have interesting colors and textures during the cold winter months.

Though the depth of the container is limiting, many dwarf conifers and potted perennials will find it a suitable place to overwinter, while providing welcome winter color and interest. Once these plants have weathered the cold months, they can be moved permanently to the garden in spring.

Overwintering potted evergreens in a window box does require some preparation. You will need to empty out the potting mixture from summer and recycle it to the compost pile or vegetable garden. Then pick out small evergreens and cool-loving perennials, such as hardy heather and heaths, to place in the boxes or containers. Place the pots directly into the box and fill in the gaps with a mulch of shredded cedar chips, both to camouflage the containers and also insulate the root systems from the frigid temperatures.

Choosing Plants
Select a variety of naturally dwarf or small cold-hardy evergreens and water them in well before arranging them in the window box. Let your house and garden style steer the designs you create. While it might be nice to have a symmetrical selection of plants, my preference is to plant less formally and combine a variety of plants in a more naturalistic style.

A few evergreens and hardy perennials that work well include 'Golden Globe' yew, 'Rainbow's End' spruce, 'Blue Star' juniper, 'Little Heath' heather, and 'Dragon's Blood' sedum. The contrasting yellow-tinged foliage of the yew combined with the blue-green needles of spruce will awaken a once-empty container, flanked by cascading bronze foliage of the sedum and winter heath.

Because these plants are elevated and exposed to cold and wind, be sure to check them weekly and water them if there is little or no snow, and especially during prolonged dry spells. You can also minimize moisture loss by applying an antidesiccant foliar spray. Read and follow the label directions for application rates and precautions, as some of these products should not be used on certain plants.

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