ASK THE MASTER GARDENERS
Q: My garden containers and window boxes were showpieces this summer. The beautiful annuals planted in the pots added color, texture and lots of interest to the front of the house as well as the patio. What can I do to keep these containers looking good during the winter?
A: It’s true that empty window boxes and garden planters add to the dreariness of winter. With the correct potting material, a handful of winter-hardy plants and a few sprigs of berries and evergreen branches, container gardens can change winter from the bleakest season to one that rivals the warm weather one.
Consider weatherproof pots that will withstand freezing temperatures. Terracotta, ceramic and concrete pots may crack in a harsh freeze. (Tip these planters on their sides or upside-down during winter.) Metal, plastic and fiberglass containers are safer choices. Provide good drainage by covering the drainage hole with landscape fabric or a piece of window screen; then fill with potting soil. If the plants will remain in the container through summer, mix in compost with the loosened potting soil to encourage root growth. Add 3 or 4 inches of mulch to insulate and protect the roots from drying out.
Container plants will experience colder temperatures than those planted in the ground. Select slow-growing or dwarf evergreens that grow in two USDA zones lower than your hardiness zone. In this area, dwarf evergreens, holly and ivy are a few suggestions. Add color with kale, chokeberry and red or white twigs as accent pieces. Keep evergreens and cut boughs looking healthy all winter by spraying the foliage with an antidesiccant at planting, and re-apply whenever there is a thaw during winter.
Water regularly as long as the daytime temperature remains above freezing, and be sure the water drains effectively. Avoid ice damage to the root ball by not watering when the temperature drops.
When green boughs and red berries peak out from under a blanket of snow, these planters look magnificent. Container gardening is a great and simple way to chase away winter grayness and keep the beauty of plants in the garden all year long.
Vivienne Dieckmann, Sloatsburg, master gardener with Cornell Cooperative Extension of Rockland