Wednesday, December 04, 2013

Christmas Outdoor Container - How To DIY

I've had several requests to break down the steps in making one of these outdoor arrangements for planters.

Here, I have made one with a silhouette tree in the background. I have a lot of black iron accents at my home. I enjoy using this, since after Christmas, the iron evergreen really pops out during the snowy winter months ahead.
This is a square container. Note, when using a square container, you generally need to have more material to fill the corners.
First - use sandy, or sandy soil to fill your container. It's far more dense, more forgiving when you have to insert and re-insert your greens. Plus it freezes into a solid block, once the sand is moist and the temps dip below -5. You can use potting soil, but generally it's too light and cannot weigh down the pot well enough during windy conditions. Stick with sand if you can.

Second - arrange your focal points. Those that give height and attention to your design. Here I chose birch stems with varying heights and an iron tree silhouette. The great aspect of sand is it holds birch stems really well.

Fun evergreen tree silhouette.

From far left: BC Cedar, Green Boxwood, red-twig dogwood stems & white pine. I find these to be the staple greens I use most often. They hold their colour well through winter. They are widely available and aren't as expensive as some of the other greens out there. 
 Tools needed:
  • Sharp pair of pruners
  • Working gloves that aren't cumbersome
  • Saw to cut the birch stems down to size (or buy already cut)
I begin by layering one green at a time. Start with white pine. It has bulkier stems that are harder to insert after the container is full of material. Begin with taller (longer) pieces to go around the birch stems and weeping, shorter stems to line the base. This develops a 'skirt' which flows over the container edge. Be sure to tuck each stem in well and leave about a 6 inch end to insert well enough.
Here is a coin phrase when it comes to containers. "You need a) a filler, b) then a spiller, then c) a thriller." Will get to that in a minute..
Can't say enough about fresh cuts. ANGLE them, making sharp points. a) they insert better this way and b) once the stem is in contact with moist sand, a fresh cut will continue to draw moisture up the stem. Making your design last longer.
Depending on the quality of white pine you find, many of the stems will look like this. With the bulky nature of the stem at the base, you can't shove this in the container without it looking...poorly.

Cut in sections. Leaving long lengthy shoots for the centre of your design. Mid length for bulk and small lengths for filler and spill overs.

Here I used about a half a bundle, working with tall bits, and shorter bits to fill in the spaces evenly. I didn't fill it entirely, not yet. More to fill in.

Next is BC Cedar. This adds texture, richer green colour and some really great spill over effect.

This is where lots of folks go wrong. Like the white pine, cut back your cedar fronds like this. Depending on the size of container, of course. Some container sizes require the full length, but for the container size demonstrated here, I was able to cut the fronds in 3. Cutting these boughs allows you to work easily with the material without it getting too bulky and floppy.

Insert them between the white pine. So that stems and cut ends are not visible.

You can't even tell this is only a third of the cedar bough.
This creates a layered effect and it adds bulk and texture for a fuller look. The tips and good looking bits should be at the top of the planter, by the birch stems. While the smaller, more gnarly bits get tucked under the white pine bits.

Green boxwood is next. I love this! Oregonia is another variegated form as well. It's lovely too. This really adds luster and shine to the design and again bulk. A little goes a long way. And just like the white pine and cedar, cut this back to smaller bits and arrange accordingly. HINT: when you buy these bundles, look for a lot of stems at the base of the bundle (by the elastic). You'll get more longer bits that way. Many more stems for designing length.

There - again, I used only a half a bundle of each green for this planter.

Now the fun bits. Here is where colour is key. I use red-twig dogwood stems for height and colour variation.

Insert where you need colour contrast and height.

Accessorize: a) ornaments you skewer onto to stems, b) cones, c) coconut husks, d) rattan balls.... you name it, you can get accents on sticks these days at your local garden centre nursery, craft store or dollar store.  I tend to favour more natural accents, but everyone to each his own.

I purchased these artificial berries years ago and reuse them year to year. Great investment.

Tuck in your pieces where you want them to go and you're done. With accents, usually odd numbers work best in combinations. With the amount of greens mentioned above, I made these two containers for about $70 retail in materials. The good thing: I bought reusable accents, birch and the containers will last year to year. Those costs will be avoided for next year's designs.

Be sure to water til freeze-up. When mild breaks in weather occur, give them another drink. I even heap a bit of snow now again and let it melt towards the back of the container. Works just as well. Will last until March.

Enjoy! And Merry Christmas, everyone! xo


  1. It look beautiful Heidi & gave me the confidence to try making my own!

  2. Great explanation and easy to follow. Thank you for sharing!

  3. OMG! Sand, I have been creating winter planters for a while and never thought to use sand! Thanks for the great info.!

  4. Hi Heidi - I don't have a lot of time as I am primary caregiver for my husband recovering from a stroke but I think doing a planter could be therapeutic for me (and fun). Could I do this over a week or so and if so, could I design it in the garage versus outside? Thoughts?


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