5 Ideas For Planting Winter Pots – These Outdoor Containers Make a December Garden Look so Much Better

For long-lasting containers filled with color, shape and texture, here's what you need to know about choosing the right plant combinations using beauties that don't care if temperatures drop

winter container display with cones and heather
(Image credit: Elizabeth Whiting & Associates/Alamy Stock Photo)

Whatever your planting style, deciding what to put in winter containers means you need to get creative with your choices. Your efforts will be totally on show as there's usually so little competition right now. 

The trick is to pick plants that offer a long lasting display right through winter and beyond, as well as adding some surprises along the way. When spring flowering bulbs you forgot you planted pop up when all around everything is still cold and bleak it offers an extra moment of joy in your winter garden.

One of the most uplifting activities at this time of year is definitely getting outside and doing some container gardening. In a way it's an easy job as there are less plants to choose from but the focus will be on them more than at any other time of year.

If you position winter planters where you can see them up close you will experience a happy moment every time you pass by. Just remember they need to be fed occasionally, watered and deadheaded to keep them going right through to spring. If you're ready to get started, here are some of our favorite ideas for you to bookmark.

winter container with hellebores

If you want to keep your ideas for winter pots simple, try the 'Merlin' hellebore, which has no need for a supporting cast. The smoky pink flowers gradually darken to crimson in late winter

(Image credit: Jonathan Buckley/Sarah Raven)

Plant the best winter pots

Container gardens are a wonderful way to grow flowers in the winter season. They can be clustered together for instant impact, then switched up to bring seasonal interest as winter segues into spring. First factor in one or two practical guidelines for the best results.

'Putting together a container flower garden is a chance for you to show your creative side,' says horticulturalist Jenny Rose Carey. 'Make sure all the plants in one pot have the same water and light requirements. Choose your bold beauties and supporting cast for each season before you go to the store.'

Remember container grown flowers are planted more closely together than they would be if grown in the ground. 'Space the plants about a third to a half of the suggested distance that is says on the plant label to give a full, lush look,' suggests Jenny.

Here's our reveal of the most craveable ideas for winter pots to give you inspiration.

1. Crisp white combination

winter container with hellebore

This late winter/early spring container is packed full of white flowers and features hellebores, pansies, tulips, and Ranunculus, with budded hyacinths and rosemary filling the gaps

(Image credit: Avalon.red/Alamy Stock Photo)

White flowers are magical in the winter backyard because of their luminous qualities. It's also an easy win choosing one color to add little touches of loveliness as part of your ideas for winter pots. Happily many of the classic winter container plants come in white, including hellebores, cyclamen, pansies, and heather.

I'm a big fan of white flowers in winter container gardens as they look so crisp. I like to mix in white spring flowering bulbs too that will pop up at different times such as crocus, snowdrops, hyacinths and tulips to keep the white theme going for months. But if you want a star performer in the depths of winter be sure to include some hellebores in the mix, as they are the classic choice for winter interest. 

'If you're in dire need of some winter flowers hellebore will have you covered,' agrees horticulturalist Jac Semmler. 'They have impressive foliage and bloom in the shade, which is a special asset for us beauty seekers. They are a lovely choice to extend flowering in your garden throughout the year.' 

Hellebores can be sourced from plant nurseries and specialist suppliers during the flowering season. Try the silvery tall-stemmed 'Molly's White', or 'Frost Kiss Moondance' for classic white blooms that slowly turn pale green.

2. Pretty pink mix

winter container with skimmia japonica and primula

Super-pretty Polyanthus 'Pink Pacific Giant' and clusters of Skimmia japonica flowers, with trailing ivy as the filler plant

(Image credit: Kathy deWitt/Alamy Stock Photo)

If you love the look of pink flowers in winter the good news is there are plenty of plant varieties to choose from in every shade from blush to magenta. As well as plants like cyclamen, hellebores and heathers, there are spring flowering bulbs such as hyacinths and tulips to add to the mix. 

Consider too winter flowering shrubs like daphne or a camellia, such as Camellia sasanqua ‘Dwarf Shishi’. With their lush blooms and glossy dark foliage they look great as a focal point in winter pots.

For flowers that look so delicate polyanthus (primula) are surprisingly frost-hardy, and can even survive temperatures below freezing. They flower prolifically from late winter into early spring, adding vibrant color to container gardens.

Opt for the 'Pink Pacific Giant' variety, which has clusters of flowers on short sturdy stems so is an ideal choice for the front of a container. Meanwhile for something a little different, try 'Belarina Pink Champagne' which has exquisitely ruffled pale pink and cream double flowers.

Consider including smaller varieties of skimmia in your ideas for winter pots, particularly for north-facing situations. As well as adding structure and year-round interest with evergreen foliage, they have lovely dusky pink flower buds throughout winter that burst open in spring.

3. Dark gothic tints

winter container with ornamental grass and ornamental cabbage

This winter container is a classic example of the thriller (ornamental grasses), filler (ornamental brassicas and pansies) and spiller (trailing greenery) idea

(Image credit: Primeur)

For drama in the winter garden you can't beat deep burgundy tones for pots and window boxes. Dark foliage is a hot trend right now too, according to Katie Dubow, president of the Garden Media Group. Moody shades of burgundy, mauve and black are going to be popular in 2024 planting schemes as part of the so-called 'goth gardening' trend.

'If you aren’t growing options that feature these darker colors, then you're really missing the mark,' says Katie, 'and with 430k posts on social media, #Gothgarden(ing) #VictorianGardens, #Halloweengardens #Steampunk, and #Tombstonetourism, the trend will only grow.'

So it's definitely time to think about adding dark hues to your own ideas for winter pots to keep them on trend. Bring a splash of color with the ruffled leaves of dark and moody ornamental brassicas such as kale and cabbage. The colder the weather, the stronger the color of these vibrant plants. Add a dusting of frost and their crinkled leaves look even prettier.

Look out also for varieties of dark and inky Hellebores like 'Harvington Black', black tulips such as 'Queen of the Night', Heuchera 'Black Pearl', and 'Midnight Sky' hyacinth.

4. Rich jewel-bright accents

winter container with pansies and heather

Pansies are a welcome addition to the cool season garden

(Image credit: mtreasure/Getty Images)

Vibrant purple flowers are superstars in the world of cool season containers, and can always be relied on to add a lively accent. For winter pots choose purple pansies, violas, crocuses or hyacinths, and you will enjoy weeks of color provided by these precious amethyst gems. They can be planted in minutes, are maintenance free, and will add a splash of color that lasts for a couple of months while the rest of the garden is still asleep.

'Gardening in winter is often tough,' says plant expert Sarah Raven. 'Frosts set in, and the evenings get darker, but introducing cheery and colourful containers is a great way to add beauty. To get dense and flowery potfuls I plant the earliest, smallest bulbs (crocuses and winter irises) just below the compost surface, after planting the larger, later flowering varieties (hyacinths, tulips, and narcissi) in another layer below.'

Sarah's favorite purple crocus? 'I often go for early flowering  crocuses, such as the showy, vivid purple ‘Flower Record’.

In winter it's important to relish every single bloom, however small, when there's so much less to see and enjoy. It’s all about the detail. These are small plants but there’s no question of missing their jewel-like brilliance.

Don't forget about visiting pollinators either, who will be experiencing a scarcity of flowers too. Plant purple flowers in winter containers and they will act as beacons to attract pollinators to your garden, as well as offering little pops of joy for you.

5. Evergreen beauty

winter container with skimmia, dwarf conifer and pansies

This winter container is planted up with a dwarf conifer as the centerpiece and several small Skimmia plants, all of which will last from season to season

(Image credit: Lois GoBe/Alamy Stock Photo)

I love the idea of creating a structure of evergreen plants in a container, then simply switching flowering plants in and out according to what's in season. The evergreens give year-round interest and form, while the successional planting provides seasonal interest. Shrubs introduce contrasting texture and form to complement the softer flower planting that completes the look.

Evergreens make a wonderful, neutral backdrop. As part of your ideas for winter pots they really come to the fore, as other planting recedes to reveal their form. They should also be celebrated for their easy-going and hardy nature, and the fact you can just leave them to get on with it.

Favorite ideas for winter pots include dwarf varieties of conifer to add vertical interest, skimmia for consistently performing above and beyond, and boxwood if you like a clipped look. 

They will take your container into summer and beyond, making them perfect ideas for winter pots.

Lifestyle journalist Sarah Wilson has been writing about flowers, plants, and garden design and trends since 2015. Having already studied introductory garden and landscape design as well as a course in floristry she is currently adding to her list of qualifications with an RHS Level 2 course in the Principles of Plant Growth and Development. In addition to livingetc.com, she's also written for homesandgardens.com, gardeningetc.com, Modern Gardens and Country Homes & Interiors magazines.