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Beautiful Container Garden Ideas for Winter

Winter container gardening is a chance to flex your creative muscles and add visual interest to your landscaping when the growing season has paused.

Two large container gardens on either side of a front entrance Courtesy Deborah Silver & Co.

Why You Should Consider Planting a Winter Container Garden?

There are loads of good reasons to plant a winter container garden. Not only are they low maintenance and don’t require a lot (if any) water or a lot of direct sunlight, but they will also add a splash of color and life to your porch, front steps, and yard when the rest of the garden has gone bare and dormant.

Before You Plant a Winter Container Garden

As you begin to plan your cold-weather container gardening, make sure your vessels can survive fluctuating temperatures. Porous materials like ceramic and terracotta are subject to flaking and cracking in frosty temps, so containers made from them need to be moved indoors.

Best Types of Planters to Use

Planters constructed from metal, fiberglass, heavy-duty plastic, resin, and wood are more apt to survive extreme temperatures and not crack. If you do keep your (porous) stone, cement, or concrete planters outdoors, make sure they have drainage holes so that when it rains, water can pass through rather than get trapped and freeze, potentially damaging the container.

Reusing Containers

If you’re using containers with plantings in them, remove the plants but keep the soil, which can act as a “frog” to keep your plants and branches in place. Move the planter to where you want to place it for the winter before adding plants to it—once it’s filled, it will be heavier and more unwieldy.

Winter Plants for Container Gardens

Choose hardy plants and materials that will survive frigid temperatures. Below are some perennials commonly used in winter container gardens.

A group of planters arranged on wooden boxes GAP Photos
  • Ivy
  • Lamb’s Ear
  • Spruce
  • Juniper
  • Coral bells
  • Sedum
  • Grasses
  • Smoke Bush
  • Creeping Jenny
  • Hens and Chicks
  • Miniature Fir Trees
  • Boxwood

The following are hardy annuals that also make great additions to winter container gardens.

  • Kale
  • Ornamental Cabbages
  • Sage
  • Pansies
  • Annual grasses
  • Flax

Don’t be afraid to mix and experiment with different plants and materials. Unlike permanent plantings, the beauty of a container garden is its short-term commitment and flexibility; you can modify it mid-season if you wish.

Designing a Winter Container Garden

If you don’t know where to begin when designing your container, start with a strong focal point and build around it. Whether it’s a splay of tall branches or a miniature fir tree, a focal point will give your display some height while offering space to layer in plants around or in front of it.

Next, think about adding color and varying the textures of the plants. You might want to combine stiffer ones like spruce with softer varieties like cypress.

You can also add elements like branches, pinecones, twig balls, seed pods, and even garlands. Consider solar-powered fairy lights to give your container garden a warm glow on those dark winter nights.

The fuller, the better when it comes to designing a winter container garden—so don’t be shy about introducing more for a lush and welcoming display you and your guests will appreciate all winter long.

Winter Container Gardens Ideas

Create a rustic aesthetic

A winter topiary with a grape vine ball on top. Courtesy Michelle Kosoy

Michelle Kosoy from Walnut Kitchen added cedar and Magnolia stems to help set the tone of this rustic winter planter that lies on a bed of evergreens and trailing ivy. A grapevine ball trimmed in copper LED lights adds structural appeal—particularly useful when using just a handful of plants and cuttings for your container garden.

Incorporate lighting in your display

Of course, winter garden containers can look as good at night as they do during the day. Landscape designer Deborah Silver, outdoor planter’s sparkle thanks to LED lighting in the form of lighted rings, lighted sticks, and stems. The added bonus: The containers take on a sculptural quality whose impact shines brightest when the sun goes down.

Debbie Philips, owner and founder of Scentimental Gardens out of Geneva, IL, created more than a moment with this winter container garden. An entire mini-forest comes to life with a series of dwarf evergreen trees backed by yellow twig dogwood branches. This color scheme works because of the variations in leaves—from lime green to dark forest—the monochromatic color adds a subtle depth and nuance to the display. And don’t forget to use winter-hardy cabbage in your displays—not only does the texture draw additional attention, but it also emphasizes its lush and dramatic appeal.

Use contrasting plants

Two holiday theme container plants sit on either side of an entryway Courtesy Lush Designs

Out of southwest Connecticut, Lush Designs uses splays of red branches, eucalyptus, and contrasting white birch logs to give this winter container garden height without feeling top-heavy. Pinecones, berries, and pomegranates add a festive touch without feeling too holiday-specific. The various firs and evergreens provide a lush base that will make even mid-season additions feel natural.

Add a pop of color

A topiary garden with pops of color and reflective ornaments. Bridget Schroeder/Designed by The Contained Garden

The Contained Garden, a seasonal container planting service that adds accents to entryways, doorways, patios, and decks, mixes and matches a variety of plants like magnolia and firs for a lush, welcoming display. To keep the container visually interesting, place unexpected pops of color like dried yarrow flowers, dyed yellow along with red berries. Ornaments add a little bit of reflective shine for a holiday-ready feel.

Pro Tip: To make your winter container garden last longer, spray your plants with Wilt-Pruf—a clear and protective coating that minimizes moisture loss.