Tag Archives: Winter Containers

Aloe, Haworthia, Gasteria and their hybrids

Some of our Aloe, Gasteria, and Haworthia collection. Yes, those red tags mean they are stock plants and not for sale…but we may have babies coming along!

It’s no surprise that as your plant obsession grows,  you begin to find the more exotic, curious and sometimes bizarre selections the most interesting, and perhaps most beautiful.  Aloe, Haworthia and Gasteria fit that bill us.

Miniature Aloe ‘Blizzard’…4 year old clump

A number of years ago, we visited California succulent breeder Dick Wright (now in his 90’s)  in search of his famous Echeveria hybrids. Dick’s new obsession was miniature Aloe, and he turned us onto this whole new group of succulent hybrids. He, along with other CA hybridizers such as John Bleck, Kelly Griffin and Karen Zimmerman, were hybridizing many Aloe species resulting in selections as minute as 1″ to up to 2′ in height, in a vast array of foliage colors and textures. Their small stature makes them more suitable for container culture than in the landscape, and since they do not winter over outdoors here in MA, that was just fine with us.

More Aloes…’Christmas Sleigh’, ‘Swordfish’, A. ramosissima, ‘Delta Dawn’, (Sedum clavatum interrupts the lineup ) one of the mini dark numbered selections from Dick Wright and a variegated Aloe brevifolia

Our first acquisitions were species hailing from Madagascar, Kenya  and Tanzania, as well as the more well known hybrid selections ‘Delta Dawn’, ‘Christmas Sleigh’, and ‘Firecracker’. We also brought home other forms which had not been introduced and were distinguished only by initials and numbers, like the little dark Aloe above.

Aloe “AJR” in the foreground with Aloe ‘Firecracker’ behind

Gasteraloe x ‘Midnight’, Gastworthia armstrongii x limifolia, Haworthia retusa, Gasteria bicolor v liliputana (BG), Gasteraloe ‘Green Ice’ and Haworthia concolor.

We also began paying attention to the closely related genera Haworthia and Gasteria, since they are known to be more tolerant of low indoor light conditions. There are many species and hybrids of both, and you will likely come across names like x Gasteraloe and x Gastworthia, as these genera are often crossed with each other, resulting in even more diverse selections.

Gasteraloe ‘Green Ice’, sporting darker leaf coloration, and flowers!

Blooming time for Aloe, Gasteria and Haworthia is primarily during the winter months and early spring usually with strikingly colored flowers. A number of the Aloe selections also bloom intermittently throughout the summer for us and are a hummingbird favorite.

20 year old Gasteria bicolor v. liliputana in bloom….you start with a baby, and suddenly they are all grown up.

Consider growing these easy care plants for your fall and winter plant “fix”.  They ask for so little: provide a sharply drained soil mix,  a bright south or western exposure for Aloe, an eastern or northern exposure will be fine for the Gasteria and HaworthiaWater only as needed. The frequency will depend  on how warm and arid your home conditions are. In fact, a cooler home is perfect!

There’s still time to deck the pots with….

I was trying to ignore the holidays this year. A visit to the west coast for our son’s mid year college graduation filled our calendar in early December.  I had started to rethink the winter containers before I left, but didn’t get very far. Upon returning home there was a ton of unfinished business to attend to. We aren’t hosting a Christmas gig this year. No little children to dazzle and excite. A part of me said why do you want to give yourself more to do?

Then, last night, while driving home, passing house after house decked with holiday lights and showy front door entries, I really felt shamed pulling into our driveway. No lights to greet me, no glow of a Christmas tree inside.  Does anybody live here?  That was the message our place was saying. Not a good one.

Here’s what I got done so far this morning.

The before picture: Why not leave the Euphorbia?

The after picture: Cut Greens, Red and Yellow Twig Dogwood. Simple!

Detail: Red Twig and ‘Winter Flame’ Dogwood’ with Euphorbia ‘Blackbird’

Winterberry Pot: Red Twig Dogwood, Winterberry, Hinoki Cypress, Christmas Rose, and Variegated Mondo Grass

Detail: Helleborus ‘Jacob’ with Ophiopogon Pamela Harper and Winterberry

Finished the wreath for the front door. It’s not good lighting to take a photo right now, but maybe tonight, with a few Christmas lights!

Happy Holidays, Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, Winter Solstice Greetings to all!

Thoughts on Winter Containers

Cut Greens and Yellow Twig Dogwood

It seems a little late to talk about winter containers but we’ve had such a mild end to autumn here in the northeast, we’ve only just begun to “replant” for the winter season. And you may note that I used “replant” in quotations.  This is because, after years of experimenting, we think many cold climate gardeners are really better off using cut evergreens and twigs over living plants for winter containers.

From a frugal viewpoint, using living plants seems like a wise investment at first. Indeed, a planted Boxwood, Juniper or Holly will carry on well through December and the first part of January in most winters. It’s mid winter conditions that are the problem. We often lack the benefit of consistent snow cover to blanket roots. Dessicating arctic winds are really cruel to evergreens whether planted in or above ground. Water cannot be taken up when the soil is frozen.

Winterberry, Red-Twig Dogwood, and Euphorbia

If you do have your heart set on using live plants, or you have protected spots or live in milder zones, consider using Dwarf Hinoki Cypress (Chamaecyparis obtusa cultivars) or other hardy conifers such as Dwarf Spruce (Picea) and Arborvitae (Thuja), which tend to be hardy through zones 5, and even 4  or 3. We have had great luck with Dwarf Conifers in troughs, and stress we’re successful because we make sure the soil is sharply drained and have protection from wind. It also doesn’t hurt to use an anti-dessicant.

As far as colorful twigs and branches, thoughts go immediately to the Red and Yellow Twigged Dogwoods (Cornus stolonifera and sanguinea cvs.). These will winter over in pots, but cut material works as well if not better, since one large plant of Twigged Dogwood with many branches would need a rather large container to accomodate its root ball and would be an otherwise underwhelming subject the rest of the year.

Aronia arbutifolia ‘Brillantissima’ with cut greens

There are other options. Consider  planting deciduous plants that are hardy to a zone or two colder than the one you garden in. Since they are deciduous, they do not have to hydrate foliage in winter. This autumn we replanted a large pot using a native plant, Chokeberry a.ka. Aronia arbutifolia ‘Brilliantissima’  for height, fall color and fruit, underplanted with Plectranthus ciliatus and Ivy. For December’s display, we replaced the tender Plectranthus with cut greens and red twig Dogwood, while the Aronia’s dangling red fruit clusters continue to be showy. Our hope is that in early spring the Aronia will bear clusters of white flowers, providing a third season of interest. Since Aronia is hardy to zone 4, (we’re in 6) we expect theres a good chance for that!  (PS..3 years later the Aronia has not only thrived but has needed root pruning and trimming back!)

Other options for deciduous shrubs or small trees that might make good winter container subjects include Witchhazel (Hamamelis) which would provide blossoms in late February, then autumn foliage. Dwarf Columnar Hornbeam, Carpinus betulus Columnaris Nana’   makes a well behaved compact columnar subject that seems to tolerate growing in containers well. It’s too bad that one of our former favorites, Rhamnus frangula ‘Fine Line’ was added to the banned in Massachusetts plant list. It is hardy into zone 3, has great form, texture and size, and for the record, (attention conservationists) we’ve had it on our property for 8 years, and have yet to come across a single seedling.

Have you experimented with multi-season interest plants in your containers? Which ones have worked out well?

Day After Thanksgiving Plans?

As tempting as Black Friday Shopping is (or isn’t), why not plan an alternative activity on the day after Thankgsiving. Have a thermos with hot cider ready and invite a couple of friends or family members to wander about your garden to gather greens and branches for wreaths and decorating. You’re bound to find a varied selection of evergreens and branches, bare but structural, or decorated with berries and seed pods.

Don’t restrict yourself to the traditional selections…Holly, Boxwood and Pine. You’ll be surprised how well unexpected clippings work. Junipers provide blue-gray foliage and often have attractive blue fruit. Chamaecyparis offer a wonderful array of foliage colors ranging from gold through amber, bronze and dark green, and I love clipping the branches that are adorned with artful cones. Consider twigs with interesting bark or an attractive zig zag habit which will twinkle when coated with morning frosts. Red and gold twig dogwoods offer colorful linear accents, while birch branches can often be found dripping with catkins.

Word of caution: When cutting for arrangements, first be sure you observe how your pruning will effect the shape of the plant. Stand back and view the subject from different angles. You can prune/improve the shape of the shrub and have branches for arranging at the same time.

Display these cut branches in an outdoor container ensemble right away or wait. The smaller cuttings need not go to waste; they can be used to construct a wreath for your door. If you?re not quite ready to decorate, the greens and cut branches can be stored in a cool space until needed. Indoor arrangements created now will become quite brittle and shatter by Christmas, so you may want to wait or plan to do two sets of arrangements, one for now and one for later.