Winter pots – really useful tips!

November 29th, 2020
Posted In: Container gardening

Did you know that planting winter pots is a little different from planting summer pots?

And that’s not just because the plants need to be winter-hardy.

Jane Beedle with a winter window box

Jane Beedle and one of her newly planted window boxes.

So I went to our local garden centre, Maytree, with garden designer and Great British Bake Off finalist Jane Beedle to find out more about choosing and planting winter pots.

You need more plants in winter pots

When you buy plants for summer pots, you know they will grow. A few small plants can turn into a wonderfully exuberant display.

But plants don’t grow in winter. So Jane advises you to buy more plants than you would in the summer and pack them in tightly. ‘The way they look now is the way they’ll look at the end of winter,’ she says, adding ‘provided that they survive.’

Try out plants in the garden centre before buying

Jane always tries out her pot combinations before buying them. Find a space on a shelf or in your trolley that is about the size of the container you plan to fill. Then pack the plants tightly into that space to see how they look together. ‘If it’s a round pot, group them together in a circle,’ she says. ‘If it’s a window box, there’s often an upper basket on your garden centre trolley that’s much the same size and shape as a window box.’

You can also plant a wide range of shrubs and perennials in winter pots. Because they don’t grow, they’re unlikely to outgrow their containers in one winter. And when they do grow, you can plant them out in the garden rather than throwing them away as we do with most bedding plants. Find out more about using evergreen perennials and shrubs in pots here.

You don’t need to change all the compost in winter pots

Because plants grow in the summer, you need to give them new compost. And you need to feed them.

‘In winter, they won’t be growing, so you don’t need to feed them,’ says Jane. ‘And I just take the top layer of compost off and replace it with new.’

She took off approximately a third of the compost in her pots and window boxes.

Jane Beedle's winter pots

Jane only took out the top third of the compost in her pots and window boxes. She’ll change all the compost for the summer pots, however.

But watch out for pests…

‘However, if you spot any pests in the compost, you must get rid of all the compost in the pot,’ she advises. Watch out for vine weevil grubs in particular: ‘They’re little white grubs that look like maggots, curled round. They live on the roots and leaves of plants.’

You’ll also know you’ve got vine weevils if your plant suddenly seems to have no roots!

It’s easier to switch plants round in winter pots

Jane  used red cyclamen, silver stone pine (Pineus pinea ‘Silver Crest’) and red-berried Gaultheria (Gaultheria procumbens) for this year’s winter pots and window boxes. ‘The cyclamen will probably flower until late winter or early spring.

After that you can take them out of the window boxes easily, because their roots won’t have grown. Then you can replace them with something like polyanthus, primula or primroses.’

Winter pots with cyclamen, gaultheria and stone pine

This is Jane’s red-berried wintergreen (Gaultheria procumbens), Stone Pine (Pinus pinea ‘Silver Crest’) and white cyclamen. Although they are packed tightly, it’ll be relatively easy to take out the cyclamen when they’ve finished flowering because their roots won’t have grown in winter.

You can save money if you re-use plants in winter pots

Winter pots can cost more than summer pots to plant. That’s because you need to buy more plants. However, you are more likely to be able to re-use plants in winter pots.

Jane re-planted her window boxes from scratch last winter. (See this post about winter window boxes).

Red, silver and green winter window boxes

Jane planted winter window boxes in red, silver and green last year.

Now, a year later, she has re-used all those plants, either in her summer window boxes or in the garden.

‘I hate wasting plants,’ she says. ‘Last winter, I had a silver, green and red theme with eucalyptus, barbed wire plant, ivy and red cyclamen. I gave the eucalyptus to a friend (me) and planted the cyclamen around the garden. The barbed wire plant and the ivy have flourished so Jane has left them in to do their second winter in her pots and window boxes. ‘I don’t think I’ve wasted anything. Which is important because winter pots in particular are expensive. You can spend around £100 on filling a few window boxes and pots. ‘

Evergreen plants in pots are often particularly long lasting. I’ve kept plants going in these pots for several years without changing them. And here is a post on the best plants for amazingly low maintenance pots.

And one ‘rule’ which is the same for summer and winter pots

Don’t have too many colours in one pot or grouping of pots! Of course, all rules are made to be broken, so if your heart lifts at the sight of a pot full of different colours, then why not? It’s your garden.

But I’ve noticed that when I ask experts about colour schemes for pots, they always say ‘limit your colours to three.’ And don’t forget that green is a colour.

Pink, yellow and silver for winter pots

Pink, yellow-green and silver-green. Jane tried out this grouping of pernyetta (Gaultheria mucronata), Golden sedge (Carex aurea) and stone pine (Pinus pinea ‘Silver Crest’) on a shelf at the garden centre, but decided against it. ‘The pink Gaultheria berries won’t last as long as the red ones,’ she said, ‘and if you plant them in the garden afterwards, they probably won’t berry again unless they have a male plant.’

And a rule can be a helpful thing when you’re faced with an array of plants at the garden centre.

Just add lights…

Jane thinks that it’s particularly cheering to add battery-powered fairy lights to winter pots and window boxes. If you buy them with a timer, you don’t even have to remember to switch them off.

Battery powered fairy lights

Battery powered fairy lights on Jane’s winter window box.

Don’t forget that they need to be suitable for outdoor use. I’ve bought these outdoor fairy lights with a timer. Note that links to Amazon are affiliate so I may get a small fee if you buy, but that won’t affect the price you pay. And I only recommend things I buy or use myself.

Find out more on the Middlesized Garden Amazon store.

More tips on planting and displaying pots…

For ideas on displaying pots in your garden, see this post on Diane Perry’s beautiful pots.

Plants in pots do need a little more care than plants in the ground. They need regular feeding and watering. See this post on Your best garden pots ever – 6 tips for brilliant container gardening. 

And there are 25 practical and pretty ideas for planters and pots here. And if you’d like to see Jane giving her tips in person, see the video on choosing and planting winter pots here.

More winter gardening tips

You can make your garden more interesting in winter by planting evergreen shrubs and trees. Here are tips from a beautiful evergreen garden. It has some lovely DIY tips to add a touch of grandeur, too.

Conifers have a bad reputation now. Many people dismiss them because Cypress Leylandii grows so huge. But you don’t have to have a Leylandii. There are some beautifully shaped conifers, and a wide range of leaf colours. They can look brilliant in winter, so see this post on how to choose conifers for your garden.

And it’s not all about evergreens in the winter garden. See this post for some beautiful grasses, seed-heads and bark that can transform your winter garden.

Pin to remember winter pots tips

And do join us every Sunday morning for tips, ideas and inspiration for your garden. See follow by email here.

4 comments on "Winter pots – really useful tips!"

  1. Just about to sort out some winter pots Lots of ideas and tips here So thanks.

  2. Dempo says:

    Bit confusing. At the top, Jane says you don’t need to feed plants in winter pots. Further down, says you need to feed regularly. Which is right?

    1. I couldn’t find anywhere in the post where Jane says you have to feed pots regularly in winter, but I’ve changed some of the wording to make it clearer that you definitely don’t need to feed plants in winter pots and window boxes, but that you should start feeding again when growth begins in the spring. A few people put some dilute feed in their pots and window boxes occasionally in winter, but it’s unlikely to be necessary as the plants are usually barely growing. Hope that clarifies it!

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