By Rob Dwiar
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 basket ideas 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 potentially leaner months of winter 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'll be 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, you'll find just what you need in our edit of the best plants for winter hanging baskets.
1. 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 suggest '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.
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 (January to March), while C. hederifolium will have you covered for pre-Christmas color and has pretty, blotched foliage. Both are really easy hits for reliable plants for winter hanging baskets.
It's worth remembering that cyclamen works well in pots for your winter container gardening ideas too, so you can add some to your patio displays as well as your hanging baskets.
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 particularly 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 colorful, semi-evergreen leaves mean they're not one to overlook for winter 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.
There are lots more of the best plants for winter color in our guide.
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 from January to March, 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 flowers from January to April, and 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. You can find more info on how to grow hellebores in our guide.
6. 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 June 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.
The genus of Galanthus is a tremendous one to consider for winter hanging basket flowers. 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.
There really is a great choice and you can pick when you want flowers to pop, so to speak. Galanthus woronowii is a good one for a display just after Christmas – from January to March usually – sporting solitary flowers that often have a distinct green spot on the inner tepals.
Snowdrops are also one of the best plants for winter pots, making them a fantastic all-rounder.
Ferns are another 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 foliage 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, providing some much-needed 'bones' as many are easily hardy enough to survive the coldest of conditions.
Our guide on how to grow ferns has more expert tips.
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 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 grassy alternative, ornamental 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.
There's more advice on how to grow ornamental grasses in our guide.
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. The image of a delicate crocus emerging through frosty grounds is a striking feature for winter gardens.
There are plenty of purple-pink specimens to choose from, but also some striking yellow ones that can add pops of bright color 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 color (and into spring) with its bright yellow bursts.
12. Winter irises
There are several irises which 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. Our guide on how to grow winter iris has lots of useful tips to help you get started.
13. Shrubs or hedge plants
Looking for something a little different in your search for the best plants for winter hanging baskets? If so, hedge- or shrub-type plants might be a good way to find an evergreen addition that will look more unusual.
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 low maintenance garden ideas.
Alternatively, try Pinus mugo 'Winter Gold' for your winter containers, as suggests the team at Amateur Gardening. 'This dwarf mountain pine is stunning during the cold seasons, when its needles glow a rich shade of yellow.' Plant in well-drained soil in a sunny spot.
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. Try combining a selection with heather (either pink or white) for an eye-catching look, whilst lining the basket itself with moss will give an organic feel.
- Our guide to winter plants with frosted foliage has more lovely options for your backyard.
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 September to give your flowers the best time to bloom – this will ensure your hard work and investment pays off.'
You can find more September gardening jobs to be getting on with in our guide.
How often should you water a winter hanging basket?
In general, plants need less watering 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 in a sunny spot 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.
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