Friday, November 10, 2017

Outdoor Winter Containers - Store or Style

A few years ago I wrote about decorating outdoor containers for landscape winter interest. The message bears repeating, along with some container storage tips if you prefer to focus on holiday lighting and getting ready to deck the halls.

What to do with outdoor containers after the growing season - will they make it through the winter?

Plastic containers are probably the most forgiving when it comes to surviving the recurrent freeze-thaw cycles in Colorado. In the past few years new, frost resistant plastic containers have been introduced and they may be fine sitting out all winter. 
If you have the space - store plastic containers in a garage, shed or under a protected eve. First toss the spent foliage and soil in to the compost bin. If disease plagued the plants like powdery mildew, just throw away the entire contents. 
Glazed and terra cotta containers are much less forgiving when it comes to winter conditions. Unlike plastic, these materials are porous so easily absorb moisture from winter rain, snow or remaining potting soil left in the container. 
When glazed and terra cotta containers freeze they often crack when the soil inside expands then warms up again. No doubt whomever coined the phrase 'crackpot' did so during the winter. 
One note about glazed containers - less expensive pots may not be glazed on the inside, or not fired at high temperatures which makes them more likely to crack during the winter. 
If they are glazed both out and inside, and fired at high temperatures when made, they may not absorb water - making them more winter proof. One way to tell quality is to lift it (or try to lift it), the heavier the better and if it's glazed inside, it will feel and look smooth, not rough.
For storage - if they're small enough to move, repeat the same procedure for glazed and terra cotta as plastic containers. Take one more step and carefully turn them upside down for good drainage and rest them on some bricks, bubble wrap or boards to prevent direct freezing to the ground. 
If your glazed or terra cotta containers are too large and you're not going to decorate them, then cover with a plastic tarp to keep them dry. Wrap with bubble wrap before or after the tarp for extra insulation. 
    Metal Containers - many are low cost
Any of the other materials used for outdoor containers including the newest recycled weatherproof plastic containers, concrete, marble, metal, fiberglass, wood and cast iron are the best bets to endure our tough outdoor conditions - generally for many seasons.

    Recycled  Weatherproof Plastic
    What are your outdoor fall-winter decorating goals?
    Do you need curb appeal? Your containers might be sitting there empty anyway - they can't or won't be moved. They would remain lifeless from November to May except for the neighborhood squirrel's regular visit to snack on his stash of acorn or buckeye nuts.  
    More "selling" curb appeal? A couple of houses went on the market on my block earlier this fall and the first thing I noticed was the owners (or their realtors) quickly replaced faded, dried geraniums with brightly colored mums. They looked inviting..."come on in and buy me."
    It's not enough the day after Thanksgiving to put out the blow up Santa workshop or the herd of pre-lit wire deer - better decorate the outdoor containers too!
    Put on the creative cap and have fun. Here are some basic guidelines, there are no absolute style rules:
    Empty the containers you're decorating - before they freeze. Frozen potting soil is difficult to remove unless it comes out in a solid block after being tipped over. Loose soil is easier to poke in branches or greenery. A couple of years ago I got a late start on decorating the front concrete urns and had to use some old heating pads to thaw the soil (silly, I know). It didn't work and it probably wasn't the safest thing to do. Thank goodness we had a warm spell in early November that year and in a couple of days I was in business.
    Gather the fill materials. This is where you can really go to town or the nearest thrift store, hobby store, discount center and for sure your favorite garden store. Don't overlook what's growing in your own backyard. Red and yellow dogwoods add color plus vertical winter interest. Dried foliage, flowers and seed pods add depth and interesting fall muted tones. Look for anything that will complement a green foliage base or skirt (my personal choice), but you don't have to stick to green. The container doesn't have to be the traditional - thriller - filler - spiller, although this model works for outdoor winter containers too. A container filled with pinecones and secondhand Christmas tree ornaments is simple, yet seasonal.
    Build it and they will come (to admire). Adding lights or some of the battery or pre-lit props add the final pop to any outdoor container masterpiece. Don't forget the wreath or swag on the front door.

      This is a rectangular metal container (they have square too) from Room and Board. If you're looking for weatherproof, there are more metal containers on the market then just a few years ago. 

      It's filled with internet ordered curly willow - that have lasted several years. They are stored in the basement in the off season. At the base are free fir branch cuttings from a nearby Christmas tree lot. Our outdoor containers are placed on our patio with a view from the living room - quite nice!

      This urn contains layered evergreen pine, blue spruce, and fir branches with tucked in winterberry and pine cones. Look for assorted green boughs in garden centers or try artificial. 

      The low container with birch, tillandsia and pinecones is meant for an indoor table but the same idea would work on an outdoor space. Instead of the air plants, opt for sprigs of pine or similar.

      This concrete container has curly willow, free fir cuttings from a Christmas tree lot and winterberry.

      For more examples and ideas, check Pinterest or search outdoor container images online. 

      Glazed Container with birch branches and pinecones

      A few years ago we took out a birch tree and kept several branches. In the fall I place them in the blue glazed container along with some pine cones. Some years I place evergreen boughs around the base.

      Happy outdoor container decorating fun!

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