Winter hanging baskets are a brilliant way to bring color and interest into your garden during the colder months. Getting a glimpse of them as you gaze out of the winter is guaranteed to lift spirits and they will give your home winter curb appeal. They’re also an easy and manageable way to keep gardening throughout the winter months.
There’s a wealth of hardy plants to choose from and the combinations for winter hanging baskets are endless, so we’ve asked the experts for some advice to help you with winter garden ideas, including which winter plants to choose and which work well together in winter hanging baskets.
Winter hanging basket ideas
Planning a winter garden should mean leaving space for winter hanging baskets.
‘Winter hanging baskets are a great way to express your creativity and add some color to your outside space, no matter the size,’ says Marcus Eyles, Horticultural Director of Dobbies (opens in new tab).
‘A color theme is a great starting place, where you can consider a wide range of different plants to create a mix of lush foliage, big blooms and delicate flowers as part of your arrangement. Choosing blooms of similar shades can create an impressive design that is guaranteed to wow your visitors.’
Below, we turn our usual obsession with container gardening ideas towards winter hanging baskets.=.
1. Think: thriller, spiller, filler for bountiful winter hanging baskets
If you’re not sure where to start when it comes to planting up a hanging basket or container a good way to approach one is to combine three different types of plant: thriller plants – showy centerpiece plants; spiller plants – trailing plants that bring structure and add another dimension; and filler plants to plug the gaps.
‘The key to beautiful hanging baskets is a mix of one to two tall plants, one to two spiller plants, and several filler options, grounded by a striking evergreen plant option. Adding in an unexpected element – such as a unique plant or solar garden lighting ideas – creates a delightful feature element to the display’ says Ashley Irene, garden designer at Heirloom Potager (opens in new tab).
2. Choose winter pansies and violas for color
A popular go-to plant for a winter hanging basket, hardy pansies and violas are guaranteed to bring cheerful pops of color right through winter into spring. They are available in a huge array of shades so are the perfect antidote to grey winter days.
‘Winter violas are a pretty site, so many colors to choose from, plant up with skimmia Kew White or green and a clump of trailing ivy,’ says Amanda Brame, horticultural director of Petersham Nurseries (opens in new tab).
Sarah Raven suggests Viola cornuta 'Phantom' F1 – a beautiful purple viola which has a lovely fragrance. Or try Viola F1 ‘Rose Blotch’ grown above with Heuchera ‘Sugar Frosting' for warm, seasonal color.
3. Use hardy perennials with colorful foliage
As herbaceous perennials die off, evergreen perennials are a reliable way to bring year-round structure and color and there are plenty suitable for winter hanging baskets and containers.
Plants such as Heuchera and Ajuga are both low-growing evergreens loved for their beautiful foliage. The leaves of Heucheras can range from greens and silvers to russet, red and purple, while Ajuga offers beautiful purple and burgundy foliage.
‘With frilly leaves in bronze, lime and green, Heucheras are an asset in any hanging basket, which you can then plant in the garden afterwards,’ says Marcus Eyles, Horticultural Director of Dobbies.
Heuchera is also a winter favorite of garden expert Sarah Raven (opens in new tab) who advises: 'consider the structure as this is where the interest will be coming from through the colder months – for hanging baskets, think about young evergreen shrubs, Hellebores and Heuchera, that can then be transplanted in the spring or even evergreen ferns for a verdant winter display.’
4. Choose evergreen shrubs with berries
Evergreens that are bushy and that bear berries such as 'Skimmia Rubella', 'Pernettya' and 'Gaultheria Procumbens' make a beautiful centerpiece plants for a hanging basket in winter when the show-stopping flowers of summer baskets are unavailable, plus they are particularly popular with the experts.
‘Their vibrant jewels a visual delight as well as providing a valuable and reliable food source for visiting birds to forage,’ says Leigh Clapp.
‘Skimmias are brilliant for evergreen color and lots of berries. Use them in the center of hanging baskets,’ says Marcus Eyles, Horticultural Director of Dobbies.
‘For a winter look fill the container with hellebores, red berried Gaultheria and the dark trailing leaves of Meuhlenbeckia. Pop in a few miniature narcissus or snowdrops to pop through later in the winter,’ says Amanda Brame, horticultural director of Petersham Nurseries.
5. Choose trailing evergreens
Structure is important when thinking about winter hanging basket ideas. Plants that spill over the edge of a hanging container such as ivy and vinca bring brilliant architectural interest.
Ivy is a classic trailing evergreen that comes in an array of leaf shapes with colors ranging from the deepest green to beautiful variegated varieties that incorporate light green and yellow. Ivy ‘Cockle Shell’ is a popular choice for hanging baskets which has deep glossy green leaves or for variegated varieties try ‘Midas Touch’ and ‘Goldfinch’.
Sarah Raven suggests coupling grasses and ferns ‘with trailing evergreens like muehlenbekia, vinca and even erigeron karvinskianus which can be used in milder areas.’
6. Add color to winter hanging baskets with cyclamen
Available in white, pinks and reds, cyclamen are a delicate winter flowering plant perfect for winter hanging baskets as they are able to keep flowering through freezing temperatures. Cyclamen hederifolium also known as the ivy-leaved cyclamen are a good go-to.
7. Bring height and evergreen interest with ferns
With their soaring fronds of lacy leaves ferns can make lovely thriller plants in winter hanging baskets bringing height and evergreen color across winter, plus are a good backdrop for colorful blooms – as shown in this cute container.
Plant expert Jayne at Burford Garden Company (opens in new tab) suggests using small ferns such as ‘Asplenium’. The more delicate ‘Athyrium niponicum f. metallicum’ frosted variety looks brilliant paired with viola.
8. Use ferns to create a sculptural statement
You can use larger ferns on their own for a verdant, and more contemporary architectural showstopper of a winter hanging baskets. Ferns love shade, so will thrive in dark corners of your garden in summer, too.
9. Opt for winter-flowering heathers
While they are often seen growing wild over moorland and known to provide great ground cover – heathers are compact plants that can be brilliant for winter hanging baskets and containers too.
Their flowers range from whites through to purples and are full of nectar so are great pollinators for bees over winter. For winter hanging baskets try the 'Ghost Hills' variety – a vigorous dwarf variety with an RHS Award of Garden Merit that will bring pretty purple flowers from late winter to early spring.
10. Create structure with sedge and ornamental grasses
Grasses aren't just for meadows and borders, they can work well for bringing height and form to winter hanging baskets, too. ‘Consider grasses that keep their form through the coldest months,’ says Sarah Raven, ‘these can be found in an array of colors and combine well with any other component to create a naturalistic feel.’
‘Grasses are perfect for adding texture and movement to a display,’ adds Marcus Eyles, Horticultural Director of Dobbies.
11. Give it an edge with winter veg
For something a bit different, consider using winter brassicas such as kale and cabbages with frilly leaves that range from deep green to purple – they can make beautiful decorative plants for hanging baskets in winter, suggests Sarah Raven.
‘Take a note of inspiration from Scandi gardens and use kale for winter interest in containers – it’s a great centerpiece with superb foliage interest that stands up against the toughest of frosty nights.’
12. Get creative with winter hanging baskets
Hanging planters don’t just have to be baskets; consider different materials and think outside the box for interesting things you could reuse or upcycle to create attractive hanging displays with character such hanging wooden crates – just make sure any container you use has sufficient drainage holes.
‘Let’s not use plastic-coated wire hanging baskets lined with moss anymore, adorn your garden as we do here at Petersham Nurseries,’ says Amanda Brame, horticultural director. ‘We love to use zinc, terracotta or beautiful lightweight creations our global buyer brings back from afar.’
What can I put in a winter hanging basket?
Any plants you put in a winter hanging basket must be frost hardy to stay looking their best and for display with variety, consider a mix of tall plants, trailing plants and filler plants. Choose from evergreen shrubs such as box, trailing evergreens, ornamental grasses, winter-flowering heathers and flowers such as hellebore, cyclamen, violas and pansies.
‘When preparing your winter hanging baskets there are some tips and tricks to get you off to a good start. We suggest using a wicker hanging basket (12in/30cm wide) and I would recommend seven plants, to ensure each and every plant gets enough light, soil and space to flourish,’ suggests Marcus Eyles, Horticultural Director of Dobbies.
When to plant a winter hanging basket
Winter hanging baskets should be planted in September or October so that they can get established ready for the winter months.
How to care for a winter hanging basket?
Winter hanging baskets are fairly easy to maintain, but be sure to deadhead flowers to keep them looking their best. Be mindful of watering in the winter and ensure you have good drainage holes. There's no need to feed them, if you do this will encourage new soft growth which will not do well in the frosts.
Pippa is Content Editor on Homes & Gardens online contributing to Period Living and Country Homes & Interiors print issues. A graduate of Art History and formerly Style Editor at Period Living, she is passionate about architecture, creating decorating content, interior styling and writing about craft and historic homes. She enjoys searching out beautiful images and the latest trends to share with the Homes & Gardens audience. A keen gardener, when she’s not writing you’ll find her growing flowers on her village allotment for styling projects.
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