Decorating Ideas

Miniature Container Gardens for Winter

Once the summer hubbub of flowers has died down, the texture and color of evergreen plants start to assert them selves in the garden. Miniature container gardens are a rewarding way to enjoy these evergreens in winter.

There are many varieties of dwarf and miniature evergreens, which you can plant in containers for dramatic compositions to enhance your winter garden and entranceways. This short guide will get you started.

Plants and Design
You will be amazed at the beautiful variety of miniature plants available, often in the form of conifers. These miniatures feature all kinds of foliage variations and colors that range from frosty white, bright gold, wine-purple, powdery blue, bronzy caramel, emerald green, even black!

Miniature container gardenKeep in mind growth rate and ultimate size when selecting the plants for your container. Miniature conifers will only grow an inch or less a year, while dwarf varieties grow one to six-inches annually, making both excellent choices for containers.

Look for spruces, false cypress, pine, juniper, arborvitae, hemlock, and more. Conifers with white variegations should be sited in locations that have afternoon shade.

A variety of evergreen perennials make gorgeous companion plants to miniature conifers and broadleaf shrubs.

Grass-like plants such as golden sweet flag, bronze sedge, and black mondo grass, succulent plants like hens-and-chicks and stonecrop, and creeping plants like burgundy ajuga and even moss dug from the garden will all contribute texture, color, and form to your design.

Selecting Containers
Concrete, stone, and cast iron are some of the more durable materials. Remember that terra cotta will dry out faster and can be subject to winter damage, as can some glazed pots.

Hypertufa pots look fantastic with miniatures, resemble stone, and are less expensive or you can make them yourself. They are easily damaged, however.

Regardless of type, pots must always have drainage holes. Containers need not be large, as most conifers and small perennials will tolerate restricted roots.

Soils and Planting
Use a bagged potting mix without fertilizer. Select one that is high in chunky organic matter like bark and has Perlite in it, or a bagged bonsai mix. Avoid using garden soil in containers.

When planting, make sure the plants are not overcrowded so that they have enough space, moisture, and light.

Remember to group plants with similar water and light needs and finish off plantings with one to two-inches of mulch such as chipped stone, gravel, or bark around plants to help prevent surface water loss and to help insulate roots from cold and heat.

Watering and Fertilizing
Watering is very important. Evergreen plants do not show drought damage until it is too late so monitoring the soil is key.

Overwatering is as bad as underwatering. Container gardens may need water almost every day in summer, and only twice a month in winter. Test the soil with your finger down to the first or second knuckle and water when the mix feels damp but going towards dry.

Most conifers, as well as other plants mentioned here, do not require much fertilizer. In containers, a light application of slow-release organic or controlled-release fertilizer formulated for trees and shrubs is recommended in spring.

You can also use a gentle liquid fertilizer such as fish and seaweed hydrosylate or compost tea. Avoid the heavy duty ‘blue stuff’ for your miniature garden.

Tina Mast is communications director at Homewood Nursery in Raleigh. She can be reached at or (919) 847-0117.

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