10 best plants for winter pots: bright ideas for cold weather containers

Summer may be a distant memory, but by using these plants for winter pots you can still inject plenty of seasonal colour and interest

plants for winter pots showing containers planted with winter flowers
(Image credit: The Joy Of Plants)

Now is the ideal time to choose the right plants for winter pots. Summer is long gone for many of us, and our summer pots and containers that provided so many beautiful blooms over the warmer months have faded and are in need a refresh. 

Despite what you might think, there are plenty of ways to fill your garden pots with wonderful scent and colour over the winter months, giving you a welcome splash of colour (and bringing a smile to your face) on colder days. Plus, with flowerbeds and borders also looking a little bare over the winter, using pots is a great way to ensure there is still plenty of interest in your outside space during the months ahead. 

To give you lots of inspiration, we've rounded up 10 of our favourite plants you can use in your winter pots for guaranteed colour and interest as the weather turns cooler. Then head to our winter garden ideas for more inspiration on how to add interest to your outside space during the colder months. 

1. Plant Pansies

containers filled with winter pansies

(Image credit: The Joy Of Plants)

Create a container of pansies and you are guaranteed a cheering display all through autumn, winter and into early spring. These bedding plants are one of the easiest flowers to grow if you follow a few simple rules. Choose plants which are labelled as ‘winter-flowering’ to guarantee they will thrive in colder weather. 

Plant them out before the end of September, so they form buds before the frosts arrive. Plant in multi-purpose compost with a handful of grit to aid drainage. In dry spells, or if there is an Indian summer, make sure the compost is moist to touch – plants can still dry out and die in the colder months. 

Pack the container with plants for a full display, and deadhead regularly to ensure a continuous display. For extra impact, opt for one colour, rather than a mix of shades. Try ‘Swiss Giant Orange’ for a blaze of gold, or ‘Coolwave Raspberry’ for a cushion of velvety plum. 

2. Heavenly Heathers

garden planter filled with heather

The Bathford Trough from Garden Trading is the perfect size to be used on windowsills

(Image credit: Garden Trading)

Whether it is a delicate shade of white or dark pink, heather brings delicate beauty to winter pots. Heathers only thrive in acid soil, so buy a bag of ericaceous compost. Add a 2.5-5cm layer of grit at the base of the container first, as they do not like to have soggy roots. Grow them in a sunny spot, or partial shade. 

Good choices for winter flowering varieties are E. carnea 'Springwood White', which has trailing stems, and E. carnea 'Springwood Pink' for a bright pop of colour. 

3. Focus on Foliage

Foliage planted up in two bowl-style planters

These ceramic Withington bowl planters from Garden Trading come with a waterproof inner seal

(Image credit: Garden Trading)

Winter containers don’t have to feature flowers: there is a fantastic choice of instant foliage plants available from garden centres or via mail order. Opt for pale, silvery colours with interestingly shaped, textured leaves, such as calocephalus. 

Go for the downy leaves of dusty miller (senecio cineraria) or try the frivolous, frilly leaves of ornamental kale such as ‘Northern Lights,’ which intensifies in colour as temperatures plummet. 

A mix of foliage plants in similar tones looks stunning in the same pot. Soften the edges with an easy-to-grow evergreen trailing ivy such as ‘White Wonder.’ The pale patches on this ivy will complement the silver tone of the foliage. 

4. A Container of Christmas Roses

pots planted up with hellebores

(Image credit: The Joy Of Plants)

The Christmas Rose, or hellebore, adds a touch of romanticism in the bleaker months. They come in a subtle rainbow of colours, from pure white, to dusty pink, apricot and rich purple and they can cope with cold conditions, including frost and snow. 

Hellebores are mainly evergreen, flowering in January and continuing to early spring. They can be combined with other plants in the same pot, but a simple container of one colour will create maximum impact. 

Plant them in a multi-purpose compost in a container, deep enough to fit with the top of the existing compost level. Water well and place in a shady spot. You can find out more on how to grow hellebores in our guide. 

5. Pots of Scent

Sweet box, or sarcocca confusa

Sweet box, or sarcocca confusa, is a brilliant choice for winter pots, available from Crocus

(Image credit: Crocus)

Although we associate scented plants with warm summer days, there are some cold weather heroes which are perfect for placing by the porch for a blast of fragrance in winter sunshine. 

Sweet box, or sarcocca confusa is a brilliant choice for tubs. It has a profusion of tiny spidery white flowers on glossy evergreen leaves in the winter, which turn into black berries over summer. It’s an easy-care plant, with no pruning needed. Just remove any dead sprigs in late spring. For best results, plant in John Innes No.3 compost, and make sure that the soil is kept moist. 

For a beautiful citrus scent in a pot, try winter flowering honeysuckle (lonicera fragrantissima) which has creamy coloured flowers on semi-bare branches from January. Plant in a large container for the best results.

6. Everlasting Evergreens 

large winter pots planted up with Japanese skimmia

(Image credit: The Joy of Plants)

Bright berries add a splash of welcome colour in autumn and winter, and when they are paired with glossy, evergreen foliage, the display can be stunning. Japanese Skimmia has domes of neat evergreen foliage, and the female plants are topped with bright red berries through December and into January. 

Buy a female plant and pair it with a male, such as Kew Green or Rubella, to ensure the presence of berries. The shrubs prefer partial shade, and they will cheer up a dark spot. Check out our feature on the best evergreens for your garden for more inspiration. 

7. Care for a Camellia 

container planted with camellia

(Image credit: The Joy Of Plants)

They may need a bit of extra TLC, but it's worth learning how to grow camellias for the spectacle of showy flowers lighting up the patio in late winter. Camellias come in shades of pink, red and white, with open flowers contrasting with their evergreen foliage. 

They’re ideal for growing in pots, but they do need to be planted in well-drained ericaceous (acid) soil, and if possible, they should be watered with rain water from a water butt. 

Put them in a sheltered spot near the house, and protect early buds from frost with horticultural fleece. Prune after they have flowered, and keep them well-watered through spring and summer, as this is when the buds are forming. It’s definitely worth the effort, as they will reward you with a stunning display in late winter and early spring. There's more patio gardening ideas in our gallery. 

8. Glamorous Grasses

blue fescue (festuca glauca) ornamental grass

Brilliant in a container, Blue fescue (festuca glauca) from Gardening Express is mystical blue grass with very fine foliage

(Image credit: Gardening Express)

Ornamental grasses fit beautifully into a modern garden, but some of them are perennials which die back in the winter. Add a few pots of tasteful blue fescue (festuca glauca), however, and you get a lot more bang for your buck with a year-round display of texture and a soft blue-green colour. 

The spiky hummocks of foliage look good in galvanised zinc containers. They need moist, well-drained soil, so add a handful of grit to the compost when planting. The grasses might benefit from being divided every three years to stop them looking shabby. With a sparkling coat of frost, they will bring pleasure to the coldest days. 

9. Choose Cyclamen

trio of plant pots planted with cyclamen

(Image credit: The Joy of Plants)

The flag-like flowers of cyclamen offer delicate beauty during the winter months, and whether you prefer a hot splash of lipstick pink, or a more ethereal palette of white, there’s a flower to suit. 

The ones on sale in supermarkets tend to be tender, indoor cyclamen, so make sure you choose a hardy variety called Cyclamen coum or Cyclamen hederifolium. Plant them at the same depth as the pots you buy them in and avoid letting the containers becoming waterlogged, as this will damage the roots. 

They can be bought as bulbs, but for a quick solution, ready-grown plants are inexpensive and create an instant uplift.  

10. Uplifting Snowdrops

pots planted with snowdrops

(Image credit: iBulb)

They’re among the first flowers to nose through the ground in January and February, and a pot or two of snowdrops delivers a welcome boost to wintry gardens. 

They are happiest when growing in the ground in a shady border or raised bed, and those grown in containers will need repotting every year. 

Snowdrop bulbs can be planted in the autumn, or they may be grown ‘in the green’ with their leaves still attached, in March or April for flowering the following winter. 

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