Easy-Care Winter Arrangment for your Potted Garden. The Potted DesertThis jumbo window box was one of my earliest plantings when I began creating container gardens for commercial clients. I worked largely with restaurants in Tucson with dining patios. This is pictured at the former Elle Restaurant in Broadway Village Plaza at Broadway and Country Club. I think it is now Sushi Garden

A rather frustrating property in the beginning. They had small window boxes. While they were 30” long, they were only six inches wide and about 5 inches deep (soil depth.) As you know, this is not large enough for full-on western exposure in the desert.

After one year of the trials of losing plants over and over, we talked the owner of the Plaza into adding supporting boards to the railings and much larger window boxes. We felt, due to the weight of these jumbo size boxes, we had to use heavy-duty plastic. However, with the additional volume of space, they retained a good amount of moisture. They were on a battery-operated drip system dedicated to these 13 boxes and in the summer, we ran it twice a day.

This Recipe:

This is a combination of a Red Yucca (yes, even in a pot that is on a daily drip system,) burgundy Pansies, white Alyssum, Crystal Palace Lobelia and on the back-left side, pale blue Pansies.
This planter is 40” x 13”. For this size, you would need the following plants:

  1. 1 Red Yucca (one-gallon plant)
  2. 4 White Alyssum (4”)
  3. 2 Crystal Palace Lobelia (4”)
  4. 4 Burgundy Face Pansies (4”)
  5. 4 Pale Blue Pansies (4”)

Since this planter is seen from all sides, plant the Red Yucca in the center and arrange the other plants relatively symmetrically around the planter keeping in mind that the Alyssum and Lobelia should be on the outer walls so it drapes over the rim of the container.

What About the Yucca?Landscape Red Yucca Moon Valley Nursery

You might be asking how I can put a succulent into a container on daily drip irrigation. This was my first experiment with using a Red Yucca this way. Summers on this patio are brutal. The reflected heat from the building walls and solid brick pavement everywhere in the plaza just burned up everything.

Looking for a solution, we finally came to the Red Yucca and trailing Lantana. This was when we still had the 6” planters on the railing. When winter came and it was time to change out the summer plants, I could not discard the Yucca. We decided to give it a try and added winter flowers to the boxes. The Red Yucca held up beautifully!

The following summer, we upgraded the boxes to the jumbo size, transplanting the Yucca into them. They were doing so well, why fix something that is not broken. With these larger boxes and better moisture, we were able to forego the Lantana and add summer flowers to the Yucca.

Desert Summer window box with sweet potato vine and summer flowers. The Potted DesertHere is one of my summer designs. Sweet Potato Vine in Chartreuse and Blackie, Vinca, New Look Celosia (the red plumes) and Nierembergia. The Sweet Potato Vine did wilt some in the worst part of the summer, but it always recovered by morning. You can see how the growth of these plants shaded the soil maintaining a relative degree of coolness. Well, I should say cool but less than the 95°F degrees that we had previously recorded of the soil temperature!

Changing It Up

You can certainly use other combinations for this same planting. As you see from this next picture, we have a series of similarly planted pots running down the railing. The changes are only in the color of the Pansies. There are yellow, melon and baby blue. Yellow is a great contrast to the Crystal Palace Lobelia’s deep blue shade.

Winter Arrangment for your Potted Garden. The Potted Desert

You don’t have to run out and buy window boxes either. I would hate for you to have to figure out where you will place them! Any round, square or rectangular pot will be nice for this arrangement. Think about if the pot will be seen from the front or all around and place the Red Yucca in the back or center depending on this view.

The quantity listed for the window boxes would also fit a 24” pot. An 18” pot would only need the Yucca and two each of Alyssum and Lobelia plus a total of three Pansies.

The pot color is wide open for this design. Anything from organic desert shades to terra cotta, cobalt blue or Chinese red will all be lovely.

Where to place this pot

The flowers in this arrangement are on the smaller side. However, as you see in the photos, there are plentiful flowerheads coming from the individual plants making a bold statement no matter how far away you place it.
These plants will all do best in five hours of sun but, can take the desert winter’s sun for a longer period. All-day sun will be fine for these flowers.

Combine with Other Pots

You might want to combine this arrangement with other pots in a grouping. I advise you to not add an abundance of colors in the other pots. See how nicely the boxes on the railing move the eye along. If you get too busy in a multitude of colors and textures, the eye does not know what to do and will never come to rest. This creates a sense of confusion in your mind rather than calm. You want the combination of colors to bring a smile to your face, even if you stare at it for a while.

Perhaps you can see what I mean in the photoshopped image below. The values of the white are intrusive and the blue just doesn’t go with anything else in the floral colors.

Grouping too many colors in one area.The potted desert


I did say easy-care for these plants. Only the Pansies will need deadheading. Be sure to cut the long stem of the dead flower all the way back to the origination of that stem. If you need to trim the Alyssum, review my article on this plant.

With consistent watering, this jumbo window box will give you beautiful flowers all winter.

Unfortunately, as always, I have to say “However.”
All these flowers do well with the same amount of water. They want to be kept evenly moist, not sodden and definitely not allowed to dry out.

Here is the however. The Lobelia is not cold hardy. It will freeze and probably die at 32°F. If you are in a colder area, you will need to protect it very well or bring it inside. If your nights stay above freezing, it will be OK.

What I want for you is a backyard full of pots this lush and full and, well – happy.

There are many methods to be learned to make this happen. I hope to teach you all the methods that come from, “However.” I don’t want you to have to go through years of failures to have a garden like this.


Do you feel like you are throwing away your money?Did this article help you plan your container garden?

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