Hanging baskets for winter

My mother is mildly obsessed with her thyme hanging basket, and for good reason: it thrives in a way that thyme doesn’t always. It hangs outside a south-facing kitchen window, but I think the secret of its success is that it’s just under the eaves of the house, so is protected from winter rain. It always looks marvellous in summer, when it flowers, but it’s as attractive now. Plus there’s none of that splashback you get in winter from garden plants, so it’s a joy to cook with.

Prostrate rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis Prostratus Group) is another herb that works well in a hanging basket – the larger the basket, the bigger it will grow – and although it won’t do anything spectacular in winter, so long as it’s healthy, it will look luxurious. Maybe plant snowdrops, crocus or Iris reticulata varieties to pop up between the foliage and add some cheer.

When it comes to flowers, pansies and violas seem to rule the winter hanging basket scene, but that can be problematic; if the basket is too high, you won’t get much joy from those smiling faces. They can be a gamble, too. Those large petals often crumple and bleed in the rain, and can be shy to flower on short days. Violas, however, are tougher and flower more readily over a longer period – I guess due to their alpine ancestry. Dark violas tend to get lost against the soil: even though they look opulent and velvety in the garden centre, they’ll all but disappear at home: whites, pinks, sky blues and yellows show up best.

I have a soft spot for ornamental cabbages in baskets. The white and green sort, interplanted with white heather, Calluna vulgaris, and trailing ivy, make a lovely seasonal basket. You don’t have to pay for ivy: just find someone with plenty, lift a few strands with roots along them, and it will quickly bed down; if you have the sort of basket that lets you plant from below, nudge the ivy in there, so it doesn’t compete with other plants.

Hanging baskets work now because the plants are checking in for a few months. Other than ivy, the rest won’t put out a great deal of roots, so keep checking if they need water, particularly if sheltered from the rain. If you’re thrifty, when spring appears and you go for a new look, repot heathers, evergreen shrubs and ivies: you don’t need to pot them up into larger containers, but give them fresh compost, feed them over summer, and they’ll be ready for next year’s baskets, too.

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The bad news: There is a fairly limited range of flowering plants for the winter months. Especially plants that are suitable for hanging baskets and tubs.

The good news: I have compiled the following list of plants that will look great, even during the coldest and darkest of days of winter.

Prepare your winter hanging basket

Basket lining: As with Summer displays, line your basket with a fibrous fleece. A coir-based liner is ideal. This will not only insulate your plant’s roots, but also stop the gritty growing medium from being washed away. In addition, add an extra inner lining of wet newspaper to protect roots from frost damage.

Reservoir: Place a saucer in the base of the hanging basket to act as a reservoir. Add broken pottery around the saucer to further aid drainage before pouring in the growing medium.

The growing medium: The key to success with a winter hanging basket really comes down to one thing: Good drainage. You will need to ensure that your growing media is loose and free draining. This can be achieved by using a high-quality multi-purpose compost with plenty of grit. I like to use a John Innes, soil-based compost for my winter baskets. This growing medium will drain well and water will absorb quickly, rather than run off. Add a little slow release feed to your mix.

Plants for winter hanging basket

1. Winter Pansies

A very reliable favourite for winter displays such as tubs, borders and hanging baskets. Winter Pansies will flower non-stop for months on end. You will need to remove spent flowers (deadhead) on a regular basis to encourage a succession of flowers. You can even rejuvenate your Pansies by cutting them back once they become straggly and limp. Most varieties should flower from October, right the way through into the spring.

Tip: Plants don’t grow very fast during winter.To get the best effect, you will need to pack each plant closely together.

2. Trailing Ivy – Hedera

Ivy is great for bulking out foliage and adding the ‘hang’ to your winter hanging baskets. This can be especially effective when planted in the sides of a hanging basket. This will provide a fresh Summer feel to any winter display. You should be able to buy pots or plugs of ivy from your local garden centre. Ivy is also very easy to establish from cuttings. When planting, select larger plants as Ivy is slow growing. I’d recommend growing your ivy on pots during summer to get as much of a head start as possible. Ivy is a hardy shrub, so don’t forget to keep your plants for next winter’s display.

3. Hardy Primroses

Primroses are winter-hardy. They will yield a brilliant splash of colour in the coldest months. Try Primrose Huskey Mixed for extra hardiness. Primroses are non-trailing, nor do they grow very tall. To make an interesting display, try planting them in the sides of your hanging basket. You could even create a ‘ball of colour’ by filling every spare gap with Primroses. A very effective approach.

4. Cyclamen

There is something almost fairytale-like about this flowering perennial. A personal favourite of mine. Cyclamen produce pink, red and white flame-like flowers. These are accompanied by highly patterned, ivy-shaped leaves. Cyclamen do prefer shade and can be planted out in the borders after the hanging baskets are finished. Ensure that you choose a good hardy variety.

5. Winter Bulbs

Snowdrops can be used in baskets and tubs for early colour. For later winter blooms, try Tulips, Daffodils, Crocuses and Irises. Once your basket has finished, you can plant out the bulbs in your borders. You may have some success from side planting, but most winter bulbs prefer to grow upwards!

Winter Gardening advice – highlights

  • Don’t over feed your winter plants. They will yeild only a modest amount of growth through this season.
  • Ensure that your soil or compost is free draining. You don’t want it to become too wet and freeze, leading to root damage. This can be achieved by adding plenty of grit into the mix.
  • Heavily line your winter hanging baskets to protect roots and retain growing medium.
  • Pack your plants much closer together than your would with summer display. Your plants will grow modestly, so avoid gaps.

Further reading

I have also written several related articles on the subject of winter gardening which you might find helpful:

  • Frost hardy bedding plants
  • Garden Plants v Snow & Frost

Tags:Colourful Flowers, Hanging Baskets, winter flowers, Winter Garden

Winter Hanging Baskets

You may think that the end of the summer is a strange time of year to be discussing hanging baskets. But winter bedding brings colour and a little joy into everyone’s life at a grey time of year, and you will see a hanging basket, often right outside the door, in a way that you may not see containers in the garden! So what do you need to know and do to plant up a hanging basket to see you through winter and spring?

A basket and liner

Wicker ones are often sold and are quite pretty in themselves. You might also try a metal frame, lined with moss or hanging basket liner, through which you can push trailing plants and grow them all around the basket, not just in the top.

Line the basket with your liner, and also a piece of polythene, such as an old carrier bag, with holes cut in it. This will improve water retention, but not make the basket waterlogged.

Compost or growing medium

Multipurpose compost is fine for hanging baskets, although a loam-based compost (such as John Innes) will not dry out as quickly. You can buy compost from compost suppliers, both in small quantities and in bulk. Add a slow release plant fertiliser and, if you like, some water-retaining crystals, mixed thoroughly into the compost.

Suitable plants

Suitable plants for winter hanging baskets include pansies, violas, thymes, ivies, little cyclamen, and primroses. You can also under-plant with bulbs such as Daffodil ‘Tete-a-Tete’, crocus or dwarf irises. Make sure you include some trailing plants to spill over the edges of the basket, or to grow from the sides. The evergreen thymes and ivies provide colour all winter, even when the violas and pansies are struggling with the cold, and then the spring flowers burst out as soon as the sun comes out.

Planting up your basket

Don’t try to cram too much into your hanging basket, as the plants will need some soil to grow in! Four or five plants in the top of a wicker basket is plenty, together with five to ten bulbs underneath. Any more, and your plants will suffer. If you have a larger basket, then of course you can include more plants.

Caring for your basket

Even in winter, you may need to water a hanging basket, particularly if it is in the shelter of a porch, or perhaps a climber around the door. You probably won’t need to water every day, but at least once a week would be good. Don’t forget to remove dead flowerheads to encourage prolonged flowering, too, and with a bit of care and attention, your winter hanging basket could keep going well into next summer.

Winter Hanging Baskets – The plants that will more readily survive the lower temperatures that winter brings. Of course, the first plants that come to mind are evergreens. Little conifers and box look quite nice as an architectural addition to winter hanging baskets and will last all year round. But just because we’re moving into winter that doesn’t mean we have to compromise on the color in our baskets, although of course our choices will be a little more limited.

There are plenty of plants that will go right through the winter and keep our houses looking beautiful, many of them flowering. Here’s a few ideas for flowering winter plants to keep your hanging baskets looking as lovely as they do in the summer.

winter hanging basket

Winter Pansies and Violas

Pansies are a great choice for baskets, being hardy enough to survive most of what winter can throw at them. They also come in a variety of colors, hard to find with other winter flowering plants. Choose the brighter colored varieties – whites, primroses, yellows and reds – to brighten dark winter days. Darker varieties, the deep blues and purples, won’t show so well without as much light to make them sing. Pansies will be happy in most soils, and follow the sun (much like sunflowers) so place them in a sunny position if you can.

Violas, with alpine genes in their history, are hardier than pansies with smaller flowers but more of them – quantity can make up for quality here. Although perhaps a little less showy, they are less likely to flop over and will also be less affected by windy weather.

Dead-head both varieties often through the winter to encourage new blooms.


Hardy Primroses

Primroses (Primula Vulgaris) are native to the UK and Europe, and some more temperate Asian countries. They grow in tight-knit clumps so make a great centre piece for a winter basket or pot. Try a few different colors with some trailing ivy around the edge for a simple but effective winter basket.


The great thing about cyclamens is that you don’t have to be tending them every minute of the day to keep them in fine fettle. They’ll do pretty well left to their own devices, and let’s face it, who wants to be outside all day looking after baskets in grim winter weather? Their other great advantage is their colors – deep, bright reds, pinks and purples will bring a welcome splash of color to help you through the driest months of the year. They’ll flower all year round, even through January and February, so they make a great choice for a winter basket.


The polyanthus is, like the primrose, a member of the Primula family. They are resistant to frost, and whilst they might not flower right through the winter, they will be the first flowers in early spring, sometimes before the daffodils. Long-stemmed, they make a great centre piece for a winter basket with lower growing violas or winter pansies around them.

Erica Gracilis

Sometimes known as Cape Heath, E. Gracilis is very like heather with magenta and sometimes white flowers. It will flower from early autumn right through to spring, so can make a great addition to a winter basket. Watch the position though, and the temperature. E. Gracilis isn’t as resistant to frost as some winter flowering plants and may actually have to be brought in on really cold nights.

Erica gracilis

Iris Reticulata

This is a very early flowering variety, usually putting out it’s first flowers in early February. Plant some bulbs in your basket in early autumn at about twice their depth and be surprised by their appearance in the darkest days of Winter when it seems as if spring will never come! Colors range from light blue to violet so will go particularly well with some yellow pansies or primulas.

Architectural evergreens

Whilst these plants are often not flowering (although some varieties of ivy will and heathers do of course) they make a great addition to any basket, adding architectural interest and variety.

Ivy. Ivy really has to be the mainstay of trailers for hanging baskets at any time of year, but they’ll add some welcome architectural interest to your winter baskets. Variegated types like Hedera will add a little interest. Either in the top around the sides, surrounding pansies and polyanthus, or peeking out of holes around the sides of the basket, ivy couldn’t be easier to grow. Don’t forget that some varieties will flower, too.

Box (Buxus). Increasingly popular in garden centre hanging baskets, Box can be an architectural centre piece and can be trimmed into all sorts of interesting shapes – if you have the time, the patience and the inclination.

Regular care of winter hanging baskets

Don’t forget to water! Even in winter your hanging baskets will dry out, especially when the winter winds hit them. Water regularly to keep them fresh and blooming, keeping the compost moist without letting it get soggy. Avoid getting the leaves and flowers wet when watering in winter since retained moisture might freeze and damage your beautiful spray of color.


Winterizing Hanging Baskets: How To Protect Hanging Plants From Frost Or Freeze

Hanging baskets need a little more TLC than in-ground plants. This is due to their exposure, the small confines of their root space and the limited moisture and nutrients available. Winterizing hanging baskets before the cold arrives is a necessary step to protect exposed roots from freezing. There are several easy solutions to protecting hanging plants from frost, and will depend upon the level of cold exposure a plant will experience. Areas that receive light cold snaps won’t have to worry about protecting hanging plants as much as those in extreme cold regions, but tender plants in any area will need some special attention.

How to Protect Hanging Baskets from Frost

Protecting hanging baskets near the end of the season (or even early on) can help extend their life. Some steps you can take to prevent frost damage to hanging plants are simple and quick, while others require a little more effort and planning. Even the laziest gardener can throw a garbage bag over a hanging display to help insulate it and protect it from frost, but only the most dedicated gardener will heal in their pots.

The amount of effort you make is strictly up to you but, in most cases, you can save your delicate hanging basket from inclement weather. A few tips on how to protect hanging baskets from frost can help ensure your success in preserving your beautiful aerial plant displays.

Winterizing Hanging Baskets

Unless you tend to treat your plants as annuals, you are probably already aware of the necessity of protecting hanging plants from frost. There are many special covers available to protect plants from icy temperatures. These are useful barriers between the outside world and the plant’s foliage and roots. They offer a slightly warmer situation and can preserve the core of the plant from freezing and dying. However, some of these professional covers can be expensive, especially if you consider that they are only used for a short period annually.

It is useful to remember that plants hanging in the air are exposed to a lot more wind and cold temperatures than those in ground. For that reason, the very first step to take when freezing temperatures are threatening is to lower the planter to the ground. The closer to the earth, the more it can share some of that slightly warmer temperature and help protect the roots.

Southern gardeners still need to worry about brief freezes, but northern gardeners really have to plan ahead for extreme weather and long durations of snow and ice. For quick cold snaps, the garbage bag approach will work over night to prevent freeze damage, but in areas where the cold lasts all season, more involved steps need to be taken for winterizing hanging baskets.

Breathable covers are the easiest solution if you don’t want to haul heavy containers indoors to protect them from cold. Companies, like Frost Protek, have covers in many sizes that will last for years and don’t need to be removed to air the plant out and give it light.

Another one of the easiest ways to protect your hanging plants is to heal in the container. You don’t need to individually remove each plant, just simply dig a hole big enough for the whole pot and bury the container and its denizens. You may add extra protection by hilling the soil around the plants or adding a thick layer of organic mulch to protect the root zone.

In addition to organic mulches, you can also use inorganic protection to keep root zones warm. Burlap is a good material because it is porous, allows the plant to breath and water to percolate into the root zone. Fleece, an old blanket and even a plastic tarp can all be used to trap heat into the soil and reduce root damage. If using a non-porous material, remember to remove it occasionally to allow the plant to breathe and avoid mildew issues from excess condensation.

In winter, plants need supplemental moisture prior to freezes. This allows the plant to insulate itself while getting much needed moisture that it can’t absorb when the soil is frozen. Additionally, wet soil retains more heat than dry soil. Avoid fertilizing plants in winter and make sure that the drainage holes are operating properly so plants don’t get waterlogged, leading to potentially frozen roots.

From the Garden – Hanging baskets can survive the winter

Plentifalls are suitable for hanging baskets, pots and window boxes.

Have you already cleaned out your hanging baskets and put them away for the winter?
If so, you might want to think again about planting at least one or two of them with hardy plants (especially trailing ones) that will go happily all winter long with some sunshine and a minimum of TLC.
To start, there is a “new” pansy the gardening trade is buzzing about. Called “Plentifall Pansy” it’s a new variety that does just what its name suggests: It will trail over the sides of a hanging basket or large pot.
According to Tom Ericson of The Transplanted Garden on 16th Street in Wilmington, “Pansies and violas were running a bit late this year” due to extreme weather conditions, which delayed planting by the growers. But Ericson now has a good selection in stock.
Many of the “Plentifall” pansies at Ericson’s garden center have already sold out, but they are expecting more deliveries soon. They still have a few in stock of “Purple Wing” and the “Lavender Blue.”
Plentifalls are suitable for hanging baskets, pots and window boxes. All violas and pansies need full to partial sun, should be kept well fertilized with the soil moist.
“Best to add a time release fertilizer (like Ferti-lome bedding plant food) but don’t use Osmocote in the winter,” Ericson said. “It is too cool to dissolve and become activated.”
A hanging basket Ericson created for us recently included: Plentfall pansy; Lavender Blue; Heuchera Beaujolais (red foliaged variety with a silver cast to the upper surface at the leaves and red veins); Sedum Lemon Coral; and a new, much larger flowered series of Diascia called “Juliet” Pink Eye. So cute!
Many of Ericson’s baskets are in the $40 range, but plants are also sold individually.
Other local sources for winter container planting include Zone 8 in Wilmington, Pender Pines Garden Center in Hampstead and The Plant Place on Market Street.

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