Would you like to perk up your garden this winter? This guide to the best winter plants for pots has lots of gorgeous plant suggestions to inspire you.
What are the best plants for winter pots?
This post covers twenty five plants for winter pots that will give you a fabulous floral display or provide foliage and interest throughout the coldest months. There are also lots of tips on planting and caring for your winter containers so they really put on a show for you, plus a guide to the best tools for container gardening to help you get organised.
Why you should grow plants in pots in winter
Winter is a time of year when we tend to use our gardens less. The days are shorter, the weather can be uninviting, and lots of plants shut down until spring arrives again.
Having said that, we’re all much more used to using our outdoor spaces regardless of the weather these days. As a result, you’re probably keener than ever to make your garden look good all year round. Your garden can make up a significant proportion of your home’s available space; when you think about it from this angle, it makes no sense to stop using it just because the season has changed!
If your winter garden is in need of a lift, growing winter flowering plants in pots is a simple and relatively low-cost way to create colour and interest. Growing plants in containers has many other benefits too.
Benefits of growing winter flowering plants in pots
For starters, gardening in containers can be very low maintenance. Looking after a plant in a pot is quicker and easier than dealing with an entire border. This is a particularly useful aspect of container gardening in winter, when you might prefer not to linger outdoors. If you’re short on time, focusing your efforts on container plants can allow you to quickly create a beautiful display that doesn’t take hours to look after.
If you don’t have much gardening experience, starting as a container gardener is an ideal way to ease yourself in. Growing plants in pots allows you to work on a small scale, then move onto bigger displays as you gain confidence and learn more.
That small scale gardening is also perfect if you don’t have much outdoor space. You can use pots and hanging baskets to create wow factor in the tiniest of spaces. You don’t even need a garden. You can squeeze a pot onto a window ledge, balcony, or doorway, and use hanging pots or stacking planters to create a vertical display.
When it comes to beginner gardening for kids, containers are ideal here too. Again, the smaller scale makes things easier, and it’s fun to give them their very own pot to look after. The container itself has lots of potential for nature play as well. Kids can personalise it with paints or chalk, make their own plant markers, or upcycle household objects to create unique decorations.
Another big plus for gardening in pots is their portability. If your plants aren’t thriving or you’d like to rearrange your display, you can easily move containers around. And if you rent your property or are planning on moving, you can take them with you!
Where should I put my winter containers?
You might be wondering whether it’s OK to grow plants in containers in winter when temperatures can get pretty low. The key to creating a beautiful winter container display is to choose hardy outdoor plants for pots, and get the location right for those specific plants. This last element is often referred to as ‘right plant, right place’.
The concept of ‘right plant, right place’ is very simple. If you embrace it, you stand a better chance of growing happy, healthy plants. The knock-on effect of this is a gorgeous garden that you can enjoy at any time of year.
All plants have specific conditions that they will grow well in. This is true whether you grow them in the ground, or in a pot. If you put your winter container somewhere that provides the ideal conditions for the plants, you take a big step towards making sure those plants thrive.
Conversely, if you put your winter plants in a spot that provides conditions they don’t like, you will limit their ability to do well.
Some plants enjoy full sun, some prefer full shade, and some are happy with partial shade. Your plants might prefer a sheltered spot, or be fine with weathering the elements. You may need to provide soil with good drainage, or water frequently. All of these things will vary according to the type of plant you’re growing.
To work out the ideal conditions for a particular plant, start by checking the care label. If there isn’t one, or it doesn’t have much information on it, you can use a plant identification app or look it up online.
Once you know how to make your plant happy, you’re ready to work out the perfect spot in the garden for your winter container.
Annual vs. perennial plants
Before you buy any outdoor plants for pots, it’s worth understanding the difference between annual and perennial plants.
Annual plants will grow, flower and die in one growing season (or year). This means you have to replace them regularly.
Perennial plants continue to grow year on year, so you won’t need to replace them very often. Some varieties of perennial plant die back in winter and have a dormant phase before emerging again in spring, while others are evergreen.
It’s absolutely fine to grow annual and perennial plants in pots. You can also combine the two in the same pot.
Most plants sold for container planting are annual plants. You will probably see them referred to as ‘bedding plants’ in garden centres and online. As you can imagine, relying on annual plants for your containers can quickly work out more expensive than using perennials.
A good approach is to go for a combination of annual and perennial plants in your containers. This allows you to keep costs down, but still refresh your display of outdoor plants in pots with seasonal plants.
When should I plant winter bedding plants?
The best time to plant winter bedding plants is late autumn and early winter. Planting containers at this point will give your plants time to become established, and give a natural progression from your late summer and early autumn flowering plants.
If you’re reading this later in winter, don’t worry. You can plant winter bedding plants throughout the winter months, and into early spring too. Obviously the later you plant, the longer it will take your plants to grow bigger and get established.
The best winter plants for pots and hanging baskets
Ready to get started on your winter flower pots? Here are some fantastic winter plants for containers and hanging baskets that will help you create a show-stopping display.
There are sections for flowering plants, bulbs, foliage plants and shrubs, with twenty five gorgeous varieties to inspire you.
Flowering winter plants for pots
When it comes to winter flowering plants for pots, there are a lot of great options to choose from. Here are some perfect flowering plants to grow in winter containers and winter hanging baskets.
Winter flowering Pansies & Violas
You can’t have a list of winter plants for pots without pansies and violas! They’re inexpensive, and readily available in a wide range of colours. These tough little plants are a great option for bulking out your displays and adding a shot of cheery colour right through winter. Deadhead them regularly for best results (scroll down to find out how to do this).
Another must-have for a winter pot, cyclamen will cope admirably with winter conditions and bloom from autumn right through to spring. Some cyclamen varieties need to be grown indoors, so make sure you go for Cyclamen hederifolium or Cyclamen coum for your outdoor pots.
When you decide to refresh your containers, you can transfer your cyclamen plants to a shady spot in the garden. They look particularly good alongside ferns and other woodland plants.
If you’re wondering ‘What can I plant now for winter colour?’, then primroses could be the plant for you.
Pay a visit to any garden centre in winter, and you’re pretty much guaranteed to find a big display of primroses. They’re often available in strong colours, so if you like the idea of a powerful display they make a good, low-cost filler for your pots. If you’re gardening with kids, those bright colours are always a big hit too.
Heather plants will give your winter pots lots of texture. Choose from a subtle white or cream variety, or go for a big hit of colour with shades of pink and purple. Heather is a good choice if you want to garden for wildlife too, and will provide a source of nectar and pollen for pollinating insects at a time of year when other plants haven’t really got going. As such, it’s a fantastic plant for a bee friendly garden.
Heathers prefer to grow in acidic soil, so to give them the best conditions you should aim to plant them in *ericaceous compost.
Ornamental kale & cabbage
Ornamental kale and ornamental cabbages may look similar to their edible cousins, but they don’t taste great! They do however look wonderful when combined with other winter plants. Use them to add a modern, unusual twist to a pot display.
Bulbs for winter pots
If you’re looking to plant a winter container that’s thrifty and low-effort, but that also looks amazing, you should definitely include some flower bulbs.
Lots of flowering bulbs really put on a show in spring, but some varieties get going in late winter. These early bloomers are a fantastic way to keep your containers looking good until the spring flowers take over.
If you’re not very confident about growing bulbs, I’ve got a whole blog post on planting bulbs that will help you get it right.
Here are some suggestions for ideal bulbs to grow with winter plants in pots.
These compact varieties of Iris are one of the first bulbs to flower in late winter, making them a fantastic choice if you’d like to keep your winter planters going right into spring. Popular varieties include Pauline, Harmony and Frozen Planet (icy white).
Irises look gorgeous planted on their own in a pot, or you can mix them in with winter bedding plants to create extra impact. You can also ‘force’ iris bulbs to flower early indoors; my post on forcing bulbs indoors shows you how to do it.
Another great bulb for a winter display, *winter aconites will create a cheery clump of sunny yellow winter flowers. Pollinating insects love them too.
Early flowering and really low maintenance plants, crocus are a great option for winter potted plants. You’re spoilt for choice with varieties; there are shades of purple, cream, yellow and white, plus a range of heights to suit your pot.
*Crocus bulbs work well in a bulb lasagne too, this is a clever way to layer up bulbs in a pot and top them with bedding plants to create a display that lasts for months. My post on planting a bulb lasagne shows you how to do it.
Snowdrops are often the first flowers we see in the garden towards the end of winter, and as such they can bring a taste of the spring to come when you plant them in winter pots.
*Snowdrop bulbs are usually planted in autumn, but you can also buy them as plants in late winter. This is often called buying them ‘in the green’.
Hyacinths really deliver on flowers and fragrance, making them a great addition to a winter flowering container.
Like irises, you can ‘force’ *hyacinths for early indoor blooms. However you plant them, make sure you wear gloves while handling the bulbs, as they can cause skin irritation.
Winter foliage plants for pots
Foliage plants are an important part of a winter container display. They can provide texture, height and structure to your arrangement, and if you choose the right variety they can be a showstopper in their own right too.
Here are my favourite foliage plants for winter pots.
Heucheras are fantastic foliage plants for winter containers. They flower in the summer, but it’s their leaves that we’re really interested in for winter.
You can get hold of *heuchera plants in a range of colours, which makes it easy to complement your planting scheme with these foliage stunners.
If you’re looking for trailing winter plants for pots, ivy is a great choice. Ivys are great plants for hanging pots too.
Ivy can be a bit of a thug in the garden, crowding out other plants and generally taking over. Growing it in a container avoids all of this, allowing you to enjoy it’s beautiful leaves without the hassle. Ivy is a fabulous winter source of food and shelter for pollinating insects and local wildlife too.
The trailing habit of ivy is particularly useful for softening the edges of a container or hanging basket. It’s also a clever way to create a bigger container display from the same size of pot.
This is one of my favourite foliage plant for pots outdoors – my garden is full of it! Cineraria has silver-white foliage with a soft tactile surface, and it provides a beautiful textured backdrop for your flowering plants. In my experience it’s a tough little plant too, so if you trim it back regularly you might find that it’s an element of your containers that you don’t need to replace.
I love using this foliage plant in containers too. It’s super-tough, but the silvery stems look delicate and frothy; it always makes me think of coral. A great plant for contrasting with deep purple flowers or foliage.
An ornamental grass is a great choice for a pot display, and if you choose an evergreen variety you can enjoy it as part of your winter planters.
*Festuca glauca has slim, blue-green blades and forms a neat, compact dome of foliage. I think it works particularly well in contemporary container planters.
This upright grass is ideal for giving a pot structure and height. There’s a range of colours to choose from, including varieties that incorporate yellows, pinks, and deep burgundy.
While *Phormiums are pretty tough plants, it’s a good idea to grow them in a sheltered spot in winter.
Winter flowering shrubs for containers
Don’t ignore shrubs when it comes to your pots. There are lots of lovely compact varieties that will provide you with flowers, structure or interest in winter. Here are some great varieties to try.
This one isn’t strictly a flowering plant, but the berries more than make up for that. With its glossy evergreen leaves and bright red berries, Japanese skimmia is a brilliant plant to liven up a winter pot.
To guarantee those lovely berries, you need to buy a female plant (such as ‘Nymans’, ‘Temptation’ or ‘Kew White’), and also have a male plant (such as ‘Rubella’ or ‘Kew Green’) nearby.
If you need a smaller berried plant, *Wintergreen (also known as partridge berry, checkerberry and Gaultheria procumbens) is perfect. It’s dainty and low-growing, and will give your pots a festive feel.
Another perfect candidate for low maintenance outdoor potted plants. This lovely perennial plant will flower from midwinter onwards, providing delicate but impressive blooms at a time when most other plants are still dormant.
*Hellebores are available in shades of white, pink, purple and even apricot, and are perfectly capable of dealing with cold, frost and snowy conditions. Combine them with other plants, or stick to a hellebore-only container for a simple but stunning effect.
Winter flowering clematis
If you’d like to grow a climbing plant in a pot for a winter display, take a look at winter flowering clematis. Great varieties are *Clematis cirrhosa ‘Freckles’ and *Clematis urophylla ‘Winter Beauty’.
Winter clematis will benefit from some shelter. Try to grow them close to the house or against a house wall, where they will enjoy the slightly warmer temperatures.
Winter flowering honeysuckle
Winter honeysuckles are another option for climbing plants for pots. Lonicera fragrantissima or Lonicera x purpusii ‘Winter Beauty’ both have creamy white flowers and that incredible honeysuckle fragrance.
To get the best out of climbing shrubs for pots, make sure the container has access to an *obelisk, trellis or other type of plant support.
Camellias make fantastic low maintenance evergreen plants for pots. You can choose from shades of red, white, pink and cream, all with shiny green leaves and stunning flowers.
You need to grow camellias in acidic soil, so go for *ericaceous compost to keep them happy. If you can use rainwater to water them, they will be even more content. Camellias also enjoy a more sheltered location; an easy way to provide this is to position them near the house.
Photinia ‘Little Red Robin’
If you’re planting a large winter container, this evergreen shrub will make a great addition. It will put on a show with bright red leaves that change to deep green as they mature. In spring you get white flowers too.
Another good option for a larger pot, *sweet box (Sarcococca confusa) has dense evergreen foliage and produces an abundance of delicate white flowers from midwinter onwards. The flowers are highly fragranced too, so make sure you position it somewhere that you walk past regularly to make the most of the gorgeous scent.
Daphne Odora ‘Aureomarginata’
Still on the fragrant theme, the flowers on *Daphne Odora ‘Aureomarginata’ are pale pink and deliver a huge hit of fragrance. It needs a large pot as it can reach heights of 1.5 metres, but it will definitely earn its space.
Should I repot my plants after buying?
Unless you’re buying a ready-made container display, you should always repot your plants after you’ve bought them.
The plants will most likely have reached the limits of their pots, and will benefit from a bigger container and access to more compost.
Take the pot off the plant, and you’ll probably see that the roots are filling up the space. If the roots have grown out of the drainage holes at the bottom of the pot, this is another sign that the plant is ready to move on!
Basic tools for container gardening
When it comes to tools, gardening in containers is pretty low-tech. However, there are some basic tools that you should consider getting hold of to make things easier and help your plants do well.
A *hand trowel will come in handy for planting, re-potting and weeding.
If you’d prefer to protect your hands, *gardening gloves are a must. There are lots of different sizes and materials out there, but for me the most important thing is to find a pair that allows your hands to move well while you’re wearing them.
A pair of *secateurs are ideal for pruning your plants and removing dead flower heads. If you’ve chosen plants for small pots you might prefer a pair of *snips – these are fantastic for deadheading too.
And finally, a *watering can is pretty essential. Go for one that has a ‘rose’ head attachment, this will prevent you accidentally flooding your pots. A *mini watering can is a good option for smaller containers – and you can use it on your houseplants as well.
Don’t forget your pots and hanging baskets too!
Choosing containers for hardy outdoor potted plants
When you’re choosing your pots, stick to these two rules.
- Make sure there are drainage holes in the bottom. If you’ve fallen in love with a pot that doesn’t have drainage holes, you will need to either make your own holes, or add an inner plant pot with drainage holes.
- Choose a pot that’s the right size for your plants. How many do you want to put in it? How big are they going to get? Ideally you should go for a pot that’s big enough for at least a year, to keep your plants happy and save you from having to repot them regularly.
The rest of the decision-making process is absolutely up to you. There’s a huge amount of choice out there and you can easily find a colour, shape, style and material to suit your own tastes and the look of your outdoor space.
It’s also well worth considering a spot of upcycling here; so many household items make great plant pots. Here are a few ideas to get you started.
- An old teapot
- A chimney pot
- A kitchen colander
- An old sink
- A storage crate
- An old pair of wellies
- A watering can
The best compost for outdoor container plants
If you’re growing plants in pots, it’s really important to give them good compost.
Plants that grow in the ground can easily access the nutrients they need in the soil around them. Plants grown in containers however are restricted by the pot, and as a result they will eventually exhaust the nutrients available. When this happens, your plants will start to look less healthy and may struggle to grow.
To avoid the problem of starved winter container plants, always use a good quality *peat-free compost.
You should be fine to use general-purpose compost for the majority of your container plants, but some plants do need a particular type of compost in order to grow well. The plant label should tell you if this is the case.
There is also compost available that has been specifically designed to support plants grown in pots and baskets. This type of compost is usually enriched with slow-release fertiliser and water-retaining crystals. As well as helping your plants to thrive, it’s a good option if you’re keen to keep the plant maintenance to a minimum, or you’re not very confident about taking care of your pots.
How to plant a winter container
Once you’ve got your plants, your pots, and your tools, you’re ready to create some beautiful seasonal displays. Here’s a quick guide to planting outdoor pots for winter.
- Start by adding a layer of ‘crocks’ (these are simply broken pieces of an old pot) or small stones to the bottom of your pot. This will help excess water to drain away.
- Add compost to your pot until it’s almost full.
- Carefully remove each plant from its pot – try to avoid damaging the roots. A good way to do this is to slide your fingers around the base of the plant, then tip the plant over and ease the pot away with your other hand.
- Arrange your plants on top of the compost. You can move them around until you’re happy with the layout. It’s a good idea to position taller plants at the back of the pot, and make sure any trailing plants are near an edge so they can spill over.
- When you’re happy with your layout, fill in any gaps around the plants with more compost.
- Finish by watering your pot, and pop it in its final position.
Care tips for winter plants in pots
Caring for your beautiful winter plants display is pretty low-effort. Focus on these key areas, and you’ll be giving your plants the best chance of doing well.
Feeding winter plants in pots
As I’ve already mentioned, a container plant will eventually use up all the nutrients in the compost. To stop this being a problem, you can feed your plants regularly with a general-purpose plant food.
You can choose the format of your plant food to suit your own preference. A *concentrated liquid needs to be diluted before you use it (the packaging will tell you how to do this), so you will need a watering can for this option. Plant food is also available in *granule form which you add to your compost when planting, and *ready-to-use liquid feed which you simply pour into your pot. If you’re nervous about getting the feeding right, the last option is definitely the easiest, but bear in mind it’s probably also the most expensive and least eco-friendly way to feed your plants.
If you’re keen on sustainable gardening or are gardening on a budget, you can have a go at making your own plant feed from nettle or comfrey leaves. This is a particularly good option if you like to garden organically. This video shows you how to make natural plant food:
Watering outdoor potted plants in winter
Plants grown in containers will dry out faster than plants grown in the ground, for a couple of reasons. Firstly, there’s a limit to the amount of water that the compost can retain. Plus, the sides of the pot get exposed to warmer temperatures than the ground, this heats up the compost which in turn causes more evaporation.
You might not need to water your container plants at all during winter, but it’s still a good idea to check the soil regularly. To do this, simply poke your finger into the surface; if it feels dry, you need to water your plants.
Winter plants for pots: the importance of drainage
While it’s important to make sure your plants aren’t too dry, it’s also crucial to prevent your pots from getting too damp.
The majority of plants really dislike having their roots in a puddle of water. Soggy roots can quickly rot, and this will kill your plant. This is particularly relevant in colder months, when water is much less likely to evaporate and the weather is generally more wet. In addition, excess water can freeze, which is also really bad news for plant roots.
The way to avoid this problem is to do everything you can to allow excess water to drain out of your containers.
Those drainage holes I keep going on about play a big role here – so choose your containers for your winter displays carefully.
Putting crocks or stones in the bottom of your container will also help with drainage.
You can also improve the drainage of your compost by adding materials such as grit or *perlite. This creates a more open soil structure which allows water to drain more effectively, resulting in better drained soil.
Another simple way to avoid soggy containers is to use *pot feet or bricks to lift your pots off the ground. Leaving your pots on the ground makes them more likely to become waterlogged in winter. Raising them up an inch or two will help water to drain away more easily.
How to keep your winter flowering plants blooming
Would you like to get as many flowers as possible from your winter plants? Of course you would!
Deadheading is a brilliant way to make sure your winter plants in pots give you a long-lasting display of flowers. The added bonus is it’s really quick and easy to do.
Deadheading is all about removing flowers that are dead, drooping, or forming seed heads. Taking these off the plant prevents it from setting seed, which in turn stimulates it to grow more flowers.
You should aim to deadhead your plants regularly, this will help to create a steady supply of blooms. It’s the kind of gardening job you can tackle whenever you’ve got a couple of spare minutes, so it’s not hard to fit it in.
How do I protect my potted plants in the winter?
By choosing plants that are happy to grow outdoors in winter, you will go a long way towards keeping your potted plants healthy.
One of the key things to pay attention to is drainage, which we’ve already covered. Getting the water levels right in your containers is really important in winter, so make sure you stay on top of this by checking your pots on a regular basis.
If your plants look like they’re struggling, you can try moving the pot to a more sheltered spot such as near a house wall or away from wind.
Can you leave potted plants outside in the winter?
If you’ve chosen winter hardy container plants, they should be OK outside in winter. If, however, you have tender plants in pots, it’s a good idea to move them to a more sheltered location until the weather warms up again. My post on protecting plants from frost and cold weather covers this in more detail and talks about plants that can survive winter outside.
And that’s it! Everything you need to know about the best outdoor winter plants for pots, and how to take care of them. I hope this guide has inspired you to create some fabulous winter plant displays – tell me what plants are on your wish list in the comments 🙂
More container gardening ideas and resources
If you’d like some more ideas for container gardening and plant inspiration, I’ve got you covered.
I’ve got a whole post on the best plants for winter hanging baskets that will help you to grow a stunning hanging container display.
My post on low maintenance plants for outdoor pots has lots of suggestions for the best plants for pots to get show stopping displays with minimal effort.
If you like the idea of growing edible plants in containers, check out my post on easy vegetables to grow in pots.
If planting seeds is your thing, you might like my post on easy flowers to grow from seed.
And finally, my series on gardening jobs for each month is a great way to keep yourself organised!
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