The idea of choosing the best plants for winter hanging baskets might raise an eyebrow or two at first. After all, we tend to think of them as summertime features. But a vibrant cold-season display is the perfect way to bring good cheer to your garden when the temperatures drop and other blooms fade.
In fact, winter hanging baskets are, arguably, a bit more interesting than the warm-weather versions. As a result of a bit more thought and research, you might find plants that offer more than just flowers and color, with specimens that provide eye-catching forms, wonderful foliage, or excellent textures. All of this is welcome in the winter garden, when there's not much else on show.
There are other benefits to winter displays positioned up high, too. 'Using hanging baskets is a great way to get around any restrictions which soil or sunlight may have put on your garden,' explains the team at Squire's Garden Centres. You can, in effect, use whatever soil and compost necessary, and they can be placed wherever is most optimal for what you want to grow. What's more, 'they offer protection from slugs and can accommodate a variety of different plants,' they continue. And of course, they're great for small plots where floor space is at a premium.
Feeling tempted for your own? We've picked some of the best plants to include in your winter hanging baskets so you can create a seasonal and colorful display. Some will be familiar, and some might surprise, but there's plenty to choose from.
Create a vibrant display with the best plants for winter hanging baskets
Whether you prefer a modern display or something more traditional for your seasonal hanging basket ideas, you'll find just what you need in our edit.
Primulas come in a rainbow of colors – from the classic butter-yellow to raspberry pink, deep indigo, and blazing orange. Planted in a basket, these beauties are a surefire way to brighten up the garden throughout the colder seasons. Some varieties, such as 'Everlast', will bloom all the way from autumn through to early spring.
Easy to look after, these winter garden plants are a winning pick for your displays. As they're perennials, you can move them to your borders once they've finished doing their thing, to make space for new plants in your containers.
The RHS agrees that gaultheria is one of the best plants for winter hanging baskets, as suggested on their website. Otherwise known as checkerberry, this jolly, evergreen plant will bring a festive feel to any scheme.
As a shade-loving plant, it's valuable in brightening up the gloomiest corners in your garden with its red berries and glossy leaves. If you choose to replace it in a few months' time, use it as ground cover in the garden. Its thick growth habit can help to suppress weeds, says Thompson & Morgan, and in summer, it will flower with white blooms.
3. Narcissus 'Tête-à-tête'
The miniature Narcissus 'Tête-à-tête' brings delight to every gardener with its sunshine-yellow blooms. One of the earliest-flowering daffodils, it will provide color and interest towards the end of the coldest season.
Planting bulbs should be done in autumn, or buy potted plants when they appear in garden centers for instant impact.
- Buy Narcissus 'Tête-à-tête' in the US: view at Burpee
- Buy Narcissus 'Tête-à-tête' in the UK: view at Amazon
A popular go-to plant for winter hanging baskets is cyclamen. While they're known to naturalize, looking very at home at the base of trees or in shadier areas, these perennials can provide excellent color for containers.
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 color spectrum, but C. coum will provide them for you in the early months of the year, while C. hederifolium will have you covered for pre-Christmas color and has pretty, blotched foliage.
Cyclamen are great plants for winter pots on the ground, too, so you can add some to your patio displays as well as your hanging baskets.
Another attractive evergreen shrub, skimmia is a useful plant for shaded winter hanging baskets and winter planters. Avoid planting these anywhere too sunny, as this can cause the foliage to turn yellow.
It's one of the best plants with winter berries, but bear in mind that only the hermaphrodite and female forms (such as Skimmia japonica subsp. reevesiana) produce them – and females need a male variety nearby to do so.
In spring, fragrant white flowers will appear.
6. Violas and pansies
A forever favorite in terms of winter-flowering plants, the vast range of winter pansies and violas are a great source of hanging basket potential.
If you're after jewel-like colors and shades then these are an easy first port of call for the best plants for winter hanging baskets. Plus they are readily available too – there are almost too many cultivars and varieties to choose from. The Amateur Gardening team particularly suggests 'Sorbet Yellow Frost' (Sorbet Series), a compact viola that gives a long show of fragrant yellow and purple flowers during winter and spring.
They're also really easy to plant and look after, making them a great option if you're learning how to make a hanging basket for the first time. Just make sure to grow them in moist, well-drained soil in sun or semi-shade.
Trailing foliage is a wonderful addition to any hanging basket. But, using ivy in winter schemes is a particularly good use of such a plant due to its attractive form and evergreen structure.
You won't go too far wrong with any of the available cultivars of Hedera helix but the variegated ones are especially lovely for offering a bit more interest. Having said that, a 'normal' ivy with its dark green, glossy leaves is just as good an accompaniment for other, more colorful plants.
In summer, 'heuchera are great plants for hanging baskets as they create a striking two-tier effect between their flowers and foliage,' says the team at Squire's Garden Centres. And although the flowers die back when temperatures drop, their vibrant, semi-evergreen leaves make them one of the best plants for winter color. They're definitely not one to overlook for displays if you live in a milder region.
'Their low mounding habit means they work brilliantly in any container,' says Squire's. They suggest 'Appletini' which has vibrant lime-green leaves. If you prefer a warmer tone, 'Paprika' sports a festive red hue, whilst 'Silver Gumdrop' has an elegant, frosty appearance.
Hellebores are a fabulous winter bloom and come in a spectrum of shades – from bright white to soft greens and blush. They're good for pollinators, too, once spring rolls around.
Try Helleborus niger, otherwise known as the Christmas rose, which produces white saucer flowers and has big, dark-green semi-evergreen leaves, explains the team at Amateur Gardening. Grow in moist, well-drained soil in a sheltered spot with semi-shade.
Alternatively, opt for 'Winterbells' – a subtly pink-flushed bloom. It looks lovely planted alongside heather. If you want something more dramatic, the deep-toned 'Double Ellen Purple' makes a good pick – try planting alongside snowdrops or silvery foliage for a striking contrast.
Whichever you choose, plant it out into your borders once flowering has finished to enjoy the display the following year.
10. Ornamental cabbage
With their frilly leaves and eye-catching colors of purple, deep green and snowy white, ornamental cabbages are easily one of the best plants for winter hanging baskets. You can grow these plants from seed in early summer in pots before hardening off and planting up – the pink pigment will begin to develop when temperatures reach below 50˚F (10˚C).
They can survive most winters without trouble, right down to temperatures of around 5˚F (-15˚C). Hang the baskets in a sunny spot if you can.
- Buy ornamental cabbage in the US: view at Burpee
- Buy ornamental cabbage in the UK: view at Thompson & Morgan
The genus of Galanthus is a tremendous one to consider for winter hanging baskets. Now with a bigger range than ever before, you can get hold of snowdrops that can bloom as early as autumn, but also throughout the winter months, and into spring, too.
Galanthus woronowii is a good one for a display just after Christmas, sporting solitary flowers that often have a distinct green spot on the inner tepals.
Ferns are a wonderful foliage option to plant alongside flowers, or to provide a bold winter hanging basket display 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 leaves can provide a great backdrop to colorful blooms. Plus, the sword-like fronds and overall form of the plants make them a great structural addition to the winter garden, as many are easily hardy enough to survive the coldest of conditions.
The winter-flowering specimens of the Erica carnea species, in particular, are excellent picks for winter hanging baskets. These low-growing, tough and hardy plants can provide textural mats of foliage while flowering in a variety of colors 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 one of the best bee-friendly plants come springtime, but, importantly, you'll have to remember some ericaceous compost to get the best out of them.
A wonderful type of ornamental grass, sedges (Carex) plants can offer a range of colors but the real magic to be gained by adding them to winter hanging baskets is in their texture and form.
One of my personal favorites – 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 hanging basket displays.
Each sword of a sedge plant 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.
No list of the best plants for winter hanging baskets would be complete without crocuses – and these will keep coming up every year by being reliable perennials.
There are plenty of purple-pink specimens to choose from, but also some striking yellow ones that can add pops of bright color.
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 color (and into spring) with its bright yellow bursts.
16. Winter irises
There are several winter irises that will provide you with excellent color year on year in your winter hanging baskets. The reticulata cultivars are particularly good ones to search for as they are reliable late-winter color providers.
Like the crocuses, they span a few color 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. 'Harmony', shown above, is also a lovely choice.
Planting ideas for winter hanging baskets
Some of the best plants for winter hanging baskets look especially fabulous when combined. It's a simple duo – but cyclamen and variegated ivy has to be one of our favorites. The deep green foliage and vivid pink petals are lifted by the trailing pale-hued leaves, and the overall look feels structural yet romantic. Choose a basket where you can plant up the sides as well as the top, for a fuller display.
If just two varieties feels a little too minimal, an ornamental grass in the center will add height and additional visual interest.
There are so many beautiful foliage plants you can use in winter hanging baskets as well as ivy. Hebes, hardy sedums, and the silvery Calocephalus brownii are some of the best, or choose winter plants with frosted foliage for an elegant look.
Try combining a selection with heather (either pink or white) for an eye-catching result, whilst lining the basket itself with moss will give an organic feel.
When should you plant a winter hanging basket?
'To ensure your flowers bloom in good time, we advise planting before winter arrives,' says the team at Squire's Garden Centres. Ideally, you want to get planting in early fall to give your flowers the best time to bloom, they advise, 'this will ensure your hard work and investment pays off.'
How often should you water a winter hanging basket?
In general, you'll need to spend less time watering plants in winter as their growth rate is slower and there tends to be more rain. However, hanging baskets dry out quicker than other types of containers (especially if they're under cover), so you will still need to water them now and again to keep them looking their best. Once a week should be enough, but check the soil first – too much can lead to waterlogging. Use rainwater if possible as it's better for the plants.
If you're short on time, the RHS suggests using self-watering baskets. They still need watering now and again, but less frequently. The water then goes into a separate reservoir that gradually supplies the plants' roots when needed.
How do you make a winter hanging basket?
Planting a winter hanging basket is super easy and a fun job to while away an autumn afternoon. Squire's Garden Centres shares their top tips on how to do it:
- Place your basket on a bucket to keep it steady whilst you plant.
- Line your basket. Some baskets have a ready-made liner or if you need to line, you can do so with materials such as plastic or moss.
- Once lined, snip a few drainage holes into the lining (if plastic). Then fill the basket two-thirds full with compost. It is advisable to add a handful of controlled-release fertilizer granules and water-retaining gel to your mix.
- Use one plant for every inch (2.5–3cm) of basket diameter when constructing your hanging basket. Start with a central plant to create structure and impact.
- Plant trailing plants, such as ivy, around the edge. Angle them slightly but ensure that their roots are still covered by the compost. A nice touch is to plant some ivy near the chain and weave it around – this will make it look like the ivy is supporting the basket.
- Once you've finished positioning your plants, fill the gaps with compost and firm in gently.
- Hang the basket somewhere that's sheltered from the wind and water well.
Looking for more advice for pepping up your backyard through the colder months? Our guide on how to plant a winter container is well worth a look.
Rob Dwiar has qualifications in, and professional experience as both a landscape and garden designer. He has also won an RHS gold medal. He has contributed to a wide range of gardening publications, including the Royal Horticultural Society's magazine, and is also a garden contributor for Homebuilding & Renovating magazine and Gardeningetc.
- Holly CrossleyActing Deputy Editor
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