How to Design a Holiday Container

This post is an edited reprint from, the blog of Northern Gardener editor, Mary Lahr Schier.

Nothing says “Happy Holidays” and “Welcome” like an attractive arrangement of greens, branches, flowers, and other decorative items. Designing a holiday pot is not difficult, if you follow a few guides.

holiday container

A great container, some simple greens and colorful twigs is all you need for a holiday container.

Get a nice container. It does not have to be expensive. I’m a big fan of cheap plastic pots that can be painted or covered with paper for a bright look. If you have an attractive, largish pot, use that one. You should also think about where your container will be placed. If you have a dramatic entrance to your home, you need a big pot — or maybe two or three of them. If your house is cozier, a smaller container will look best.

Choose your greens. The best holiday pots involve several kinds of greenery. You can buy mixed bundles or get greens from your yard. (Please do not take greens from public or private property without permission.) You want a mixture of textures–short fir, pines with long needles, spruce. I’ve heard it recommended that a well-balanced container needs 4 to 5 kinds of greens, but 3 kinds looks fine to me.

Choose your extras. In addition to greenery, pick 3 or 4 extras, like flowers, twigs or berries. Again, no need to spend a lot of money. If you have a shrub with tall branches that needs trimming, cut a few. (Last year, I used just red twig dogwood branches in a pot, and it looked wonderful.) Don’t worry about mixing real and fake elements, either. If you’ve got some fake poinsettia flowers, add them to the mix. Extra ornaments? Sure. Get creative. Just don’t overdo it. If you have too many elements in your pot, it will look chaotic.

Do the math. Containers are all about proportion.  For a pot to look “full enough,” the top of the display should be at least 1.5 times the height of the pot. But it can be more, and some designers suggest the top of the display be two times the height of the pot, plus the width of the pot (2H + W = Pretty). So, if your pot is 15 inches across and 12 inches high, the formula would be: [ (2×12) + 15 = 39]. The top point on the container should be about 39 inches above the container.

Start with the greens. To build your container, start by putting potting mix (I use the old stuff from summer) in the container. You want a fast draining material. Then, keeping in mind the angle from which your pot will be viewed, start building a base of greens. Don’t think about this too much. Just cut the greens to the size you want, and stick them in the pot. Start at the outside and move inward. Use several kinds of greens — remember, this is mostly about texture. The contrasting colors and shapes of the greenery provide interest and a substantial backdrop for the contrasting elements to come.

natural elements

Use natural elements to enhance your holiday containers and wreaths.

Add the exciting elements. Once you are satisfied with the scale, size, and texture of the base, add the exciting elements. I like red-twig dogwood branches (because I have them in my yard) for height and color contrast, but you can also add hydrangea blooms, curly willow or other tall branches, gorgeous red silk flowers, a ribbon wound through the greenery, or large pine cones. Berries, ornaments such as woven balls or metal or glass holiday ornaments, berries, spent flowers that still look nice, fruit — the only limits on what you put in your container are your taste, your budget, and your creativity. Make sure your pot has a focal point — a spot you look to right away.

Water the pot. Once your container is completed, water it thoroughly and set it outside to freeze. (Hopefully, the weather will be cold enough for that soon!) The water keeps the elements in the pot healthy and prevents them from blowing away. A container planting like this one can look vibrant and attractive a long time — up until March. You may want to change out some elements to change the theme from holiday to winter.

For more on holiday containers, here are some other blog posts from Mary:

How to Make a Holiday Wreath Like Gov. Dayton’s

How to Make a Holiday Bow (video)

Holiday Containers by the Numbers, parts 1 and 2

Holiday Containers on the Cheap, parts 1 and 2

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