Best winter flowering shrubs

Wintersweet (Chimonanthus praecox)

Hardy shrubs that bloom in winter are a wonderful investment, performing year after year to cheer the dark, gloomy, winter days. Winter flowers can be a lifeline for bees and other pollinators during mild spells, and most of the plants on our list are pollinator friendly. Some have a compact growing habit and are perfect for pots to brighten patios and soil-less spots, while others grow large and need to be sited in garden borders or as single specimens. While most of our chosen winter-flowering shrubs are tough and hardy to grow in the UK, there are several that need nurturing in a sunny spot, protected from cold winds. As always, choosing the right plant for the right place is key to success.

Best winter flowering evergreen shrubs

 

Mahonia

<em>Mahonia</em> x <em>media</em> 'Winter Sun'
Mahonia x media ‘Winter Sun’

Mahonia bears long racemes of bright yellow flowers with a lovely lily-of-the-valley fragrance, from mid- to late winter. Most mahonias, such as the popular variety ‘Charity’ and Mahonia japonica, have large, architectural, pinnate leaves with spiny tips and are borne on tall, sturdy stems up to 3m high, though a new variety ‘Soft Caress’ (Mahonia eurybracteata subsp. ganpinensis ‘Soft Caress’) is spine-free and much more compact, to 1m high.

Height x Spread: variable

 

Viburnum tinus

Viburnum tinus
Viburnum tinus flowers

Viburnum tinus bears clusters of white flowers that are pink in bud, produced for months through winter. The blooms contrast well with the dark, evergreen, oval leaves. Hardy and easy to grow, this is a popular choice for screening and informal hedges as well as for borders. Varieties include compact growing ‘Eve Price’, and ‘Gwenillan’ that has a deeper pink flush. Grow in sun or part shade.

H x S: 3m x -2m

 

Winter jasmine (Jasminum nudiflorum)

Jasminum nudiflorum flowers
Jasminum nudiflorum flowers

While not strictly evergreen, the stems of winter jasmine remain green all winter, providing the perfect foil for its masses of bright yellow flowers from November through to late winter. Winter jasmine is tough, hardy, and suitable for sun or shade. Either train this versatile shrub up vertical supports, allow to trail down a bank or tumble from a raised bed. Trim back the flowered shoots as soon as flowering has finished to encourage bushy growth.

H x S: 1.8m x 1.8m

Best scented winter flowering shrubs

 

Viburnum x bodnantense

Pink flowers of Viburnum x bodnantense 'Dawn'
Pink flowers of Viburnum x bodnantense ‘Dawn’

This deciduous shrub bears clusters of fragrant pink or white flowers on bare stems. The variety ‘Dawn’ is deep pink in bud, opening to white flowers flushed with pink. It needs plenty of space to grow in a border, in sun or partial shade.

H x S: 3m x 1.8m

 

Daphne bholua

Pink flowers of Daphne bholua 'Jacqueline Postill'
Pink flowers of Daphne bholua ‘Jacqueline Postill’

Daphne bholua is an upright branching shrub with oval leaves that are evergreen or semi-evergreen, depending on the variety. It bears clusters of gorgeously fragrant pink or white flowers in winter and early spring. Grow in moist but well-drained soil in sun to partial shade.

H x S: 1.8 m x 1.2 m

 

Chinese witch hazel (Hamamelis)

Hammamelis (witch hazel) flowers
Hammamelis (witch hazel) flowers

This large, deciduous shrub provides glowing blooms, lovely scent, and brilliant autumn leaf colour. Witch hazels are fairly slow growing but do eventually reach a good size, so plant with this in mind. If necessary to restrict growth, prune just after the flowers fade. Hamamelis varieties come with orange, red, or yellow flowers, with the latter standing out best in the winter gloom. A top choice is ‘Pallida’ that bears a profusion of bright lemon-yellow, delightfully fragrant flowers.

H x S: up 3m x 3m

 

Winter-flowering honeysuckles

Winter honeysuckle, Lonicera fragrantissima
Winter honeysuckle, Lonicera fragrantissima

While shrubby winter blooming Lonicera species share the same name as the popular climbing honeysuckle, these are very different indeed. There are three varieties to choose from: Lonicera fragrantissima, Lonicera x purpusii and Lonicera standishii. They all form medium-sized rounded bushes of woody, twiggy stems, from which tiny, white or cream blooms form on bare stems. Grow them towards the back of a border, as these shrubs have no special ornamental value when not in flower.

H x S: to 2m x 2m

 

Wintersweet (Chimonanthus praecox)

Yellow wintersweet flowers
Yellow wintersweet flowers

This shrub is renowned for its incredibly sweet, spicy scent, though this upright-growing shrub does need the shelter of a sunny wall in order to thrive and bloom well. The waxy-petalled flowers are creamy yellow with maroon centres, borne on the leafless stems from November to March.

H x S: 2m x 2m

Best winter flowering shrubs for pots

Growing winter shrubs in pots gives structure, colour, and interest to patios and other places in need of winter cheer, such as around entrance doorways and gates. Choose a soil-based potting compost for these long-lived plants. Good drainage is important: not only because of heavy winter rains, but also because waterlogged compost could freeze in cold spells and damage or kill plants. Ensure water drains freely by raising pots just off the ground or standing on gravel. Another bonus of pot growing is to make the most of sheltered sunny microclimates for borderline hardy shrubs or in cold areas of the country. Moving pots right against a sunny, sheltered, house wall and standing pots close together gives a much higher degree of protection than out in the garden.

 

Skimmias

Skimmia japonica 'Tansley Gem' growing in a pot
Skimmia japonica ‘Tansley Gem’ growing in a pot

These handsome evergreen shrubs look good throughout winter with long-lasting bud clusters that develop in autumn and eventually open to form dome-shaped clusters made up of tiny white flowers. The flowers are scented and show off well against the large glossy green or purple-flushed leaves. One of the most decorative is Skimmia japonica subsp. reevesiana which bears pink-budded flower clusters at the same time as bright sealing-wax red berries.

H x S: 45cm x 45cm

 

Sweet box

Sarcococca confusa flowers
Sarcococca confusa flowers

Also known as Christmas box, Sarcococca is a compact, evergreen shrub that bears tassels of creamy-white, strongly scented flowers in deepest winter. Bushy, with upright stems clothed with slender, dark green leaves, it does best in part shade to full shade. Ideal for growing in borders or a woodland garden too.

H x S: 1m x 1m

 

Winter-flowering heathers

Winter heather growing in a pot with hellebores
Winter heather growing in a pot with hellebores

Winter-flowering heathers consist of three species: Erica carnea, Erica erigena and a hybrid of the two, Erica x darleyensis. Erica carnea is most compact of the three and therefore best for pots, forming low, spreading mounds of twiggy stems clothed with needle-like, evergreen leaves. Flowers come in many shades of pink and purple as well as white, and some varieties have colourful foliage. Flowers are borne for months through winter. Heathers are hardy and tolerant of cold and exposure. Winter flowering species grow on most garden soils, including those containing lime.

H x S: 45cm x 45cm

 

Sasanqua camellias

Camellia sasanqua 'Kenkyo' growing in a pot
Camellia sasanqua ‘Kenkyo’ growing in a pot

This winter-flowering group of camellias differs from the majority of garden camellias, not only flowering much earlier, from November onwards, but also doing best in full sun rather than dappled shade. Available with single, semi-double or double blooms, in colours including white, pink-flushed, deep pink, and red. Some also have a lovely scent. Most have a bold central boss of golden stamens, are rich in nectar and popular with bees on mild winter days. They’re suitable only for growing in the ground in mild areas, otherwise grow in a pot in a sunny and sheltered site, or in cold areas, grow in a cool conservatory or glass porch. Sasanqua camellias needs lime-free (alkaline) potting compost, and watered regularly so the compost doesn’t dry out. This is particularly important in summer, when flower buds start to form.

H x S: 1.8m x 1.5 m

Advice on buying winter flowering shrubs

  • Winter-flowering shrubs are available from nurseries, garden centres, and online suppliers
  • Consider the growth rate of individual plants when deciding which ones to buy and how much to spend. Slower-growing ones like Daphne, witch hazel, wintersweet, camellia, and mahonia take several years to start forming good-sized plants, so buying a larger-sized plant can be a worthwhile investment. By contrast, viburnums, winter jasmine, winter honeysuckles, and winter-flowering heathers, are faster-growing shrubs

Where to buy winter-flowering shrubs

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