Sunday, November 04, 2012

Outdoor Winter Container Designs

The first couple of frost hits is the sign to prepare for winter containers.

Some folks empty out their containers - soil and all to prepare for Christmas decorating. No, no.... I just snip off the tops of my annuals and the leggy stem bits that are left after a good frost. The soil with roots, as long as it's not frozen and not too woody, is an ideal medium to sustain evergreen boughs and cut stems for decorating.  If the soil has become frozen, bring it indoors overnight to thaw, or drench with boiling water to thaw out. The roots of your annuals help stabilize cut stems in place, when arranging.

Like the above demonstration class; if you're starting from scratch and you don't want to fill an entire urn or container, (or you can't keep a ceramic pot with soil overwinter) just use a smaller insert pot and fill with sand. In the above photo, we used 6-9inch fibre liners. When filled with sand, the sheer weight of sand will help to prop up the insert and will also freeze like an ice cube when in your decorative outer pot. Two great aspects regarding a smaller container: 1) the smaller the pot, the less materials needed and 2) the tighter the stems will be to withstand strong winter weather.

Materials needed:
  • Pair of sharp pruners
  • Comfortable pair of gloves that allow you to design with good tactile ability
  • If you are working indoors, wear a bib or apron to avoid sap from coming in contact with your clothes
  • At least 2-3 selections of evergreen boughs. (my preference is white pine, western cedar and boxwood, although you can use any kind).  For a 6 inch pot, 3 bundles will do.
  • Leafy stems (magnolia, eucalyptus, boxwood, oregonia, holly, euonymus). 2 bundles ea.
  • Colourful branches (dogwood, red willow, pussy-willow, birch stems, alder stems) 20 stems.
  • Accent pieces: (cones, pomegranates, osage oranges, rose-hips, sumac pods, outdoor ornaments...etc). Minimum 7-10 pieces
  •  If you are working with an insert, use sand and dampen it well enough to make sure it stays firm and holds moisture for the stems

To begin, decide on how decorative you want the urn. Sometimes, simpler is more attractive. Too much material and it becomes an eyesore. Here in the photo below, it seemed fitting to have a simple design given the ravine backdrop.

Here, I only used 3 items (white pine, red dogwood and some ivy).

Next, decide on the shape, height and position of your insert/container design. One trick to lessen the material used, is to design a flat sided container. These are great for containers that are propped up against a wall or backing on to something else. Accents and more expensive materials only need to be displayed at the front of these designs. You will need almost triple the amount of accents if you want a 360, all around arrangement.

Begin with the tallest boughs at the back, working and cutting your bough branches down slightly in size as you come to the front of the container. Be sure to make a fresh cut on ALL your bough branches. This allows the boughs to draw up whatever moisture they can during the winter - keeping them green.

With all around designs, you need to start with the tallest material (usually your stems, like dogwood) in the center. Working your way around the stems with filler - evergreen boughs. Once you get a sort of triangular shape, begin adding your accents to bulk up the design.

Pretty easy.

Water your urn inserts and or planters once every week. It may seem odd to water them in the winter, but it just maintains the green and keeps them looking fresh.

Here is a design from last year.

Check out these other designs

More here and here!

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