Miniature Gardening with Janit Calvo
Oh how we love the miniature and dwarf Mugo Pines for hardy miniature gardening. Most are hardy to -40F. This is a one inch scale garden. The Sedums on the right turn red when stressed and they’ll go back to green when the spring decides to stay. This pot has been together for several years.

~ As our winters get colder and more ruthless in some parts of the country, we are finding ways to garden around the extreme temperatures and endless snow by planting in-ground, choosing hardier plants, and re-thinking of the ways we use plants. New challenges are in every part of the country it seems: drier in the southwest, colder in the southeast, more of everything in the northeast and a lovely combination of no rain/torrential rain here in northwest.

So as we move into spring, here are some changes that I’ve made to avoid disappointment that you might find useful too. I know I’ll keep killing plants as every gardener does – that is part of the journey of being a gardener – I just hope I don’t kill as many of them if I change, or, ahem, adjust the way that I garden.

Miniature Gardening with Janit Calvo
A half-inch scale garden with a Pixie Alberta Dwarf Spruce flushing out for spring. The plants fared well, the pot didn’t. It was one of my most-favorite pots too and I should have protected it over the winter by bringing it under our covered porch and keeping it close to the house. I knew better… I did!

Container vs. In Ground Gardens

When considering what hardy plants to use, note that the difference between gardening in a container and gardening in the ground is about 15 degrees. Plants grown in a container do not have the protection of the earth to keep it insulated, only the walls of the pot which don’t amount too much if Old Man Winter unleashes his fury. For example, the Mont Bruno Boxwood is hardy to Zone 4 or -30F. It was planted in a pot; the tree would only be hardy to -15F or to Zone 6, (USDA Zones.) So choose hardier-than-needed plants for your pots and you may have more success. (Here’s an overwintering blog for future reference.)

Miniature Gardening with

Choose Plants that are Hardier than Your Zone

A fellow gardener chided me on Twitter after I said I’m Zone 5 during a #GardenChat session one Monday night, “You are zone 7.” Not if you take into account the container rule and that’s where I was losing most of my plants over the winter. Zone 7 means hardy to 0 degrees, Seattle’s coldest temperature to date from the 1950s. Seeing how the climate is changing, we just might get there again. But, I think (Yes, “think” – don’t ya love gardening?) despite the plant’s noted hardiness on the tag, if the plant isn’t ready for a drastic dip in temperature, it is not going to survive that cold snap unless it is hardier than we need it to be. So, I’m going to stay at Zone 5 for my plant choices just to see if that will work. Then I won’t have to worry about where I plant it either – in a container or in-ground – in theory.

Miniature Gardening with Janit Calvo
A quarter-inch scale garden with a Dwarf Pagoda Japanese Holly. My in-ground Japanese Hollies fared much better than my potted hollies and I lost several of them this past winter – they are hardy to -20F but they were planted in pots. That’s ground cover Elfin Thyme on the right.

Treat it like an Annual

It’s amazing that we will easily spend $20 on a tray of annual bedding flowers and not consider a tree in the same way. A large portion of our miniature and dwarf conifers are hardy to -20F but in some areas of the country, that is no longer the lowest temperature. So, why not think of that mini garden tree as an annual? Get it into your miniature garden design in early spring and you can enjoy it until the fall. If it overwinters, great! If not, then toss it in the compost and begin again next spring. A $15 tree that will last 5 months works out to cost $3 per month – half the price of a latte that lasts a half hour or a bouquet of cut flowers that only last for 5 days. It’s a bargain!

“You can’t control the direction of the wind,
but you can adjust your sails.”
– adapted quote from Jimmy Dean

So, what about you? Have you made any adjustments on how you chose plants for the changing winters in your area? Please leave a comment below and include where you are and what zone you are in. Don’t know your zone? Here’s the USDA site where you can look it up with your zip code here. Or Google your hardiness zone with your zip code or area code.

And see our unique and specialized collection of plants for miniature gardening up in our online store here. Check back often as our inventory is always changing.

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