By Rob Dwiar
The concept of choosing plants for winter hanging baskets might raise an eyebrow or two upon hearing it, but they are a well-established seasonal opposite of the summer hanging baskets we see everywhere, every year.
In fact, winter hanging baskets are, arguably, a bit more interesting: as a result of a bit more thought and research, you might find plants that offer more than just flowers and colour, with specimens that provide eye-catching forms, wonderful foliage, or excellent textures. All of which are welcome in winter to provide structure and interest in the otherwise potentially lean months.
We've picked some of the best plants below to include in your winter hanging baskets so you can create a seasonal and colourful display. Some will be familiar, and some might surprise, but there'll be plenty to choose from. There's more inspiration for winter garden ideas over in our feature too.
A popular go-to plant for winter hanging baskets are cyclamen. While known to naturalise and look very at home at the base of trees or in shadier areas, these perennials can provide excellent winter colour.
The specimens of Cyclamen coum and Cyclamen hederifolium are your best bets for easy winners. They both have flowers in the pink area of the colour spectrum, but C. coum will provide them for you in the early months of the year (January to March), while C. hederifolium will have you covered for pre-Christmas colour and pretty, blotched foliage. Really easy hits for reliable plants for winter hanging baskets.
Cyclamen also work really well in winter containers. You can find more suggestions in our guide to the best plants for winter pots.
Trailing foliage is a wonderful addition to any hanging basket, but using ivy in winter hanging baskets is a particularly good use of such a plant. Inserting one or two Hedera plants into your winter hanging basket will be a good move to not only lean on foliage more than pure flower power, but rather an attractive form and also evergreen structure.
You won't go too far wrong with any of the available cultivars of Hedera helix but the variegated ones are particularly good for offering a tiny bit more interest. Having said that, a 'normal' ivy with its dark green, glossy leaves are just as good an accompaniment for other plants that offer colour too.
The genus of Galanthus is a tremendous one to consider for winter hanging basket colour and flowers. Now with a bigger range than ever before, you can get hold of snowdrops that can provide you colour as early as autumn, but also throughout the winter months, and into spring too.
There really is a great choice and you can pick when you want flowers to pop, so to speak. Galanthus woronowii is a great one for coming out just after Christmas, from January to March usually, sporting solitary flowers that often have a distinct green spot on the inner tepals.
Another wonderful foliage option to provide structure and contrast to some flowers, or to provide a bold winter hanging basket in their own right. Specimens such as hart's tongue fern (Asplenium scolopendrium) and soft shield fern (Polystichum setiferum) are your go-to species to keep things safe.
The evergreen foliage can provide a great backdrop to colourful flowers, but the sword-like fronds and overall form of the plants make for a great structural addition to the garden, providing some much-needed 'bones' to the garden in the colder months as they are easily hardy enough to survive even the coldest of winters. Head over to our guide to how to grow ferns for more expert tips.
Another forever favourite in terms of winter flowering plants, the vast range winter pansies and violas that are covered by the term 'Viola' are a great source of winter hanging basket potential.
If you're after purple colours and shades in your winter hanging basket than these are an easy first port of call and are readily available too – there are almost too many cultivars and varieties to choose from.
The winter-flowering specimens of the Erica carnea species, in particular, are excellent, alternative picks for winter hanging baskets. These low-growing, tough and hardy plants can provide textural mats of foliage while flowering a variety of colours from pinks to whites to purples.
If you have time to search for particular plants, 'Ann Sparkes' is a lovely choice for rose- and purple-pinks, 'Challenger' is a vivid magenta-flowering variety, and 'Golden starlet' is a terrific white-flowered choice.
What's more, heathers are also good for bees come springtime, but, importantly, you'll have to remember some ericaceous compost to get the best out of them.
A wonderful grassy alternative, ornamental sedges (Carex) plants can offer a range of colours but the real magic to be gained by adding them to winter hanging baskets is in their texture and form.
One of my personal favourites – and one that is easy to get hold of – is Carex testacea, the orange New Zealand sedge, however, the Japanese sedge selections, such as 'Fiwhite', are almost even better as they stay slightly smaller, perfect for winter hanging baskets.
Each sword of a sedge plant in a hanging basket offers the opportunity for great textural contrast against 'softer' or more traditional plants and the evergreen nature means that form and texture will be there to stay, all year round.
There's more advice on how to grow ornamental grasses in our guide.
No list of plants for winter hanging baskets would be complete without crocuses - and these will keep coming up every year by being reliable perennials. The image of a delicate purple-pink crocus emerging through frosty grounds is a striking one.
There are plenty of purple-pink specimens to choose from too, but also some striking yellow ones that can add pops of bright colour to your winter hanging baskets.
Really early winter flowering plants are a bit more tricky to come by but the Mount Athos crocus gives it a good go, and something like 'Romance' will bring you late winter colour (and into spring) with its bright yellow bursts.
There are several irises which will provide you with excellent colour year on year in your winter hanging baskets. The reticulata cultivars are particularly good ones to search in as they are reliable late-winter colour providers.
Like the crocuses they span a few colour ranges but your best bet for winter hanging baskets are going to be ones that provide blue and purple shades like Iris reticulata itself, or 'Blue Note' which is more of a dark purple kind of affair.
10. Shrubs or hedge plants
You can try other plants in your winter hanging baskets, and hedge- or shrub-type plants might be a good way to find an evergreen addition or solution to your winter hanging baskets.
Box comes with an element of risk nowadays through box blight and box moth, but you could look to an alternative like Japanese holly (Ilex crenata) to provide evergreen hedge for your baskets if you're looking for a simple approach.
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