Question: I have been a Fafard fan for years. I am planting my first container boxwoods along with a few containers of evergreen cedars for a westward facing terrace. What is the best potting soil mix for these, and do I need to add organic matter to either container? Question from Angela of Memphis, Tennessee
Answer: Boxwoods have different fertilizer requirements when compared to cedars, false cypress, or coniferous evergreens but will grow well in similar potting mix. Our mixes are rich in organic matter, so you don’t need to add more.
Boxwoods (Buxus spp. and hybrids) grow best in soils that drain very well but also hold water and have a neutral to slightly alkaline pH of 6.8 and 7.5. I would add half Fafard® Professional Potting Mix, which has the right porosity and water-holding ability for box, and half Fafard® Premium Topsoil, which is formulated for trees and shrubs, is a bit denser and breaks down more slowly. Be sure to follow up by feeding them with a good tree and shrub fertilizer (there are several on the market), and follow the manufacturer’s application instructions.
For evergreens, such as cedars (Juniperus virginiana), I would choose the same potting mix blend but opt for a fertilizer formulated for evergreens and hollies because these shrubs often like soil that is a bit more acidic (5-7 pH), though some are quite soil adaptable.
Evergreens of all kinds are a sign of the season, whether used to decorate our landscapes, containers, holiday vases, or festive winter scenes. Needled branches and pine cones also fill the air with resinous fragrance associated with snowy days and glad tidings. Here are several jolly ways to use evergreens and evergreen branches to decorate your home this holiday season, indoors or out.
Outdoor Evergreen Decor
Living dwarf evergreens make lovely potted plants that beautify the landscape all season, but during the holidays, a few lights and decorations make them extra pretty additions to front entryways. There are lots to choose from. Tiny Tower® dwarf Alberta spruce (Picea glauca f. conica ‘MonRon’) has the perfect pyramidal shape for patio pots and grows very slowly, reaching a final height of 4-6 feet. Decorate it with lights, bright bows, and sprigs of holly.
Rounded dwarf evergreens also make nice potted specimens. Try the nana Hinoki false cypress (Chamaecyparis obtusa ‘Nana’), which only grows to 2 feet and has dense, deep green, fanned foliage that takes well to strings of fairy lights. Mounding mugo pine (Pinus mugo ‘Slowmound’), which only matures to 3 feet, is another pincushion evergreen for festive low containers. Plant them in ornamental pots filled with Fafard Ultra Outdoor Planting Mix for best results.
Do more than dress up the front door with an evergreen wreath this year. Evergreen garlands are easily created by tying pine branch cuttings to a length of strong twine. And don’t leave those old flower pots empty. If you don’t want to grow live evergreens, convert your seasonal flower pots to evergreen showpieces using cut branches from the yard or tree farm (see final image below). Any evergreen branch will do, and the more textures and colors you add, the prettier the pots. We recommend pine, holly, and evergreen magnolia branches. Add a little glitter, pine cones, or other colorful elements, and you are good to go!
Indoor Evergreen Decor
Use greenery to turn a mantle, piano top, or credenza into a winter scene. These scenes can be as detailed or simple as your taste requires. Simply cut greenery and place branches in tied clusters that can be easily arranged together. This makes it quicker to add greenery where you want it. Then decorate the branches with pine cones and other natural elements. Small lights, paper stars, blue and white dreidels, village scenes or crèches might also be welcome additions.
Gather greens from the yard or take trimmings from the bottom of your tree to place in vases. Embellish the greens with dried or living flowers, berried branches, and pine cones for a truly beautiful holiday table arrangement. It’s simple, inexpensive and always impressive.
Holiday decorating with greens does not have to be costly. Gather what you can from your garden, invest in permanent long-lived evergreen planters, add a few bows and lights, and your home will be the prettiest on the block!
When flower-filled summer containers die back at the end of the season, don’t put those empty pots away. Convert your vacant outdoor planters into beautiful showpieces for the holidays. Take pruned evergreen and berried branches, dry grass plumes, and hydrangea blooms to make festive DIY outdoor holiday containers that will remain attractive well into winter.
Gathering Holiday Container Materials
Winter branches and dried flowers can be purchased, but it’s more cost-effective if you have these materials in your own landscape or garden. Pine, fir, or spruce branches are perfect for that touch of greenery. Holly and winterberry branches will add color and substance as will red twig dogwood or curly willow branches. If you have ornamental grasses with dried seed heads or dried hydrangea flowers, these add extra beauty, especially if given a little glitz with metallic spray paint. Finally, pine cones, magnolia seed heads, or sweet gum balls make excellent base decorations, so use them if you have them.
Creating these containers is no different than putting together a large winter bouquet, but instead of a vase, you use a planter with potting mix. Long branches make bolder showpieces with bigger impact, so start with branches that are at least 2-3 feet in length, and trim them as needed. Your container composition will depend on the materials you have on hand, but this is the formula I use for one large container.
A large planter filled with potting mix
6-8 large evergreen branches
One large berried holly or winter berry branch
10 dried hydrangea and grass plumes
5 red twig dogwood branches (curly willow or other spray painted bare branches would work)
Gold or silver spray paint for the hydrangea plumes
Make sure your pot is filled with potting mix to support the branches. Place the pot in its final location before arranging; this will allow you to consider appearance and size as you craft the piece. If your container will be placed against a wall, set the showiest branches along the front. Start by adding the greenery—placing the tallest branches towards the middle. Trim additional branches to place along the periphery. Next, add the colorful ornamental branches concentrically around the container. Set the berried branch in the center, and follow up by placing the dried hydrangea flowers along the edges. Add the grass plumes around the composition, and center one tall plume behind the berries. Nestle pine cones along the base and in the greenery or bare branches.
Create Your Own Container Design
These containers should reflect your personal style and home, so get creative and design your own. There are lots of things you can do to make them bigger, bolder, or more glittery. Adding stark but colorful branches in the center and surrounding them with greenery and pine cones creates a bold, attractive look. For added glitz, spiral some lights around each arrangement, embellish with a few glittery outdoor ornaments, or add a bright, colorful bow. It’s up to you!
Daylight starts its annual return with the Winter Solstice, but cold gray days continue well into the New Year. Gardens, shorn of flowers and deciduous leaves, are stark. In winter, evergreens make all the difference. And variegated varieties, their leaves edged, striped or splashed in contrasting tones, add zest and color to the landscape. With choice specimens available in many sizes and shapes, the only constant is variety.
English holly (Ilexaquifolia), brightens landscapes and winter arrangements with glossy green leaves and vibrant red berries on female plants. Variegated varieties include ‘Argenteomarginata’, with white leaf edges and ‘Aureomarginata’, featuring yellow borders. Both can be grown as large shrubs or small trees, reaching up to 20 feet tall and 12 feet wide, with a pyramidal habit. Variegated English holly thrives in full sun to light shade. Nearby male varieties provide necessary pollination for female plants.
‘Golden King’ is one such male. It is an English holly hybrid (Ilex x altaclerensis) that features slightly more rounded leaves than its parent and golden variegation on the leaf edges. Developed at England’s Highclere Castle, home to TV’s “Downton Abbey”, it grows up to 24 feet tall and 12 feet wide.
Variegated Winter Daphne
Winter or fragrant daphne (Daphneodora) is aptly named. The fragrant flowers appear very early—in late winter or early spring. With leathery leaves and a mounding habit, shade-tolerant winter daphne makes a good hedging or specimen plant, especially in alkaline soil. Tempting variegated varieties include ‘Aureomarginata’, with yellow leaf margins, ‘Rubra Variegata’, featuring rosy-pink flowers and white-edged foliage, and ‘Variegata’ with soft pink blooms and bright yellow leaf margins.
Variegated False Holly
It’s easy to mistake false holly or holly olive (Osmanthusheterophyllus) for the real thing. The dense, spiny leaves resemble those of English holly, though the leaves are smaller and denser, and false holly does not produce its namesake’s bright red fruits. Osmanthus is a densely-leafed, upright shrub that grows into an oval shape and usually tops out at 8 to 10 feet tall and wide. It can also be clipped into standard form.
Variegated false hollies abound, including ‘Aureomarginata’, with yellow leaf edges, the eye-catching ‘Goshiki’, bearing foliage marked with flecks of gold, cream and green, and ‘Kembu’, featuring white leaf margins and flecks, and ‘Variegatus’, with white-edged leaves.
The large euonymus genus contains many variegated evergreens. Wintercreeper (Euonymusfortunei) is one of them. Some of the best-known varieties are low-growers, less than 12 inches tall, with small, dark green or blue-green leaves. With its spreading habit and adaptability to varying light situations, wintercreeper works as a groundcover, rock garden subject, low wall cover, or erosion controller. Among the many variegated varieties are ‘Emerald ‘n Gold’, with yellow leaf margins on leaves that turn pinkish in winter, the taller ‘Gold Splash’, which grows to 3 feet tall and wide, ‘Moonshadow’, with green-edged yellow leaves, ‘Silver Queen’, featuring yellow margins that age to white, and ‘Sunshine’ with its gray-green leaves edged in gold.
Use wintercreeper carefully. It has been reported as invasive in some areas. One way to keep it in check is to grow it in large pots and trim as necessary. (It can take very heavy pruning so shear and shape it at will.) Give containerized wintercreeper a good start by using a quality potting mix, like Fafard Ultra Outdoor Planting Mix.
Japanese Euonymus (Euonymusjaponicus) is a shrubby plant, topping out at 10 to 15 feet tall and half as wide. Like most euonymus, the species bears shiny green, ovoid leaves. Variegated varieties of this rather formal hedging plant include ‘Albomarginatus’ and ‘Aureomarginatus’, bearing white and gold leaf edges respectively. ‘Latifolius Albomarginatus’ also features leaves with white margins, but has broader leaves than ‘Albomarginatus’ and gray-green leaf centers.
Variegated Spotted Laurel
Shade-loving spotted laurel (Aucuba japonica) is easy to spot. The hardy plants, often used for hedging, grow up to 10 feet tall, with a nearly equal spread. Spotted laurel leaves are somewhat leathery and up to 8 inches long. Purple spring flowers are an added bonus, giving way to red fall fruits on female plants. ‘Mr. Goldstrike’, a male plant that can serve as a pollinator for female spotted laurels, is dramatic and generously dappled with golden speckles. ‘Variegata’ is a gold-flecked female variety, originally introduced in 1783 and known as the “gold dust plant.” Another notable spotted laurel is ‘Goldieana’, featuring a solid splotch of gold on each long, green leaf.
Evergreens provide the horticultural music in quiet winter gardens. Variegation makes that music swing.