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.
- 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
- 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)
- 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 and berries. Try box (Buxus sempervirens), bay (Laurus nobilis), skimmia, euonymus, ivy (Hedera) or Gaultheria mucronata varieties. 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
- 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
The Royal Horticultural Society is the UK’s leading gardening charity. We aim to enrich everyone’s life through plants, and make the UK a greener and more beautiful place.