Winter is often viewed as 'down time' in the garden, with little to do but wait until spring. Not so. There are many winter plants for the garden, particularly when used in seasonal pot and container displays.
Bright flowers, vivid berries, evergreen foliage and colourful stems can all be combined to great effect. With the right plants you can create a high-impact but low-maintenance scheme, to lift the spirits on even the darkest of days.
For a bee-friendly container, opt for plants with a generous supply of nectar, like crocus, hellebores and snowdrops. Sitting in a frost pocket? Try growing robust plants like Hakonechloa macra, Hylotelephium spectabile and Calamagrostis x acutiflora 'Karl Foerster'.
Before you plant, remember to make sure your pots are winter ready, too. Clay or terracotta pots are prone to cracking in frost so either avoid using these for your winter displays or look for frost-proof pots and containers. Plastic, fibreglass, wooden and treated terracotta and clay are all good materials for winter pots. Look for pots labelled frost-proof rather than frost resistant which can still crack when temperatures plummet.
Raising pots up by standing them on blocks or pot 'feet' over the winter will also allow water to drain away, prevent them becoming waterlogged and help to reduce the risk of frost damage.
Best Winter Flowering Plants for Pots
Height x Spread: 15cm x 8cm
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Checkerberry, Gaultheria procumbens
Checkerberry (Gaultheria procumbens) is a naturally festive-looking, neat, low-spreading evergreen with large red berries and reddish-tinged leaves in winter.
H x S: 30cm x 1.5m
Winter-flowering pansies with yellow, maroon, white or purple 'faces' will keep flowering except in the very worst weather. But they will recover and then continue until June.
H x S: 20cm x 30cm
Hardy cyclamen (Cyclamen hederifolium and Cyclamen coum) are neat, free-flowering plants, perfect for growing at the base of trees and shrubs or naturalising in grass. They work well in winter pot displays, and can be planted into the garden after they have flowered.
H x S: 8cm x 10cm
Carex are tuft-forming evergreen perennials with green, variegated or bronze, curly or arching leaves. Very tough and contemporary, and will look good all winter.
H x S: 20cm x 30cm
H x S: 75cm x 75cm
Phormium is a colourful architectural evergreen with arched strap-shaped leaves in pink, purplish and bronzy shades, including stripes. A good mixer for contemporary schemes.
H x S: 1m x 1.2m
H x S: 20cm x 80cm
The Christmas rose, Helleborus niger, bears large, round, white flat-faced flowers above low-growing mounds of leathery, deep green foliage.
H x S: 45cm x 45cm
With wiry stems clothed in evergreen needles, usually deep green but sometimes in other shades, winter heathers are usually derived from Erica carnea, which grows wild in the Alps and other cool mountainous regions.
H x S: 25cm x 30cm
Colourful container displays to try
Cornus, carex and sedum
This zingy, low-maintenance display adds a ray of sunshine all through winter, with swaying grasses and bold uprights. Extend the display into spring by underplanting pansies with dwarf narcissi or other bulbs.
- Buy cornus from Crocus
- Buy Anemanthele lessoniana from Crocus
- Buy Carex oshimensis 'Evergold' from Crocus
Ophiopogon and cornus
This scheme combines the glossy, evergreen foliage of black mondo, Ophiopogon planiscapus 'Nigrescens' with the pale greens of the cornus and winter heather.
We used: Ophiopogon planiscapus 'Nigrescens', Cornus sericea 'Flaviramea' and Erica carnea 'Aurea'.
- Buy Ophiopogon planiscapus from Crocus
- Buy Cornus sericea 'Flaviramea' from Crocus
- Buy Erica carnea from Crocus
Ideal in a sunny corner, on a wide gatepost or doorstep, this mix of hardy houseleeks adds an exotic touch. Top-dress with gravel to raise the leaves off the damp compost and prevent crown rot.
This aged wooden trough has been upcycled and given a new lease of life. It's planted up with a range of perennials and small shrubs providing flowers, scent, seedheads, berries and more.
- Buy Skimmia japonica 'Rubella' from Crocus
- Buy Gaultheria procumbens from Crocus
- Buy Bergenia from Crocus
Festuca, santolina, gaultheria and ivy
Whatever the temperature, these elegant ice maidens make an eye-catching display. Replace the white-berried gaultheria with white hyacinths in spring. Remove berries that go brown to keep it looking good.
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Cyclamen, carex and skimmia
These sumptuous carmine cyclamens pop out all the more when planted alongside a the more muted carex and skimmia. A miniature ivy allowed to tumble over helps to soften any hard edges.
We used: Cyclamen 'Mini Gem', Skimmia japonica 'Thereza', Carex oshimensis 'Evergold', miniature ivy.
Kale, sage, rosemary and Chilean guava
The Chilean guava likes acid soil, so keep it in a pot of ericaceous compost and sink into the larger container. Keep these edibles near the kitchen door. Protect the Chilean guava from frost in a sheltered spot, porch or cool greenhouse.
We used: kale 'Redbor', Chilean guava (Ugni molinae), rosemary, purple sage (Salvia).
Hellebore, holly and ivy
For this container you'll need winter-flowering hellebores, such as Helleborus x ericsmithii, Helleborus niger or Helleborus x sahinii. We've combined it with a variegated holly and plain ivy to complement the white flowers.
We used: Helleborus niger, Hedera helix and Ilex aquifolium 'Silver Queen'.
Nandina, heuchera and berberis
This richly coloured display provides a warm welcome on a doorstep. In spring, compost the violas and replant the rest in your borders.
- Buy berberis from Crocus
- Buy Nandina domestica 'Fire Power' from Crocus
- Buy Saxifraga from Crocus
- Buy heucheras from Crocus
Heather, cyclamen and euphorbia
This container is packed with warm, burnished tones – perfect for midwinter colour. On sunny days, you may spot bees visiting the heather flowers.