It's cold, it's grey, it's dreary – but sourcing the best winter plants for pots is always an excellent way to bring colour and life to your outdoor space during the colder months.
From hellebores to snowdrops, there are plenty of winter flowers that bloom at Christmas you can use to brighten up your containers when temperatures drop. And winter flowering shrubs, too, are a brilliant way to make your garden the envy of all your neighbours.
Still, there are plenty more options when it comes to container garden ideas over the winter months, as we and our team of tame experts are keen to prove...
The best winter plants for pots
Now, we know what you're thinking: winter gardening ideas are tricky enough as it is, without throwing potted plants into the mix. Here's the thing, though: it's one of those timeless garden trends that will lift your spirits, even in the bleakest of bleak midwinters.
'Planting in pots during the winter can be a bit challenging due to the cold temperatures, but several plants can thrive in winter conditions,' promises Morris Hankinson, director of Hopes Grove Nurseries.
Morris Hankinson is the founder and managing director of Hopes Grove Nurseries Ltd, the UK’s only specialist grower-retailer of hedging plants, which he established after graduating with a Commercial Horticulture Degree from Writtle College, Essex in 1992.
This means that, yes, you need to be as careful with your container planting as you are when sourcing winter flowers for hanging baskets. Because, as Morris points out, it's essential to consider the specific conditions of your garden / local climate.
To help you out, then, here's our expert-approved selection of the best winter plants for pots.
1. Ornamental grasses
One of our very favourite lawn ideas, ornamental grasses can also be used to great effect as winter plants for pots.
Blue oat grass (aka helictotrichon sempervirens) is a great way to 'add texture' to your displays, says Morris, not least of all because it 'stays green' when the world is at its coldest.
'Fountain grass, or pennisetum, is also good, as many varieties retain their shape in winter,' he adds.
Where to buy ornamental grasses:
- Crocus: a good place to source helictotrichon sempervirens/blue oat grass
- Thompson & Morgan: a good variety of pennisetum/fountain grass to choose from
2. Evergreen shrubs
'Boxwood is a popular evergreen shrub known for its dense, compact foliage,' suggests Morris, noting that it's 'hardy and provides a structural element to your winter containers' – but that you ought to choose dwarf varieties for smaller pots.
He adds that dwarf conifers, such as junipers and pines, come in various shapes and sizes, offering interesting textures and colours, meaning they 'are well-suited for container gardening and can add height to your arrangements'.
Charles Carr, head of nurseries at Hillier Garden Centres, says skimmia is one of his top choice evergreens for year-round elegance. 'With glossy green foliage that remains vibrant during all seasons, these plants set buds in late summer, preserving them throughout autumn to bloom in late winter or early spring,' he says.
And Charles says that the wonderfully scented sarcococca confusa, also known as Christmas box, is one to consider for your winter planting schemes, too.
'Its stems are covered by masses of tiny white fragrant flowers and can best be enjoyed when placed near a doorway or well-travelled path to catch its glorious scent,' he says.
'This variety is a particularly resilient plant and can be used in shady spots where its evergreen glossy foliage puts on a year-round show and the flowers add an incredible scent to the winter air.'
Where to buy evergreens:
- Crocus: a wide variety of skimmia and Pinus mugo 'Winter Gold'
- Thompson & Morgan: Juniperus procumbens 'Nana'
- Hillier: the incredible sarcococca confusa
'Heathers are low-growing evergreen shrubs that provide winter colour with their foliage,' says Morris, noting that they are often used in Scandi garden design schemes for this exact reason.
'They come in various shades of green, bronze, and even winter blooms,' he adds, although he notes that you should do your research and only choose varieties that are well-suited for containers.
Where to buy heathers:
- Crocus: a large selection of winter heathers
- Thompson & Morgan: try the Erica x darleyensis 'Darley Dale' or the Erica x darleyensis f. albiflora 'White Perfection' for pretty white blooms
4. Japanese maple
You might know when to prune acers, but did you know that the striking Japanese maple is an excellent winter plant for pots?
'Winter stems can make an eye-catching centrepiece to a display “Japanese maples are a resilient and enchanting plant, varieties such as Acer ‘Sango-kaku’ boast striking red- orange stems, while A. ‘Katsura’ is bright yellow, and A. ‘Beni-maiko’ charms with striking scarlet tones,' says Charles.
'Once established, these hardy trees can withstand most UK winters, but a little protection during colder months can go a long way in preserving their beauty.'
Essentially, adding Japanese maples to your pots guarantees a pop of colour that will brighten even the gloomiest winter days. Win!
Where to buy Japanese maples:
- Crocus: a good variety of Japanese maples
- Thompson & Morgan: an excellent selection of Japanese maples
- Hopes Grove Nurseries: the striking Acer Bloodgood (Bloodgood Japanese Maple)
5. Winter-flowering plants
If you want to select some cheerful winter plants for pots, look for those that promise to bloom when it's cold outside – such as winter-flowering jasmine, cyclamen, hellebores, or pansies.
'Winter jasmine produces bright yellow flowers in winter,' says Morris, who's fond of the plant's 'bright yellow, star-shaped flowers that appear on bare stems during the winter months'.
'It's a deciduous shrub that can cascade over the edges of a container,' he adds, while 'winter pansies, cyclamen, and hellebores can withstand cold temperatures and provide cheerful blooms throughout the winter, especially in milder climates'.
Charles, meanwhile, suggests you opt for hamamelis x intermedia – perhaps better known as witch hazel. 'Hamamelis have delicate looking and spiderlike flowers available in fiery tones of orange, yellow or red on a frosty morning they can sparkle with ice crystals,' he says.
'The flowers are beautifully scented with a fragrance that lights up a clear, sunny winter day.'
Where to buy winter-flowering plants:
- Crocus: a stunning selection of winter pansies and violas and an abundance of cyclamen
- Thompson & Morgan: the striking jasminum nudiflorum and a wide range of witch hazel
- Sarah Raven: a good variety of hellebore plants
If Monty Don has inspired you to start feverishly researching ivy garden ideas, you're not alone: this timeless evergreen beauty is rapidly becoming one of the country's favourite plants.
'Evergreen and versatile, ivy provides a trailing element to any potted plant display,' says Morris.
Where to buy ivy:
What do you put in outdoor pots for winter?
There are plenty of winter plants that work well in pots, including winter-flowering jasmine, pansies, cyclamen, hellebores, ivy, heathers, Japanese maples, ornamental grasses, and a variety of different evergreens.
What are the best outdoor plant pots for winter?
While clay planters are prone to cracking in the winter (although if they've been glazed inside and out, they may be able to withstand the cold and wet!), you'll find that fibreglass, fibrestone, and non-porous plastic composite pots should fare well outdoors when it's chilly.
How to you plant flowers in pots over winter?
When it comes to prepping winter plants in pots, Morris says there are a few key tips to keep in mind:
1. Use a well-draining potting mix to prevent waterlogged roots.
2. Move containers to a sheltered spot during severe frosts or use frost protection
3. Water sparingly in winter, as the plants are not actively growing.
4. Choose containers made of materials that can withstand freezing temperatures.
5. Add a layer of mulch on top of the soil to help insulate the roots.
With so many winter plants for pots available, there's sure to be one that suits your personal style (and your garden's needs). It might be time, then, to nip down to your local garden centre and make the most of those winter clearance sales while you can...
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Kayleigh Dray became Ideal Home’s Acting Content Editor in the spring of 2023, and is very excited to get to work. She joins the team after a decade-long career working as a journalist and editor across a number of leading lifestyle brands, both in-house and as a freelancer.
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