A garden in winter is a special thing. Full of the deep, reflective quiet of nature, waiting patiently to come alive again in spring with riots of color and fragrance. But if you think that your garden has to go to sleep each winter, then think again. There are lots of small evergreens and even cold hardy flowers that can be used to create thriving winter planters.
Together with plants that thrive outdoors in winter and a few winter garden design tricks, you can create gorgeous winter garden containers. I’ve created my own winter planter to walk you through all the steps to create your own winter garden planters to dress up your front door, back porch, or all around your home!
How to Make Winter Planters
I’ve broken the steps down so you can easily follow along with how to create the best winter planters for your outdoor space. In this post, I’ll cover some of the best plant choices for outdoor planters in winter, how to fill your planters with soil, as well as some design tips so that all your plants look great together! But first, let’s start with a few helpful tips and tricks…
Simple Winter Garden Planters tips and tricks:
- Combine living plants and natural materials such as twigs, berries and branches. Don’t feel like you have to do one or the other, as they complement each other and are the designer secret to containers that get attention.
- Pack soil tightly. If you’re using sticks and branches (especially larger ones, It’s important to pack your soil in tightly. Loose soil will not hold heavier elements all winter long.
- You don’t have to actually plant anything! That feels wrong to say… in a garden blog… but it’s true! You can use fresh evergreen branches to create a beautiful design and just replace any that begin to dry out!
- Pick at least one evergreen plant that can act as an anchoring element. This plant will be a part of each season’s design for that planter, so keep that in mind!
- Keep the big picture in mind. As you add plants and branches to your planter, step back often to view it from a distance. This always help to get a vision of what you want it to look like in the end.
- Go out of your way to include plants with color! This container by ‘Blomsterverkstad‘ incorporates a beautiful purple ornamental kale, for instance.
The very best plants for winter planters
I’ve got a list of all of my favorite plants to incorporate into your winter planter design, and I’ve broken them down into categories to help with your design process. Let’s start with the evergreens.
As I mentioned earlier, you should choose an evergreen that you’ll love in any season. This is the plant that will act as an anchor for your design.
Thyme, Sage, and Rosemary are a few herbs that will last just about all year long. Rosemary is the one that will look the best and (in my opinion) serve as the best anchoring feature in your winter planter. That’s because it is the one that will continue to grow the best regardless of the season, and it tends to be taller and bushier than the other two.
What’s even better, you can usually buy Christmas tree shaped rosemary closer to the holidays to give your winter planters a bit of a festive touch!
I love juniper for it’s dusty blue green color. Definitely opt for Juniper if you’re looking to add a bit of zen to your winter planters. Contrast their subdued color with pops of white/brights and some darker hues as you complete your design.
Boxwoods are a great go-to in landscaping both your yard and your garden planters. These plants help to create a bit of architectural structure in your design. Keep them clean cut or let them loose, it’s up to you!
Other great evergreens include:
- Italian cypress trees
- Dwarf conifers
Flowers that thrive in winter planters
Yes, you can have blooming flowers in your outdoor winter planters! Here are my favorites
Pansies and violas are the most popular winter flower choice for good reason. Though these flowers look delicate, they are extremely cold hardy. Using either of these flowers into your design means you’ll continue to have color even as the temperatures dip! Use pansies if you love larger pops of color and fluttering petals.
Violas create an undeniably whimsical effect with their delicate little flowers. Chose these if you already have larger elements in your design and you want some tiny pockets of color scattered throughout.
I think hellebores are wildly underrated. They bring beauty into the garden in times an places that other flowering plants just don’t. And by that I mean in the cold and in the shade. And who isn’t grateful for blooming flowers in a shaded area where nothing else grows? And in the middle of a cold winter? Um, yes please!
Other excellent flower options include
- Japanese skimmia (pictured below)
- Lily of the valley
Filler plants and ornamentals
You probably still have more space to fill in your winter planters- it’s not all about flowers! Take a look at what you’ve chose so far and determine what you still need more of. Are you lacking some pops of color? How a bout a tall plant? Or do you really just need a plant that will sprawl and help cover some bare soil? I’ve got an option for each!
Ornamental kale or cabbage
I’m starting with ornamental kales and cabbages because they can basically fit any of the needs I listed above. There are so many varieties! As you can see here, it can add a pop of bright purple, white, or dark purple for some contrast. And, there are taller varieties of kale if you still need some height in your winter planter.
Still need to cover some bare soil? Sedum is the answer! And we have a whole post on how to grow and design with sedum, too! This is another plant that comes in lots of varieties, so check out our post and pick your favorite!
Still need more filler plants? Try these
- Vinca Vine
natural materials to enhance your planter
- Red or yellow twig dogwood
- Curly willow twigs/branches
- Birch branches
- Berry sprays
- Seed pods and cones
- Evergreen cuttings, branches and tree tops
- Magnolia branches
Winter planters ideas and examples
Now let’s see how some of these plants and design elements all come together! Pam at ‘House of Hawthornes‘ uses the same method as we do to plant her winter garden planters. This one is so simple, and if any of the greens dry out, you can easily replace them as the season goes on.
Heather at ‘Setting for Four‘ added birch branches to her basic winter planters. She flanked her front door with these, then added red for holiday pop!
From ‘5Th and State‘, this winter garden planter is a perfect example of using both living plants and branches. This one includes white ornamental cabbage, yellow twig dogwood branches, cedar branches, fir tree branches and some eucalyptus.
Create a winter container garden with ‘HGTV‘! This is a zone 7 garden, and the variegated plant is euphorbia. Pansies will bloom up until a very hard frost or good snow. Trailing rosemary adds a wonderful scent here, but you could use an evergreen ivy as well. Of course, this winter planter is made up of all living plants, and if you live in a colder zone, you can accent with some branches for texture.
‘Southern Living‘ knows how to make winter garden planters. The contrast between this purple ornamental kale, golden false cypress and the variegated yucca would pop even more if you have rainy, overcast skies or a dusting of snow!
Deborah Silver at ‘Dirt Simple‘ has another recipe for living plant winter garden containers. This window box is full of ornamental kale and creeping jenny. Remember to pack a winter planter more full then you would a spring one, as it will not be actively growing and filling up the pot!
If you are a gardening purist and don’t want to use branches and cuttings, we have a solution for you. Use dwarf selections of evergreens shrubs to plant your own tiny little forest. From ‘Martha‘.
If you want contrast with the snow and ice, think red accents for your winter planters. These red dogwood branches take this simple urn to a higher level, without screaming “holiday”. From ‘Midwest Living‘.
Loving on these winter garden planters from ‘KMS Gardens‘. These are simply cuttings from common backyard evergreen shrubs, and some seed pods and cones. The bright yellow green really gives good contrast against the black containers, and then they are repeated throughout the space.
From Deborah at ‘Dirt Simple‘ again, this simple container is just three things… Spruce, red dogwood and birch.
…And this is an example of what happens when you take the advice of a great designer (Deborah, in this case!) and light your containers!
Elizabeth from ‘Pretty Pink Tulips‘ took her garden decor and some evergreen branches and made some magic! We can imagine this lantern would look like a winter woodland fantasy when lighted at night.
From ‘UBD Landscape‘, here is another example of a designer using lighting to make winter garden planters really stand out.
Last, Katherine at ‘Your Place By Design‘ made her winter planters with some really cool seed pods and some twig balls you can get at any craft store. We would suggest you wire those balls with some floral wire to keep them stable in the wind.
Where to Buy Planters
Here are a few of our favorite planters for you to order to get your winter pots up and growing!
The Adamell Pot Planter is crafted from weather resistant fiber clay, so it won’t fade in the sun, but is also lightweight and easy to move. Oh, and gorgeous too! Comes in four colors and three sizes.
This lightweight concrete tall planter pot is sturdy and will last season after season… and it’s free shipping! A modern look in matte white or black.
We love these Veradek tall plastic planters because they come with a removable shelf insert. This allows you to simply pop in nursery pots, or you can remove the shelf and fill the entire planter with soil, your choice! Three colors and three sizes. Love these!
If none of these work for you, go search for outdoor planter pots at ‘Wayfair’, they have tons of choices at great prices, and most of them ship for free!
So don’t stop gardening when the weather gets colder. Learn how to make winter garden planters! If you enjoyed learning about this topic, try our posts on Fall Front Door Decor Ideas, DIY front yard Christmas decorating projects or fall lawn tricks for a killer lawn in spring! And we know you will want to make one of these gorgeous DIY Christmas Door Mats to go with your planters, over at TBD!