How to Change Up Your Container Garden with Each Season
Swapping out a few plants will help keep your pots looking colorful and lush from spring to winter. Placing a small evergreen in the middle means fewer gaps to fill in each time you refresh annuals or other fillers.
When you have a large container or two that you use as a focal point along a path or by your front door, you can keep everything looking picture perfect by changing out the plants to match the seasons. Just remember to think big for your year-round container garden: the planters should be in the 10 gallons and up range so they can weather the seasons, even frigid winters. Plus, you'll want to have enough legroom for a diverse mix of plants, including a small, slow-growing evergreen. Then you can easily keep your container garden looking fresh by swapping out smaller plants like annuals around the evergreen as the seasons change.
Seasonal Plant Ideas for Your Containers
Building a year-long container garden design around a living evergreen ensures steady color no matter what the calendar says. Start by selecting an evergreen that's hardy to at least two USDA Zones colder than where you live. For example, if you're in Zone 5, the evergreen needs to be hardy to Zone 3 to guarantee winter survival. Slow-growing evergreens that can thrive in containers include dwarf Alberta spruce, 'Sky Pencil' holly, topiary juniper, mugo pine, and Japanese umbrella pine. Here are a few ideas for plants to add in around your evergreen, but you can also look for what's in abundance throughout the year at your local garden center.
For this year's worth of container gardens, a 3-foot-tall 'Moonglow' juniper serves as the centerpiece. To make a spring arrangement, swap in annuals like rounded 'Buttercrunch' lettuce, pansies, and alyssum. Planting hyacinth and tulip bulbs adds quick color; as soon as you start seeing the bulbs in stores, you can plant them in your container garden (they can handle a light frost).
In summer, let seasonal plants spill out of your container. Sweet potato vine has bright green leaves and grows quickly, so it'll easily trail onto the ground. Purple oxalis adds color with its fun foliage, while salvia has tall purple-blue blooms that add height. Finish the display with a cluster of blooming, bright yellow calibrachoa.
In fall, you can leave the oxalis for extra autumn color as long as it's still healthy. Add in white mums (a fall favorite!), and violas for blooms. Red-striped fountain grass can be just as much of a focal point as the juniper tree, and it'll create more texture in your mini garden too. Finally, plant a ruffled ornamental cabbage or flowering kale to fill in any remaining gaps with interesting, eye-catching foliage.
Especially if you live in the northern areas of the country, it can be tricky to keep a container garden going in the colder months. For a beautiful display, rely on faux or real berry and evergreen branches to fill in the gaps of your container. It's also easy to fill in with a few festive decorations, like metallic or glass ornaments, pinecones, and battery-powered fairy lights.
How to Repot Container Garden Plants
Refresh your container garden whenever your plants look tired. Follow these tips for swapping out plants:
1. Remove Spent Plants
Use a sharp or serrated knife to slice through roots to free them. Try not to cut too deeply into the root ball, which is likely to hold the interlaced roots of plants you want to save.
2. Add Fresh Potting Soil
Fill holes and refresh the footing for all plants. Mixing compost with the soil is a good idea.
3. Prune Back Existing Plants
Take care when you prune tall plants in fall. In cold regions, they may not have enough time to rebound if cut back severely.
4. Fertilize After Repotting
Mix a slow-release fertilizer into the soil to give plants a nutritional boost without the risk of burning roots.
5. Insulate Soil
Mulch soil with an inch or two of locally available material, like pine straw, shredded bark, or cottonseed hulls. This layer helps moderate big temperature swings in soil and also helps the potting mix dry out less quickly so you don't need to water as often.