I always get a hankering to have evergreens growing in pots on my front porch in winter, from Thanksgiving until the first annuals of spring. Fortunately, it’s become easier than ever to get the effect without the gamble of keeping a growing plant alive through a dry cold winter.
Taking advantage of Christmas greens at garden centers and Christmas tree lots now can get you not only through the holidays but through the worst part of winter with beauty.
Some garden centers are carrying “spruce tops” that look like mini cut Christmas trees. They, or small cut Douglas fir Christmas trees, can serve as the vertical centerpiece of a pot tumbling with feathery pine boughs, green fir, blue spruce and a skirt of cedar. Tucking in fresh sprigs of holly or picks of artificial, waterproof red berries gives a pop of color. All of this says Christmas, and all of it can hold down the porch in good style afterward. Just remove the large red bow you may have wrapped around the base once the 12 days of Christmas are over.
Any pot or urn will do for the base, though porous ones such as clay are more brittle and will probably crack sooner or later in the cold. You can fill the pot with sand or soil. If you fill it with soil, dampen the soil first. If using sand, water once everything is in place. When the water freezes, it will hold the evergreen stems in place. If the pot does not have holes in the bottom, be sure not to overfill with water.
Make a fresh cut on all stems before adding them to the arrangement, says Karen Hall of Johnson’s Garden Center. Put the vertical element in the center of the pot or to the back of the pot if it will be up against the wall. Then fill in from the center outward with other boughs as they decrease in height. Finish with an evergreen such as cedar that will fan out over the edge of the pot and downward, creating a skirt. Tuck in pinecones and picks of berries and bows, if desired. Spray the arrangement with an anti-desiccant such as Wilt Pruf to help hold in moisture, if you like.
Susan Kiefer is not a crafty type, but she’s excited that she put together some Christmas pots for the first time this year, with the help of her master gardener-neighbor Sharon Pedroja.
“We went crazy,” Susan said. “I did one for my mother and for my friend who has breast cancer. We made them for the neighbors.”
It’s true that once you’ve done one and see the great results, it does make you want to spread the joy.
Among the additions to one of Susan’s pots are redtwig dogwood branches from Tree Top Nursery that serve as the vertical element. And it turns out that the YMCA Men’s Club Christmas tree lot at Normandie Center has a remnants pile of boughs that can be raided for a donation. Susan even got crafty and took trumpet vine that her neighbor had cut down and spray-painted it white, tucking into a pot. She also went non-traditional in the color of pouffy ribbon she bought at the Junior League’s Holiday Galleria.
“I’m a mom of three boys. Even though I totally rock it as a boys’ mom, I wanted something pink.”
Felicia Serrioz helps decorate pots for businesses near her A&M Superior Upholstery in the Dockum Building at Douglas and Hillside. Among her pots are the ones outside Traditions Home and Juliana Daniel Antiques.
Felicia cut some branches of beautyberry from bushes in her yard and spray-painted them red for some of the pots, and shopped at Hillside Nursery for holly, juniper and yew bushes that were put in pots by the back door of Traditions.
Robin Van Huss, owner of Traditions, doesn’t expect the living evergreen plants to stay living in the pots year-round, but she likes to have them for the winter and then plant them in the ground once the soil is workable in spring. A string of lights and ribbon are all that are needed to dress up potted Alberta spruces in front of the store.
“You have to be careful — when it’s really dry, you have to water them,” Robin said of the potted evergreens.
Her business neighbor Juliana Greenberg is fortunate to have had junipers survive for three years outside her Juliana Daniel Antiques store.
“I’m surprised they’re still around,” Juliana said. She has kept the little shrubs in their original plastic pots, putting those inside larger containers and tucking rocks and mulch around the soil for protection. Whenever the forecast calls for a couple of warmer days in a row, Juliana waters them, usually once or twice a month. Be careful about watering on frigid days such as the ones we had earlier this week — the soil in my pots had turned dry seemingly overnight, and I wasn’t used to the cold weather enough to realize that the water that would flow out the bottom of the pot would immediately turn to ice.
Greg McHenry of Hillside Nursery cautions about growing evergreens in pots that “almost anything is susceptible to being frozen, even the most hardy.” He recommends doing the pots with cuttings and refurbishing the cuttings if they start to dry out and look brittle. For fresh-evergreen use indoors, he recommends concolor fir boughs for the longest life.
Mary Vanlandingham of Kingman does just such a porch pot every year.
“I just pick up things all over the place. I start with the branches that I cut off the bottom of our Christmas tree every year. I add additional greenery and fillers that I have bought from garden centers (this year Johnson’s and Lowe’s). The sparkling accents I get from Hobby Lobby and Alco in Kingman. I have even cut off some pine branches from my own trees. Anyway, it is really just a grab bag of items. It is fun to put together every year because it always comes out a little different!”
Concurred Susan Kiefer: “I’m the least crafty person, and it’s awesome.”
You also can buy already decorated pots at garden centers, and Botanica is selling arrangements of evergreens cut from Botanica plants in the lobby during the day and during the Illuminations holiday event nightly from 5:30 to 8:30.