12 Winter Plants for Pots (Cold Weather Picks)

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Potted plant in the snow
While most perennials can’t handle cold winter weather, there are some species that are hardy enough to endure even ice exposure! Sarah (www.gardenvisit.com) / CC BY 2.0

While most perennials enter a period of well-earned rest through winter, turning brown and losing most of their foliage, there are a handful of species that seem to awaken in the cold! These plants may have differing seasonal cycles as they either remain evergreen or enter a dormant period through summer. Some of them survive only through warm or frost-free winters, whereas others are hardy enough to withstand exposure to ice.

Winter plants are great for adding color, texture, and the illusion of warmth and life to a chilly atmosphere. They can keep gardeners on their toes all through the cool months. Those that are suited to pots are especially versatile because they can be moved from one spot to another across both indoor and outdoor spaces. Some of them thrive in the filtered sunlight streaming through a frosty window, whereas others can greet guests with holiday cheer as soon as they step onto your front porch.

Typically native to temperate zones, these winter plants are often associated with religious holidays and with the onset of the new year. Symbolic of the determination to endure through challenging conditions, their colorful foliage, vivid blooms, and often juicy berries have unrivaled ornamental and ecological value to both gardeners and to wildlife. Give your home and garden a lively winter touch with the container plants below!

1) American wintergreen (Gaultheria procumbens)

American wintergreen fruit
American wintergreen produces edible fruit that are known as teaberries! Agnieszka Kwiecień, Nova, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Native to northeastern North America

A recipient of the RHS Award of Garden Merit, American wintergreen is one of the most charming low-growing shrubs for lustrous winter color. This member of the Ericaceae or heather family is set apart by its deep-green foliage, which lasts all throughout the year in USDA zones 3 – 9. The leaves are alternately arranged on fine stems that grow to a height of about 4 – 8 inches (10 – 20 cm). In fall, they may sport a purplish hue, creating a contrasting backdrop for the plant’s edible, bright-red teaberries.

The American wintergreen can tolerate temperatures that dip down to around -35˚C (-31˚F). A single specimen should be perfectly happy in pots or containers with a width of around 6 – 12 inches (15 – 30 cm). Of course, if you intend for this plant to have a more textural and crowded appearance, you may place several specimens within a single setup. The container should have well-draining yet evenly moist soil and be placed in an area receiving light shade.

2) Viola ‘Sorbet’ series (Viola cornuta hybrids)

Viola 'Sorbet Yellow Frost'
Viola ‘Sorbet’ flowers are small in size, making them the perfect candidates for a container or pot on a windowsill. Photo by David J. Stang, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Native to France and Spain

Known for being delicate yet tough and tolerant of cool temperatures, violas are some of the loveliest low-growing perennials for the winter garden. Those belonging to the ‘Sorbet’ series are particularly well-adapted to outdoor locations receiving full sun. They perform all through fall and winter, maintaining a compact and colorful appearance until late spring or early summer. As long as they are well-established before the first frosts set in, their blooms should repeatedly add warmth to a chilly landscape.

‘Sorbet’ violas rarely grow to more than 6 inches (15 cm) tall. Their petite size makes them perfect for containers or pots placed on a windowsill or porch. Some of the key techniques to maintaining their productivity are well-timed fertilization and the provision of consistent moisture. When the roots are devoid of nutrients and water, the shoots’ ability to produce blooms is arrested. A slow-release fertilizer should help keep the roots revitalized through the coolest months.

3) Christmas rose (Helleborus niger)

Potted Christmas rose in snow
The Christmas rose gets its name from its bloom period; its pretty flowers make an appearance around Christmas and the New Year in areas with warm winters. Gerda Arendt, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Native to Central and Eastern Europe

A phenomenal perennial for holiday cheer, the Christmas rose is named for its well-timed bloom period – exactly around Christmas and New Year in regions with warm winters. A member of the Ranunculaceae or buttercup family, this evergreen species is typically found in mountainous environments with slightly alkaline conditions and light shade. As its stems rarely grow to more than a foot (30 cm) tall, its cultivars are perfectly suited to containers and pots.

Christmas rose is also popularly referred to as “black hellebore” due to its dark-colored roots. In contrast, its large, midwinter blooms have white to light pink petals and a central tuft of spritely yellow stamens. Though these may attract winter bees, they are unlikely to draw herbivores to the garden. The whole plant contains bitter cardiotoxins which may cause a string of painful digestive ailments soon after ingestion.

4) Winter heath (Erica carnea)

Winter heath in snow
Winter heath is suitable for USDA zones 7 – 9 and remains evergreen in protected areas with mild to moderate temperatures. H. Zell, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Native to Europe

With dozens of some of the most vibrant inflorescences to mark the warming temperatures of late winter and early spring, winter heath is an excellent subshrub for USDA hardiness zones 7 – 9. Its shoots remain evergreen in protected areas with mild to moderate temperatures. Rarely growing to more than 10 inches (25 cm) tall, they are densely covered in tiny, needle-shaped leaves. The first blooms may appear in midwinter. These eventually become numerous enough to coat entire stems in shades of white to deep pink.

Award-winning cultivars of this species include ‘Myretoun Ruby’, ‘White Perfection’, ‘Golden Starlet’, and ‘March Seedling’. These are well-suited to pots and containers with acidic and organically enriched soils; however, many landscape gardeners plant them in rock gardens as they can self-spread to fill in the gaps. Low-maintenance, these cultivars can perform quite well under full to partial sun exposure. Do note, however, that direct summer heat may cause their shoots to die back.

5) Ivy-leaved cyclamen (Cyclamen hederifolium)

Ivy-leaved cyclamen flowers
Ivy-leaved cyclamen flowers may appear in early fall when temperatures begin to drop, and can last well into December. Krzysztof Ziarnek, Kenraiz, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Native to the Mediterranean

A perennial with a growth period lasting through winter and a dormant period in summer, the ivy-leaved cyclamen is one of the cold-hardiest members of its genus. Perfect for a winter garden, it is adapted to the oceanic climates of coastal woodland forests and rocky cliffsides. This flowering plant is captivating wherever it is situated – whether its blooms jut through a light layer of mulch on the ground or neatly emerge through potted soil.

The butterfly-like blooms of the ivy-leaved cyclamen may appear as soon as temperatures begin to drop in early fall. They may last well into December. Their emergence may precede that of their heart or arrow-shaped leaves. Depending on the variety, the leaves may have well-defined and variegated patterns or they may sport a more organic display of colors. Those situated in pots are borne on stalks that usually create a ring of foliage around the white, purple, or pink blooms.

6) Poinsettia (Euphorbia pulcherrima)

Poinsettia flowers
It’s recommended to overwinter poinsettias in an indoor space with bright, filtered light. Helge Klaus Rieder, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

Native to Mexico and Central America

Commercially, the poinsettia is the quintessential Christmas plant. Grown for its deep-red bracts, which are specialized leaves surrounding the plant’s inflorescences, it is often used as a living ornament to complement holiday festivities. The eye-catching hues of the bracts only develop when they are exposed to a photoperiod with more dark vs. light hours per day for several weeks. This is why they develop in fall and early winter. In cool temperate zones, however, both the bracts and mature leaves may drop.

Hardy to USDA zones 9 – 11, poinsettias need to be overwintered in a frost-free and preferably indoor space receiving bright, filtered light. Their pots should not be exposed to temperatures that dip to below 10˚C (50˚F). When provided with optimal conditions, the colorful bracts can last until early April. They will naturally fall off to reveal an exposed shoot. Reduce watering at this stage to prevent root rot. New leaves should develop after a brief dormant phase.

7) False Christmas cactus (Schlumbergera truncata)

False Christmas cactus flowers
In the winter months, false Christmas cactus should be placed in a warm, bright room with sufficient humidity levels. Empereur Day, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Native to Brazil

Found only in the lush rainforests of Brazil, the false Christmas cactus is a tropical succulent that clings to the surfaces of moistened trees and rocks. Now widely popular as an ornamental plant for indoor pots and hanging baskets, its vivid, showy blooms tend to coincide with Thanksgiving and Christmas. Of course, as the plant itself is a tropical species, its blooms are only successfully produced in the proper temperatures.

Through winter, the false Christmas cactus will need to be placed in a warm, brightly lit room with ample humidity levels. Ambient temperatures should ideally be kept between 57 – 72˚F (14 – 22˚C). Favorable flowering rates are associated with photoperiods having more than 13 hours of darkness per day. Keep in mind that inadequate conditions or sudden changes in physical parameters can delay or prevent bud production.

8) Frost-tolerant boxwoods (Buxus spp.)

Boxwood 'Green Mountain'
Boxwood ‘Green Mountain’ is one of the best cultivars that remains green throughout the winter months. F. D. Richards from Clinton, MI, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Native to Europe, northern Africa, Asia, and the Americas

Though boxwoods are often perceived as hedge plants, they can actually be grown as spritely, potted ornaments. Versatile, evergreen, and compact, frost-tolerant varieties can provide your home or landscape with delectable winter color. If your porch could use a sculptural plant that holds its ground in the face of cool temperatures and moderate winds, these could be your best bet! A small boxwood shrub can be pruned into all sorts of forms. You may even shape yours into a tabletop Christmas tree!

In preparation for winter, potted boxwood shrubs should be generously watered. As temperatures drop, do note that the moisture in their pots may freeze, preventing them from accessing moisture. At the peak of winter, these plants subsist on the water and nutrients stored in their leaves and stems. Some of the best cultivars, which can be relied upon to keep their green hues through the coolest months, include ‘Green Velvet’, ‘Wintergreen’, and ‘Green Mountain’.

9) Winter pansies (Viola hiemalis)

Winter pansies
In harsh winters, you should move your potted winter pansies indoors or to a protected location. Colin Smith / CC BY-SA 2.0

Native to North America and Europe

Compared to pansies that thrive in the warmth of spring to summer, winter or ice pansies are particularly fond of mild temperatures. These cold-tolerant plants are great choices for outdoor flower beds and container gardens in USDA hardiness zones 4 – 7. They may struggle to survive as perennials in regions with winter temperatures above 60˚F (15.6˚C). Due to their sensitivity to warm temperatures and their relatively short growth period, many gardeners opt to grow these plants as annuals.

Winter pansies are best planted in fall, once temperatures lie between 45 – 65˚F (7 – 18˚C), for a winter or spring bloom. During markedly frosty or harsh winters, it would be best to place your potted pansies in an indoor or protected location. Ample coverage from the elements should encourage the production of their white, yellow, red, purple, or bi-colored blooms. Note that hard freezes may cause their roots to freeze over and may completely impede their flower production.

10) Cold-tolerant primroses (Primula spp.)

Siebold primroses
As long as its leaves are protected from frost, Siebold primroses (pictured) can survive through cool winters. Daderot, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Native to Europe and East Asia

Generally hardy to USDA zones 4 – 8, cold-tolerant primroses are a great choice for winter color as their roots and shoots can tolerate temperatures that dip to 32˚F (0˚C). Though they don’t bloom in fall to early winter, they make up for it with their rosettes of lightly hairy leaves. These sustain their pale or silvery green coloration and can bring visual warmth to a roofed terrace or a bright, indoor location.

Allioni’s primrose (P. allionii) and the silver-edged primrose (P. marginata) may bloom as early as mid to late winter. These are some of the first primrose species to herald the onset of warming temperatures. Their white, purple, or lilac blooms may soon be followed by those of the Siebold primrose (P. sieboldii), which can likewise survive through cool winters as long as its leaves are protected from frost. All of these species grow to just 6 – 12 inches (15 – 30 cm) tall, so they may be kept in small pots that do not retain excess moisture.

11) Winter aconite (Eranthis hyemalis)

Winter aconite flowers in snow
Winter aconite can achieve a maximum height of just 4 inches, making it perfect for a petite container or pot. Kora27, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Native to southern Europe and temperate Asia

Typically found in deciduous forests, meadows, and temperate woodlands, winter aconite marks the beginning of late winter by sending out the most adorable clumps of bright yellow blooms. These emerge from networks of cold-tolerant tubers and can typically survive through frost exposure. In their native environment, the blooms may be seen jutting through a shallow layer of fresh snow. Their leaves appear once they have fully opened or when they are almost spent.

Winter aconite grows to a full height of just 4 inches (10 cm), so it is perfect for adding winter interest to the smallest of container gardens and petite pots. These can be placed on balconies or patios all throughout winter and spring. As this member of the Ranunculaceae or buttercup family is considered a “spring ephemeral”, it tends to die back and grow dormant as soon as temperatures rise considerably in late spring or early summer.

12) Winter-blooming camellias (Camellia x williamsii and the ‘Winter’ series)

Camellia x williamsii 'Celebration'
Winter-blooming camellias can provide year-round interest in frost-free areas and are hardy to USDA zones 7 – 9. Leonora (Ellie) Enking / CC BY-SA 2.0

Nursery hybrids

Some evergreen cultivars of Camellia x williamsii are known for producing blooms at the height of winter and through early spring. The ‘St. Ewe’ and ‘November Pink’ varieties, in particular, have floral heads that seem to defy the cold while most other plants seem to stop growing. These evergreen hybrids between C. japonica and C. saluenensis are arguably successful blends of their parent plants’ key traits. Hardy to USDA zones 7 – 9, they provide year-round interest as potted plants in frost-free locations.

For even cooler temperatures in USDA zone 6, consider investing in one of the Camellia cultivars in Dr. Ackerman’s ‘Winter’ series. These can survive exposure to temperatures that dip down to -23˚C (-9˚F). Note, however, that they will need protection from strong winds and harsh frosts. Cultivars like ‘Polar Ice’ and ‘Snow Flurry’ may bloom as early as late fall. Shielded from harsh morning or afternoon sun, their blooms may continue to appear through early winter. To bring out their best features, situate them in large pots.

Angeline L
About the author

Angeline L

I'm a passionate researcher and scuba diver with a keen interest in garden plants, marine life, and freshwater ecology. I think there’s nothing better than a day spent writing in nature. I have an academic and professional background in sustainable aquaculture, so I advocate for the responsible production of commercial fish, macroinvertebrates, and aquatic plants.

Read more about Pond Informer.

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