Signs at garden centers proclaim the news: “Tree Tops Are Here!” But don’t be tempted to just buy a bunch of spruce branches and plop them in a container tied with a big red bow.
By using a few interchangeable elements, you can give your pots punch that will last from Thanksgiving to March.
“In the wintertime, I’m not just designing for Christmas or New Year’s, I’m designing for the winter season,” said designer Brian Winter of W&S Design in Minneapolis.
With minimal effort and a little creativity, your front steps can go from boring to best-dressed.
Raid your garden
For a look that will last through the winter season, “think neutrals and natural,” said Larry Pfarr, owner of Leap Retail Consulting. The ingredients can even come from your own back yard.
Duane Otto, a landscape designer at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum, gathers elements from the arboretum grounds: the golden heads of Annabelle hydrangeas, the soft brown of dried astilbe flowers, the showy seedheads of Joe Pye weed, fistfuls of ornamental grasses such as miscanthus.
“Use what you have,” said Otto. “It’s your creation. It doesn’t have to have a particular style.”
Pfarr recommends starting with containers that are in scale with your front steps. (He often uses three for visual appeal.)
You can use the same pots you used in summer, and if your containers are unbreakable, you can even use the leftover soil to anchor your display. However, freezing and thawing can crack a ceramic pot filled with soil.
That’s why experienced designers take precautions. Otto removes the soil and replaces it with sand. Pfarr adds Styrofoam peanuts to the bottom of a ceramic pot and strips of foam along the walls, then adds dirt.
Going for the green
Rely on evergreens for the backbone of your design.
Pfarr starts with a mix of evergreens, mixing tree tops with two or three other kinds of evergreens, such as white pines or junipers, for texture. (You also can buy a pot of mixed greens at a garden center and dress them up.)
“Then, you can do whatever,” said Pfarr, “from glitzy to a more natural look.”
When you add other elements to your base of evergreens, “think in threes” advised Pfarr, “and keep them grouped together.” Your design should radiate out from a central point, he said. He also suggests that you add elements that trail over the edge of your container.