Evergreens in containers

(Question)

I would like to plant a small evergreen in my front door urns. Would the plants be able to survive the winter? would you be able to suggest appropriate shrubs for this purpose .
Many thanks for any help you can provide

(Answer)

It is always lovely to see a formal entrance with small evergreens flanking the main door. It is a challenge, however, especially as this past winter of 2013-14 has been very hard on evergreens, many have just died from prolonged exposure and ice. In other words, they may not survive in a metal urn. If you haven’t already purchased urns, perhaps the myriad lined boxes that come in various materials and textures might suit. A lined box will help protect the roots of your plant better than an urn. A good quality garden centre would have many to choose from.

Even so, the plants for these boxes should be slow growing, and fairly compact – often described as “dwarf”. Many people go for the tried and true Alberta Spruce (Picea alba var. Albertiana), as they are often sold in 1 gallon containers. They have fine, green needles, and are naturally a conical shape. Others go for broad-leafed evergreens, such as boxwood (Buxus sp.). They are easily shaped, but also suffer from wind and cold damage.

Some evergreens that grow slowly, and stay under 2 m include:

Sander’s Hinoki (Chamaecyparis obtusa ‘Chabo Yadori/Sanderi) – reaching 2 m,  an upright false cypress with soft, blue green foliage that mature to green, often both at the same time. It has a slight cone shape and takes heat well.

Koster’s False Cypress (C. obtusa ‘Kosteri’) –  reaching 1.2 m, is broadly pyramidal with light green foliage. It is considered ideal for a rock garden.

Mariesi False Cypress (C. obtusa ‘Mariesi’) –  a true dwarf, it reaches about 1m in height. Slow growing, with creamy white and dark green foliage. With sun, the white accent turns  to a golden tone. It is irregularly globe-shaped.

Dwarf Balsam Fir (Abies balsamea ‘Nana’) – Reaches 60cm, but is a more globular shape with dense branches. Small cones are dark purple. Does best in partial shade and lots of water. It is hardy to zone 3, so may perform well in boxes.

The junipers that are dwarf are mostly spreading, rather than tall. However, Juniperus communis ‘Suecicia Major’ is vase shaped and grows to 2 m. The foliage is light green with silver-blue highlights.

Armstrong Juniper (Juniperus x media ‘Armstrongii’) – reaches 1 m, and is upright with green-gray foliage of a lacy texture.

Little Gem Spruce (Picea abies ‘Little Gem’) – Reaches 50 cm, with a dense, compact flat-topped shape. Hardy to zone 3.

Many of these evergreens might have to be special ordered from your local nursery.

If you do use the urns for small evergreens, it might be a good idea for winter to place them in a sheltered location, such as a garage or base of an outdoor staircase, to protect them from severe weather. Be sure to water them in well before freeze-up!