Updated/Fact-Chacked on April 11, 2023 by John
Plant Winter Flowering Plants for 12 Months of Colour
Winter can be a depressing time for gardeners; most perennials turn brown and start to die back. But all is not lost. With a bit of careful planning and learning about plants that bloom throughout winter, it’s possible to have flowers in bloom all year round.
The perfect winter garden would have a few evergreen plants and leftover seed heads from summer, mixed with some winter flowering plants. Leaving dead seedheads can give your borders some winter interest and provide food for birds and insects. Plants like echinacea, allium and rudbeckia all leave seed heads that may look unattractive close-up but will give your border architectural qualities. They will also look amazing with frost and snow on them.
At the time of writing, in early November, I’m just waiting for a cold snap to finish off my Autumn flowering plants. I’ve done so well this year keeping the colours going until now, but have been helped by mild weather.
I previously wrote about evergreen perennials that give you winter interest in form and foliage and outdoor succulents that can survive frosts and provide amazing textures. In this article, I want to talk about plants that specifically flower over the winter months.
If you are a regular reader, you’ll know we very rarely write about shrubs. We mainly focus on perennial and annual flowering plants, these are our passion. If you are considering winter flowering shrubs, check this RHS article; otherwise, keep reading for all perennial plant options for winter colour.
Winter flowering plants are not just for human interest, they provide valuable food for early bees and other pollinators. Early bumblebees can really struggle to find food in February, planting some of the winter flowers below will definitely help them.
I have ordered the plants by flowering month, try and plan your garden so you have something in bloom every month. I have also included some winter container examples to inspire you.
Flowering: All winter
Hardy cyclamen varieties, like coum and hederifolium, are very easy to grow and one of the few plants to flower in cold conditions; you’ll see images of them growing through snowfall.
I planted six cyclamens last year; three under my cherry blossom tree in my lawn and the rest in pots. A couple died when my fence collapsed on them during the high winds, but I’ll replace those this week. I hoped they would naturalize and spread along with my later flowering bluebells and snowdrops.
Cyclamen can be planted from tubers, but all of mine were planted in green from my local nursery (Poplar Tree Garden Centre, Durham).
You can extend your cyclamen flowering time by purchasing different varieties. Cyclamen hederifolium will start flowering during late autumn, while cyclamen coum flower from January to March. Cyclamen persicum is best grown indoors in a conservatory or porch, so check the label.
You also need to deadhead the flowers to stop them from dropping on the base of the plant and rotting.
Flowering: January – May
Hardiness: H3 – H7
Hellebores are easy to grow and provide year-round foliage with early flowers from January – a fantastic pollen source for early bumblebees.
Hellebores generally like well-drained soil, you can find varieties for any garden position; they thrive in woodland areas, so perform best in partial shade. They do not like to be moved, so make sure you buy the correct variety for the position you are planting in.
Our native variety is the stinking hellebore (Helleborus foetidus) with green flowers, ideal for shady areas. This is a large hellebore compared to other varieties and can reach 50cm in height. This native variety also flowers late from February to May.
I like planting UK native varieties of plants, but this week I’ve been looking to buy some black hellebores and considering Helleborus x hybridus or Helleborus niger. I’ll combine these with white hellebores like Helleborus ‘Verboom Beauty’ or Helleborus × hybridus ‘pretty ellen white’.
Hellebores can be planted any time between October and March and planted in green from your garden centre. Hellebores are deep-rooted, so dig a generous size hole when planting. Here’s a video made by Mark from Learn How to Garden about planting hellebores in pots – I love the idea of keeping them close to your back door.
Watch out for hellebore black spot fungus. If you spot this, Monty recommends removing all affected leaves.
Winter Pansies (Viola x wittrockiana)
Flowering: December – April
Viola are my go-to plant for cheering myself up when everything outside is cold, grey and miserable. They are short-lived perennial plants, usually grown as annuals in the UK. I tend to rotate them with summer bedding plants in pots.
Viola is a large genus of plants from the Violaceae family with over 500 species, including pansies (Viola x wittrockiana) – the larger variety. Viola are generally small, brightly coloured flowers with a long bloom season from spring.
Winter pansies are more readily available at this time of year (autumn). I’ve just returned from Green lane Nursery in Durham, and they have a huge range available.
Winter pansies should be planted in autumn so they can get their roots established before the cold weather starts. You could try them from December, but they are unlikely to flower as long.
Viola can spread and self-seed easily, I even discovered one growing on in the crack of my patio.
Winter Clematis (Clematis urophylla)
Flowering: Winter-Early Spring
If you are searching for winter flowering plants, then a winter clematis is a good option. Clematis cirrhosa is an evergreen climber that produces bell-shaped flowers throughout winter. Many ‘cirrhosa’ varieties have unusual speckled flowers like clematis cirrhosa var. balearica, Clematis Advent Bells and Clematis Freckles (cirrhosa var. purpurascens ‘Freckles’) – have a look at Thorncroft Clematis for these.
Clematis cirrhosa is winter hardy to -10 C degrees, which should be fine throughout most of the UK.
Primroses are part of the Primula family of plants, which includes hundreds of varieties around the world. Primroses are small, low-growing primulas like Primula vulgaris – our native UK primrose found under hedgerows. If you are a nature lover, Primula vulgaris is a must-have, as it provides food for early pollinators.
Primroses like to sit in damp, partial-shade locations and are commonly planted under bushes, though they will tolerate a sunny location. I planted a few under my hydrangea last winter, and they certainly detracted the eye from the ugly, dead hydrangea flower heads. I do find primula foliage to be unattractive out of season, so this can be hidden throughout the summer months when shrubs are flowering.
Flowering: January – March
Hardiness: H5 – H7
Snowdrops are usually the first plants of the year to flower, often pushing through snow and ice.
Snowdrops are usually planted as bulbs around October/November but can be planted ‘in green’ in February. They can be tricky to naturalise if growing from bulbs, you’ll have more success planting them once established from a plant nursery.
They like damp, partial shade locations; I planted mine under my cherry blossom tree, along with bluebells and cyclamen.
There are 44 different species of snowdrops, some with unique characteristics like large flower heads (Galanthus elwesii) and double-flowered (Galanthus nivalis f. pleniflorus) – plenty to choose from and options to stand out.
There are people utterly obsessed with buying rare snowdrops; the most expensive bulb to date ( Galanthus plicatus ‘Golden Tears’) sold for £1,850 on eBay. Even a quick search for snowdrops on the site shows many bulbs selling for £200.
Winter container planting combinations for inspiration
If you want to create some winter pot displays or hanging baskets, combine any of the above winter flowering plants with foliage like ajuga, winter heather, grasses or wintergreen (Gaultheria procumbens) for a festive look.
Here are some amazing-looking winter pot ideas for you to steal.
For more winter pot ideas, check out our Pinterest board on our Plantsman account.
Tips for planting winter pots
- When planting up your winter container, it’s worth adding some spring bulbs to the mix. Once the winter flowers die back, you will get the spring bulbs coming through while the foliage remains.
- Add some herbs to your winter planter for textured, edible foliage. Oregano, mint, parsley and thyme will all grow throughout winter.
- Don’t forget about outdoor succulents to make a great display
- If you are making up a winter hanging basket, add trailing varieties of pansies and ivy
Gareth is the owner of Plantsman Media. Gareth lives in the North East of England and is obsessed with flowers. He has just started RHS level 2 certification.