Best winter plants for pots

Winter plants for pots

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 your winter pot, remember to make sure your container is 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 by standing them on blocks or pot ‘feet’ will also allow water to drain away, prevent them from becoming waterlogged and help to reduce the risk of frost damage.


Best winter flowering plants for pots

 

Snowdrops

Winter plants for pots - snowdrops
Snowdrops and ophiopogon in a pot

Snowdrops are perfect for growing in winter pot displays. Team with black lilyturf and hellebores for a modern look. Find more winter flowering bulbs, in our guide.

Height x Spread: 15cm x 8cm

 

Checkerberry, Gaultheria procumbens

Wintergreen, Gaultheria procumbens
Checkerberry and cordyline in a pot

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 pansy

Winter-flowering pansy
Winter pansies in a pot with heather

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

 

Cyclamen

Planting cyclamen in a pot
A winter pot display using cyclamen

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

Hellebore and carex container display
Hellebore and carex container display

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

 

Skimmia ‘Rubella’

Heather, skimmia and pansy container
Heather, skimmia and pansy container

Skimmia ‘Rubella’ is a rugged, hardy and reliable evergreen shrub with grape-like clusters of tight pink buds throughout winter. Teams well with heather.

H x S: 75cm x 75cm

 

Phormium

Phormium and heuchera pot display
Phormium and heuchera pot display

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

 

Ajuga

Planting <em>Ajuga</em> in a pot with heather
Planting Ajuga in a pot with heather

Ajuga is a rugged evergreen perennial that’s low-spreading with rounded purple or purple-variegated leaves depending on variety. Makes a non-traditional alternative to English ivy.

H x S: 20cm x 80cm

Christmas rose

Seasonal pot display with Christmas rose
Seasonal pot display with Christmas rose

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


Winter heather

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

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

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.

We used: Anemanthele lessoniana, Carex oshimensis ‘Evergold’, Cornus sericea ‘Flaviramea’, Sedum ‘Gold Mound’ and Viola ‘Sorbet Yellow Delight’.


Ophiopogon and cornus

Ophiopogon and cornus winter container

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’.


Sempervivum dish

Sempervivum dish

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.

We used: Sempervivum ‘Lilac Time’, Sempervivum tectorum, Sempervivum tectorum ‘Robustum’, Sempervivum ‘Rubin’Sempervivum ‘Orange Glow’ and Sempervivum calcareum ‘Sir William Lawrence’.


Winter trough

Winter trough

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.

We used: Skimmia japonica ‘Rubella’Gaultheria procumbensBergenia cordifolia, Erica carnea ‘Springwood White’, Viburnum tinus, Euonymus fortunei and eryngium seedheads.


Festuca, santolina, gaultheria and ivy

Festuca, santolina 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.

We used: Santolina chamaecyparissus, Festuca glauca ‘Intense Blue’, white-berried Gaultheria mucronata, Hedera helix ‘Glacier’, white violas.


Cyclamen, carex and skimmia

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

Kale and rosemary

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

Hellebore and holly container

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

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.

We used: Berberis x media ‘Red Jewel’, Nandina domestica ‘Fire Power’, Saxifraga ‘Blackberry and Apple Pie’, Heuchera ‘Midnight Rose’, Viola ‘Red Blotch’.


Heather, cyclamen and euphorbia

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.

We used: Carex comans, Cyclamen coum, Euphorbia amygdaloides ‘Purpurea’ and Erica ‘Mary Helen’.

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