Containers: winter selection

Containers planted up with a selection of foliage and flowers can brighten up a patio or balcony, giving colour and interest over the cold season.

Containers: winter selection

Quick facts

Our top 5 plants for winter containers:
Viola
Narcissus 'Tête-à-tête' AGM
Heuchera 'Burgundy Frost' AGM
Curry plant (Helicyhrysum)
Soft shield fern

Introduction

There is a huge selection of shrubs, herbaceous plants, bedding and bulbs to choose from. Although these plants are not as flamboyant as those used in summer containers, you can still make a statement with careful plant selection.

Practical considerations

  • Remember that plants grow very little in winter so make sure you start with good-sized plants and use sufficient numbers of plants for the size of container to make an impact from the start
  • Position your container where it will get as much light as possible during the winter months to ensure plant foliage remains green and healthy 
  • Water containers carefully in winter, making sure you check the compost regularly as it can soon dry out in mild spells. Smaller plants are more susceptible to over- or underwatering
  • It is not necessary to feed container plants during the winter
  • Raise containers off the ground on pot feet or bricks to aid drainage and help prevent the freezing conditions that cause pots to crack
  • Choose frost-proof terracotta or containers made of plastic, fibreglass or wood. Bubble wrap containers in severe weather to reduce damage to plant roots

Suitable plants

  • Winter bedding plants: these mainly flower in spring, but cyclamen, winter-flowering pansy, viola, primula and polyanthus will flower intermittently during mild spells in winter. The following can also be used: forget-me-not (Myosotis alpestris), large-flowered bedding daisies (Bellis perennis), wallflowers (Erysimium), Cyclamen persicum (not hardy but will usually last until the new year in a sheltered location). See the Gardeners' Calendar for more inspiration
  • Evergreen shrubs: these retain their green leaves through winter and make a good focal point in a large container, or can be mixed with other dwarf shrubs for a variety of foliage and flowers. Try box (Buxus sempervirens), bay (Laurus nobilis), skimmia, euonymus, ivy (Hedera). Ornamental cabbage and kale provide additional foliage interest
  • Bulbs: into newly-purchased containers or hanging baskets, consider planting bulbs for additional spring flowers. When you change to a summer display, the bulbs can be planted in the ground to flower the following spring. Try Narcissus, Muscari, Tulipa or Iris
  • Hardy evergreen ferns: use hart's tongue fern (Asplenium scolopendrium), common polypody (Polypodium vulgare) and soft shield fern (Polystichum setiferum) in containers for shady positions. Find out more about the fern collection at RHS Garden Wisley and plants with an AGM
  • Herbaceous plants: Heuchera are an excellent choice for their evergreen or semi-evergreen foliage in green or rich plum shades, some with exquisite markings
  • Grasses: small evergreen ornamental grasses, such as Carex, combine well with winter bedding to give height and a contrast in texture
  • Herbs: use those that are evergreen perennials like rosemary, sage, thyme, lavender and curry plant. All prefer a sunny position. Click here for more information on herbs in containers

Links

RHS Plant finder
RHS Plant selector
AGM plants

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