12 top plants for a brilliant winter container garden display
A winter container garden display can give the garden such a lift.
You can enjoy winter pots in the front garden every time you come home. And just a few pots near the house in the back garden can give your back garden focus and structure at a time when things can look quite shaggy.
So garden designer and baking influencer Jane Beedle and I set out to Maytree, our local plant nursery to shop for plants and Jane told me her top tips.
If you prefer to watch a video, see evergreens for winter pots here.
Reduce waste – use plants that can go in the garden later
All plants can grow in pots. So you can buy very small, young shrubs and perennials for your winter pots, hanging baskets and window boxes. They won’t grow much in winter so you can often keep them in your summer planters.
They will then grow in the summer, but you can often get a second winter out of them before they grow too big. At that point, you can plant them out in the garden.
12 good winter container garden plants which also grow in your garden
Here is our pick of the best evergreen plants which can start in your winter containers and then grow on in your garden:
Conifers – many varieties. Available as ‘ground cover’ or to add height and structure.
Cyclamen – plant hardy varieties outside in shady spots
Ferns – many varieties, choose evergreen for winter container gardens
Festuca glauca (sedge) available in blue/grey and bright green
As soon as Jane spotted these blue Festuca glauca, she was inspired to add them to her window boxes and pots.
Gaultheria procumbens (American wintergreen)
Hebes – many varieties and leaf colours.
Hellebores – plant out after the first winter in a pot
Jane chose the pale blue grey of Hellebore ‘Silver Dollar’ along with a similar shade of Festuca glauca for her pots and window boxes.
Heuchera – many varieties and leaf colours
Holly – variegated hollies like ‘Golden King’ add structure to pots and gardens
Ivy – trails in pots and climbs in the garden
Leucothoe (eg Leucothoe ‘Scarletta’)
Skimmia – low maintenance, easy-grow shrubs with good height
Skimmias work best in pots when they’re small plants. As they get bigger they need more space and nutrients. But they are very easy-care plants. They prefer partial shade in the garden. Many people think they need acid soil, but they don’t.
Skimmia are available in a wide range of colours. Although the picture above appears to show it in flower, these are actually buds, which are on the plant all winter. They’ll flower in spring, making skimmia a very useful presence in the garden.
When to plant a winter container garden
You can plant winter pots any time. Jane usually waits until her summer display is looking tired. This year there was a mild autumn, so the summer plants went on flowering until late November.
‘When I was working as a garden designer,’ says Jane, ‘I had clients who changed their pots and window boxes four times a year. So they’d have an autumn display from about late September onwards and then a winter one from the middle of December. You will find that the plants available in the shops change though.’
How to choose the right pots
You can plant a winter container garden in most kinds of planters. But if your winters are very cold, metal planters will get particularly cold, so you’ll need to check the hardiness of the plants you put in them. Terracotta pots must be frost-proof. Ceramic and resin planters are good too.
‘Self-watering plant pots’, such as those from Lechuza, take some of the guesswork out of watering and mean that you don’t have to water as often.
You can also recycle containers of various kinds to use as planters. The most important thing is to make sure that there are drainage holes in the base so that water can run out. Here are 25 pot and planter ideas for container gardens.
Can you re-use plants from one season to the next?
Jane did the basic structure of the current window boxes and front garden pots up to two years ago. She explains how to put together winter window boxes from scratch here. She re-did them the following winter, re-using most of the plants in some way. You can read her winter pots tips here.
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But now that the plants have been in for one or two years, she thinks it’s time for a change. The small conifers are getting too big, so she’s giving them to me.
Evergreens can often live in pots for several years, offering structure and year-round interest for very little attention. See 10 easy care evergreen pots for year-round impact for more evergreen container garden ideas.
How to water a container garden in winter
More container garden plants are killed by over-watering than by under-watering, especially in winter. It’s particularly important not to have winter pots sitting on saucers, for example, as the water can puddle at the base of the pot and freeze.
Unless your weather is very dry, you probably won’t have to water your winter pots and planters. Start watering in spring, when new foliage starts to appear. By then, your winter container gardens will probably need to be replaced by the spring or summer schemes. Some evergreen plants can stay in pots for a couple of years, however.
Should you feed winter container garden plants?
No. Most people don’t feed their winter containers. Some experts even say that feeding plants in pots, hanging baskets or planters in winter will encourage soft new growth which will then be vulnerable to frost.
All plants in pots need regular feeding and watering from about mid-spring to early autumn. I’ve used a number of good fertilisers for containers, such as Richard Jackson’s Flower Power Premium Plant Food and Envii Organic Seaweed Extract. Both were sent free for me to review, but I’d be happy to buy either. (note that Amazon links are affiliate, see disclosure.)
Pin to remember tips
I often save articles on Pinterest if I think I will want to refer to them again. It’s such a useful online filing cabinet.