Conifers, Containers, and Cold

– Posted in: Garden Design, Trees and Shrubs

I’m thrilled to have Christina as a Guest Contributor at GGW. I’ve been a fan of her work for a long time.

Christina is THE Personal Garden Coach. When she is not designing dramatic container gardens at a nursery in Newcastle, Washington, she is teaching clients about saving labor, time, and money with easy gardening techniques. Christina also writes for her own blog as well as being a founding member of The Garden Designer’s Round Table. She contributes to to magazines, newspapers and blogs… Fran Sorin

When the cold, gray season rolls around here in my Zone 7 part of the Pacific Northwest, I take advantage of the opportunity to buy some small-scale conifers that I can design with in my Fall and Winter containers and add to my gardens in Spring.


The advantages of this are:

1) Conifers tend to be available at great prices for the end of season clearance sales in nurseries, and they’re cold hardy for great winter interest in my containers.

2) I buy selected Conifers that I have been coveting all season. Unless I have them on a drip system in the Spring and Summer, it’s too warm to worry about them drying out in my containers during the hot season.

3) They have the cool wet season here to grow great roots in my container designs all winter long, then when they get planted out in the garden in early spring when they will still be fairly cool and wet here until the 4th of July! (It is Seattle J)

You can find conifers that are rich in color and texture from 4″ pots to 5 Gallon sizes that will give you an array of design options. Look at some of my container designs for fall and winter that I’ve recently planted for myself and for my clients.


Remember that the conifer doesn’t necessarily have to be the key component in your design either. It may play a supporting role if it’s a small one. It could also be a larger one at the back with other plants in front of it. Or in this case, a lovely piece of glass art by Barbara Sanderson at Glass Gardens NW.


On the other hand, you can make them a knock out by putting ALL of the focus on the conifer as I did in this large scale pot with a Weeping Cedar as the focal point.


There are a wide variety of perennials and annuals that I have included in these designs. It is not my intention for all of them to be there through the entire season. When the truly cold weather and snow comes, the conifers will take center stage. But, you can have some drama, texture and color until then. In addition, those perennials will be great transplanted out for spring to bloom next summer or fall too.


If your garden is heavy on deciduous shrubs and broadleaf evergreens, give the Conifers a go in your winter containers. When you plant them out in Spring, you will be happy that you have begun a collection of plants that will add visual weight and sense of permanence to your landscape. And when given the correct placement and space to fill out to their potential, a group of plants that gives much gratification for very little effort in return.

Fran Sorin

Fran is the author of the highly-acclaimed book, Digging Deep: Unearthing Your Creative Roots Through Gardening, which Andrew Weil, M.D., recommends as "a profound and inspiring book."  

A graduate of the University of Chicago with Honors in Psychology, she is also a gardening and creativity expert, coach, inspirational speaker, CBS radio news gardening correspondent, and Huffington Post Contributor.

Learn more about Fran and get free resources that will help you improve your life at

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Fran Sorin
12 Comments… add one

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Helen at Toronto Gardens November 10, 2011, 8:42 pm

Beautiful, Christina. I wish our climate were mild enough for me to steal all of your ideas.

charlotte November 11, 2011, 2:23 pm

I love the advice, however, I would love to see pictures of these containers/plants in the middle of winter, when the snow has taken over.

Pam/Digging November 11, 2011, 3:08 pm

Winter is very different for us here in Austin, and we don’t have conifers to choose from, BUT I really enjoyed seeing what you can do with them. Your arrangements are gorgeous, Christina. I tend to be a single-specimen-in-a-pot kind of person, but your example has me rethinking that.

Doug November 11, 2011, 5:45 pm

Some good advice and great pictures as inspiration. We have a lot of different conifers in the garden, that came with the house, and because of the many textures and colours I see them in a whole new light! Thanks for the post.

Cynthia Crane November 11, 2011, 6:47 pm

Love glass art in the garden – those containers are gorgeous! Thanks to Hannie Haven for her share on Facebook so I could find you 🙂

Cynthia Crane

Heidi Kaster November 11, 2011, 11:13 pm

Great article. Conifers don’t get enough praise. They are wonderful in the garden and to get them started in a container is a great idea. Good job. We have a great selection here at Dragonfly and it is nice to see other professionals sing their praise.

Freda Cameron November 12, 2011, 8:35 am

Beautiful and inspiring! While I can’t grow all the conifers that work in your climate, I have been moving toward permanent containers of succulents, hardy perennials and planted my first juniper containers this year. Great ideas from your post and pix. Thanks!

Jayme November 12, 2011, 9:54 am

I agree with Heidi, I forget about conifers for some reason. Growing them in containers is a great idea because they’re slow growing. Christina always has knockout combinations!

Debra Lee Baldwin November 12, 2011, 12:04 pm

I love dwarf conifers in rock gardens, underplanted with a textural and colorful mix of sedums. Iseli nursery up in your next of the woods has a wonderful selection.

Rebecca Sweet November 13, 2011, 6:26 pm

Thanks for the reminder to use those evergreens, Christina! I don’t know why I always forget about them, but I do. I need to re-do many of my containers and am definitely going to use a few conifers in them this year.

Christina Salwitz November 14, 2011, 12:23 pm

I’m so happy that all of you enjoyed the Conifer Post! THANK YOU for all of your kinds words.
Your options for creative use of conifers are more vast than ever before. Adding the spark of art for winter gives it some personality on dreary days. Have fun with it!

Yvonne Kochanowski November 20, 2011, 11:39 am

I now have an idea what i can do with the pine seedlings I am nurserying until they are ready to set out in the forest on our property – thanks!

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