winter window boxes

If you garden in window boxes and containers, winter can be a sad time of year. Spring containers overflow with pansies and bulbs, followed by colorful annuals all summer long. Even fall gets its due, with mums, ornamental kale and cabbages. Come winter, however, most window boxes are a depressing sight, filled with nothing more than potting mix and some dead leaves. This only adds to the gloom of the short, gray days.But it doesn’t have to be that way. In our zone 6, there are numerous plants that will successfully survive the winter months in your window boxes, providing a variety of colors, shapes and textures (and a lift to your spirits, too!).

To begin, assess the style of your home to determine if a formal planting is more appropriate, or something loose and more casual. You should also be aware of your light conditions to ensure that the plants you select will thrive in their new setting.

Slow-growing evergreens, (also known as dwarf evergreens), are ideally suited for window boxes and containers. Heaths and Heathers (Erica and Calluna), are low-growing, flowering evergreens whose sizes and colors make them invaluable additions to any winter composition. The varieties of these plants number in the hundreds. Other choices for winter display include dwarf conifers and evergreens such as Juniper (Juniperus), Spruce (Picea), Boxwood (Buxus) and False cypress (Chamaecyparis). Look for a variety of heights, forms and foliage textures and colors. Despite their name, evergreens come in a wide range of colors, from silvers and blues to golds and yellow-greens. Shapes vary from stiff and conical to loose and mop-like.

Once you’ve made your selections the plants can simply be placed, pots and all, into your boxes and containers. Fill in around the sides and tops of the pots with a layer of mulch, both to give a neat, finished appearance and protect against frost damage. Give warm water as needed, and apply an anti-desiccant (such as Wilt Pruf), which will significantly reduce moisture loss (read package instructions prior to application).
To complete the look, add additional plant materials such as evergreen boughs and branches of red- and yellow-twig dogwood (Cornus), holly berry (Ilex) and beautyberry (Callicarpa). Finished with pinecones and strings of tiny white lights, winter boxes can be a lovely addition to your holiday display.

When spring arrives, you can either discard the plants or give them a permanent home in your garden. As the end of the season offers great bargains, you can experiment every year with new varieties.

“tending your garden” is reprinted with the permission of River Journal Inc., 914.631.7021
© 2006 sheri silver –