The Problem with the Patio.

When we first moved in to this house there was a rotting deck in the front of the house that we promptly demolished (see below). We didn’t like how small the deck was and how confined it felt, not to mention the views from both the house and the deck (when seated) were lackluster at best.

We had concrete poured and enlarged the overall usable space- a vast improvement! We built the stairs down to from the doors good and wide to be a platform and showcase for potted plants. While we were at it, as you can clearly see we removed or relocated the overgrown daylilies and shrubs too.

But the problem is that this patio space- which we really love and are very happy with- gets full blazing sun and is in an oddly prominent location. This makes it hard hard to get the sort of lush, relaxing retreat one would like their patio to be. The years it has looked its best were the years I still had the two large Abyssinian Banana plants- but to get that look and feel means 75% of the year babying two giant houseplants just for a few months of glory in the summer. Its a loosing battle and leads to crowded Christmas dinners where guests have to duck leaves to get to the table. Not great Bob!

We’ve been kicking around the idea of ways to get that lush feeling with trees or shrubs that would be hardy enough to be left outside in their pots all winter long. We’d be able to move them as needed and they would give the vertical structure & greenery the space is crying out for. The pots themselves would also provide extra planting space but with the bonus of a large reservoir of dirt that will be less likely to dry out as quickly as smaller ones do.

A bit of research showed that this is indeed possible! And that it can look good!

Image result for potted trees patio
Birch trees in Containers at Wise Acres, in Minneapolis, MN - More images at
This is from Thinking Beyond the Boxwood and is from a location in Minnesota!

Now, the general rule for overwintering containers is that the plant needs to be a full 2 zones hardier than your area. For us, in the already chilly zone 4 that feels like a bit of a challenge, but I was pleasantly surprised by the number of options that are hardy down to zone 2 (for the record, this means plants are hardy down to temperatures of -45 to -50F!!!).

  • Birch
  • Dolgo (and a few select varieties) Crabapple
  • Concolor Fir
  • Shrubby Dogwood
  • Lilac
  • Showy Mountain Ash
  • Maples (native/non-Japanese types)
  • Oaks

Being frugal-yet-keen-to-experiment I don’t want to splash out $100+ for each tree only to wait to see if the winter kills them off. I’m inclined to start with something like the lilac, dogwoods, or use some smaller trees that we can get on the cheap from the State Nursery Program. We already have a few Birch on order, as well as some Redosier Dogwoods so I may just pilfer a few for this experiment since they are easily hardy to Zone 2.

We will obviously not be using terracotta or ceramic pots since the intention is to leave them out all winter, instead we’ll be favoring the formed foam/resin ones you can get at places like Sam’s Club or Target. We will also have to add some weight to the bottoms to help avoid wind-aided tip overs. But these will weather the winter nicely and do a good job not letting moisture evaporate too quickly.

We know that these potted trees won’t be a forever solution, but we are more than happy to get 3-5 years out of them in pots on the patio and then transplant them out into the yard or woods when they outgrow the pots. Then, we can try something new!

We would also like to try a climbing hydrangea up our rather massive chimney. Clematis would do really well here, but we’re reticent to tamper with the bricks installing trellises or wires and even the biggest ones will be dwarfed by the massive chimney (its over 30 ft tall), although I do have a few picked out as a Plan B. I’ve read enough information about climbing hydrangeas to feel comfortable putting one in full sun and it will climb up the chimney on its own, given time as they are well known to be slow goers at first, making short work of all that height.

I’d be properly chuffed if we could end up with something like this. It would go a long way towards softening the harsh, contemporary lines of our house and add a bit of interest through the growing season.

These sorts of plans and projects do quite a bit for my morale this time of year and I’ll be very excited to start executing it as soon as the temperatures warm up. I can’t wait to post updates! What projects are you formulating and working on for the coming Spring?


4 thoughts on “The Problem with the Patio.”

  1. For more ideas you can attend the Eau Claire Garden Club’s workshop on March 7th presented by Lisa Orgler called Planting Design Basics.


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