Winter Container: Modern or Traditional?

Winter doesn't have to be a dead time for outdoor containers, even if you live in a cold—or even a very cold—climate! Why not brighten up your porch, front steps or entryway with a cheerful holiday container?

With the help of Duane and Renee Otto, owners of Otto’s FloraDora Nursery in Watertown, Minnesota, we made these outdoor containers in less than an hour. If you can’t find the greens and seed heads mentioned here, use substitutes from your yard or local nursery.

Which container design you choose will depend on your style. Are you a contemporary type? Make the first one with its simple design and clean lines. Feeling more traditional? Try the next. Its big, bold and boisterous and uses numerous natural elements you might have still hanging around your yard.

Contemporary winter container


  • Colorful twigs such as yellow-twig dogwood and redtwig dogwood
  • Florist’s wire and 6-inch florist’s pick, both available at craft stores
  • Pine cones
  • Arborvitae branches (or other evergreens with a feathery texture)


First, add tall redtwig dogwood branches to the center of the container. They should be about twice the height of the container.

Wire pine cones to a 6-inch florist’s pick, then stick the picks into the soil or sand so only the pine cones are showing. The pine cones should form a circle around the redtwig dogwood branches.

Next, add arborvitae branches (or other evergreens with a feathery texture) evenly around the sides of the container, hiding the soil or sand.

For an even more dramatic look, hide white holiday lights deep in the arborvitae, where individual light bulbs can’t be seen but produce a pretty glow.

Traditional winter container


  • Several different types of evergreen branches (we used balsam fir, Japanese yew, American arborvitae, white pine, and wintergreen boxwood)
  • Colorful twigs such as yellow-twig dogwood and redtwig dogwood
  • Plants with interesting seed heads and berries (we used dock, Phragmites ornamental grass, artemesia, hydrangea, and virburnum)
  • Sand or soil


  • In warmer climates, consider this container a temporary holiday decoration, as materials last better in very cold temperatures. In colder regions, freezing preserves the arrangement all season.
  • The fresher the plant materials, the better. Ideally, cut your own from your garden or a friend’s yard. If you must buy evergreens from a nursery or florist, test the branches by shaking them—the fewer green needles fall off, the fresher it is.
  • After a few months, when the evergreens in the arrangement start to fade, remove them and leave only the redtwig and yellow-twig dogwood stems for a classy early-spring look.
  • Do all the arranging and assembly in a cheap plastic pot that you don’t mind getting dirty.
  • When you’re done, place that pot inside a more attractive one. To adjust the height, place blocks of wood or pieces of plastic foam underneath the original pot.


Fill a large container with sand. You can also use soil from last season’s annuals.

For the center of the container, find a strong, straight, upright branch.

Add the same type of branches around the sides, arranging them so they appear to flow over the sides of the container.

If the center looks a bit bare after adding side branches, add a few smaller branches there.

To add texture to the arrangement, add other evergreen branches evenly around the sides.

These branches should be smaller than the first set of evergreen branches you used. Pictured here: Japanese yew, American arborvitae, white pine, and wintergreen boxwood.

Add redtwig dogwood and yellow-twig dogwood stems to both the center and sides of the container.

These stems should be about 1 foot longer than the balsam fir branches.

Next, add dried flower heads, grasses, and branches with berries. Like the dogwood stems, these should be about 1 foot longer than the evergreen branches.

Take a look at the arrangement from all sides. Add branches where there seem to be awkward gaps, and remove branches that seem out of place.

When you’re finished, water thoroughly. The fresh evergreen branches and dogwood twigs will take up some water. Once temperatures drop below freezing, stop watering—the arrangement will last through winter in cold regions.