Some Very Good Reasons To Plant Containers For Spring

Our early spring season has been notable for its soaking and relentless rains. Daily rain. As in  “don’t go out without your muck boots on”  rainy. And  “don’t even think of stepping into the garden”  rainy. The boxwood pictured above are slated for an early landscape installation. They spent the winter indoors, in the building we use to house equipment and vehicles. By mid-March, those plants needed to come out of storage. The process was not pretty, as you can see. No gardener can tell ahead of time how the season will change from winter to spring. That transition is rarely smooth and easy. Into our second week of daily rain, the ground is simply too wet to work. We have heeled these boxwood in, not knowing when we will be able to begin planting.

These rainy days are gray and dreary. The cold is magnified by all of the water in the air. Bone chilling. I stand on the edges of my garden, knowing it is off limits right now. Stepping on the ground when it is completely saturated with water drives all of the life giving oxygen out of that soil. Compacted soil is unfriendly to any plant that is trying to grow. So how can a gardener garden early on, given these conditions? Plant some pots. The soil in containers drains much more readily than the soil underfoot. The soil of your choice loaded up in a container drains freely. Containers can be readily be planted in the rain, just ask my crews. Containers can furthermore be planted with all manner of seasonal plants that do a great job of tolerating the cold. Our trees are still leafless, and few perennial plant has dared venture forth, but for the hellebores, and the early spring flowering bulbs. What else can help soften the very early spring blues? I would suggest that a worthy preview of the spring season to come might begin with some containers confidently planted with plants that endure in spite of the cold.

These branchy style cut pussy willow stems speak to and echo the spring garden. Pussy willow is a very large growing shrub that blooms very early. If your landscape is not large enough to accommodate this big rangy shrub, the cut branches look terrific in spring containers. The blue preserved and dyed eucalyptus acknowledges that blue color that is so beautiful and reminiscent of our spring. Pansies and violas are entirely cold hardy right out of the flat, provided they have been grown in cold conditions.

We buy pansies and violas that were started from seed last summer. They are over wintered in houses with no heat. They are ready for the April chill. If the temperature threatened to go below 25 overnight I would cover them.  If I wanted to protect their blooms from a windy 28 degree night, I would cover them. This seems like a call to plant away to me.  Pansies and violas are among some of the most charming, sparkly, and cheery plants that endow our northern tier spring season. I would not do without them.

Planting in cold blustery weather is not my favorite, but I am ready for spring. So I plant anyway.  This large container is home to a Turkish hazel tree – corylus corlurna. It survived the winter in this container, and threw out scads of long pink catkins a week ago. Bravo! We planted the ground level soil with an overall mix of blue and  purple/blue bicolor pansies and white alyssum.  In several weeks, when the filbert tree leafs out, this container planting will sing spring.

Have you ever seen a spike bloom?  Me neither. This particular spike was planted in this client’s container last summer.  I wintered the plant over in a greenhouse. I was faint with surprise when we went to pick up that spike for her spring garden. Planted in this container, there is an incredibly beautiful and fragrant bloom spike that takes all of the visual attention away from a landscape that has not yet emerged. The pale lavender pansies will grow and spill over the edges.  Are spikes cold tolerant?  Utterly.

This is a favorite spring container, just planted a few days ago. The fat and fuzzy cut pussy willow branches preside over all. A cream/green preserved eucalyptus provides some mid level interest, and subtle color. The box is stuffed full of a white pansy with a purple blotch, beautifully grown and just about ready to come in to bloom. The spring gardening season is all about hope, delight, and renewal. The garden coming to life again – what could be better? The very early spring container planting season gives any gardener a chance to whoop up the coming of spring.   I like how this spring container addresses that moment.

This big container features pansies, alyssum, and lettuce underneath a centerpiece of cut pussy willow and tiger branches. Lettuce is a chilly weather vegetable, but it will wither in extreme cold. Pots planted with lettuce now will need to be covered when the night temperatures go low. I suspect the same is true for myrtle topiaries. I will confess that I have a habit of pushing the limits of plants to tolerate cold in our early spring. But my best friend in the early spring is floating row cover. Vegetable gardeners cover their early transplants with this non woven fabric to protect them from the cold. I use it to protect my early spring container plantings facing a fiercely cold night. Floating row cover keeps the temperature underneath that cover 10 degrees higher than the air temperature.

What plants tolerate a cold container environment? Pansies and violas, for sure. Dusty miller. Spikes. Alyssum. Chicago figs. Rosemary and lavender, cold grown. Ivy will take some cold. Chard, parsley, chervil and thyme shrug off the cold. Early spring flowering bulbs are great in containers.  Think daffodils. Hellebores are so beautiful in early spring pots. Once that spring pot fades, those hellebores can be transplanted into the garden. Osteos.  Marguerites.  Interested in planting early spring containers? Try everything. There will be some successes, and some failures.  Any gardener can handle and be energized by these odds.

Spring is on the way.  So excited. Am I ready? Yes I am.

















  1. Stephanie Gest says

    Cannot wait to be more inspired by your beautiful creations.

  2. And primulas — don’t forget those primroses!

  3. I am learning so much reading your posts Miss Deborah. I am a painter Andrew plan to do one of those high/mid/lower level container works of art, you do so well, in front of my studio building. I plan to use native Kentucky plants for the high and mid levels. Thank you kindly for the inspiration.

  4. Brian from Cleveland says

    Hi Deb. We got about 4 inches of snow here today. Tomorrow should be close to 60 and Near 70 day after. Thank you, thank you, thank you for the motivation. Your timing couldn’t be better. I am READY too!

  5. nella davis ray says

    “Chicago Fig”, I had to Google that. I didn’t know there was a hardy fig that you could grow in Michigan. Have you gotten one to fruit?

  6. Thanks for the post. This is the weekend I can finally rake away the compressed winter leaves and ‘wake up’ the garden. And plant some containers.

  7. Deborah Silver says

    Dear Nella, one year we left 4 of them in 2 gallon pots sitting on the ground at our landscape building the entire summer, fall and winter. In the spring, they had all survived this less than gracious treatment, and furthermore they had rooted into the gravelly soil beneath their pots. They are hardy. And yes, they do fruit. best, Deborah

  8. I have some leaf kale doing beautifully with pansies in a low container. Probably less likely to wilt in the cold than lettuce?

    The hellebore thing is fascinating – suddenly beautiful ones are being marketed in grocery store florist sections; saw it first in western PA and now I am seeing them in VA. Surely this is a new approach this year?? The prices are a bit high but they are in full bloom, a novelty, and hopefully will transition well to outdoor gardens later in the spring.

  9. Deborah Silver says

    Dear Brian, we have 60 degrees and sun forecast for today-hooray. All of my crocus are in full bloom, but none of them have opened their petals in the cold and rain. I am hoping those few days a year with the crocus in all their glory is coming up. best, Deborah

  10. Deborah Silver says

    Dear Bekkala, thank you for your letter, and enjoy your gardening. best, Deborah

  11. Deborah Silver says

    Dear Joan, thank you for reminding me! best, Deborah

  12. Deborah Silver says

    Dear Eva, we have a nice spring day forecast for today. I plan to enjoy it. best, Deborah

  13. Deborah Silver says

    Dear Ceci, what a brilliant idea-kale in pots! Hellebores need some age on them to bloom. For years all that was available were small plants with no flowers. I think some of the intergeneric hybrids are very vigorous, and put on good size in just 1 season for a grower. They are expensive yes, but I suspect the grower has a lot of time invested in getting them to that size. This is the 3rd year we have had a hellebore festival at the store in early March. People buy them, and keep them indoors for a few weeks until they can be planted out. best, Deborah

  14. S.ONeil says:
    I love those interesting pots that look like something from the earth or sea. Are you selling those in your shop? Are they too heavy or impractical for shipping?
    Enjoy your posts, Deborah!

  15. Deborah Silver says

    Dear S., those pots did not come from my shop. best, Deborah

  16. Lovely containers — designs, textures, colors. Always so inspiring!

  17. I’m sorry im late to reading this post. Did I miss the spring festival this year ?

  18. Deborah Silver says

    Dear Julie K, I am afraid you did miss the spring fair. If you sign up for our email list, you will get notified when we have events. can help you with that. best, Deborah

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