The Best Plants For Winter Colour
From winter-flowering perennials to colourful shrubs and everything in between.
How to Create a Colourful Winter Garden
Created by the team at DIY Gardening
Gardens often look bleak in the winter months, the summer flowers have long since faded, the autumn leaves have been swept up, and the garden looks bare and empty.
Well, it doesn’t have to be that way.
With careful planning, you can have the best of both worlds; colour and foliage throughout the four seasons.
You just need to know which plants to choose and where to plant them.
Plants and Shrubs That Produce Winter Colour
Below you’ll find our list of the very best winter plants that produce colour.
Some are hedges that you can plant as a colourful backdrop, others are freestanding shrubs or bushes, and we’ve listed our favourite grasses, vines and bulbed plants too.
To achieve a beautiful, colourful garden for all the seasons, you’ll need to plan the entire yard so specific areas or zones flower or produce colour at certain times. We recommend drawing a plan of the garden and marking out exactly where each plant should go. Take into account flowering times, soil conditions and sunlight requirements.
While detailed planning like this takes time and research, your garden will reward you with winter flowering plants, colourful foliage and fruits all year.
1) Colourful Winter Hedges and Bushes
Check out the hedges and screening bushes below, they all produce winter colour, whether it be foliage, flowers or berries:
This broad-leaf Holly produces stunning green silver-edged leaves and plenty of small, petite flowers in early summer.
Plant a male specimen nearby, and this shrub will reward you with droves of red berries from late autumn and into the winter.
Even without the colourful berries, the mixed-colour leaves on this evergreen shrub make it perfect as a background plant.
Silver Holly makes for an excellent screen or hedge as it’s an evergreen and produces unusual mixed-colour leaves. The red berries add winter interest to this prickly holly which is also great for security.
Grow alone or mix with deciduous plants that produce winter fruits.
If you’re looking for a splash of winter colour, then Winterberry, as the name suggests, could be for you.
Another Holly, this specimen requires a male companion but will reward you with bright, densely packed red berries on display from late autumn through to the spring. The red berries complement the green summer foliage which turns a distinctive yellow in the autumn.
Often grown as a standalone shrub or as a boundary hedge; during the autumn, the leaves shed to reveal thousands of bright red, almost orange berries on twiggy branches.
Perfect for any garden, even boggy soils, this Holly packs quite a winter colour punch.
Grow alone or mix with evergreen Hollies to form a dense privacy hedge.
Pyracantha is a prickly hedge that we included in our list of 12 fast-growing shrubs.
While this shrub flowers in early summer, it does produce thousands of small colourful berries which persist and stay attached throughout most of the winter.
Not only can these fruits add much-needed winter colour to your garden, but they also provide food for birds and other animals.
As a bonus, Pyracantha has very sharp thorns and this dense bush is almost impenetrable, making it perfect as a security barrier and hedge.
Beech hedges are well known for their ability to hold onto dead but colourful leaves, far into the winter.
Purple Beech is our favourite variety and you can expect the leaves to turn a vibrant copper colour in autumn and winter.
While deciduous, enough leaves should stay on the bush through winter to provide not only colour but also privacy.
Beech hedges also made it onto our list of the best hedges for privacy.
If you’re looking for a boundary hedge that provides soft yellow colour through the Autumn and into winter, try Beech hedging.
2) Winter Shrubs For Colour
While border hedges can provide a colourful backdrop for any garden, the real punch comes from winter-flowering shrubs.
Check out these plants below, all produce colour during the cold winter season:
Mahonia x Media “Winter Sun”
This bushy evergreen shrub produces long, thick green spine-toothed leaves all year-round and bunches of small yellow flowers, often fragrant, from late November through to early March.
Black and purple berries, often referred to as grapes and consumed by birds and other wild animals, may appear towards the end of winter.
This hardy shrub grows well in full sun, part-shade and even dappled shade, making it perfect for almost any location in the garden.
If left unpruned, expect the shrub to grow up to 4 metres in height and up to 2.5 metres horizontally.
If you’re looking for plants that produce yellow flowers during the winter months, try Mahonia x Media
One of our favourite winter shrubs, Daphne bholua, originally from the Himalayas, is mostly evergreen in the UK and holds onto its leaves throughout most of the winter.
Bearing blue fruits in the summer and plenty of white, pink and light purple flowers in late winter, this shrub truly is a winter delight.
Best grown in a sheltered location away from wind and all-day sunlight, Daphne bholua tolerates most soil conditions and grows up to 2.5 metres tall and 1.5 metres wide.
Slow growing and easy to maintain, Daphne bholua is perfect for adding winter colour to small and medium-sized gardens.
We’re confident that you’ll love the late winter colour this shrub has to offer.
Skimmia Japonica “Fragrans”
Another evergreen shrub to add to your list, Skimmia Japonica “Fragrans” has long leathery green leaves. From October expect small flower buds to emerge which adds winter interest.
The buds typically pop open in late winter or early spring to reveal clusters of white and yellow flowers which persist for several months, often into summer.
Skimmias are well known for their large domes of flower clusters.
Choose either “Fragrans” or “Rubella” for late winter flowering, the third cultivar “Nymans” doesn’t produce the same prolific quantity of flowers. However, you can expect red berries if planted near a male Skimmia.
Skimmias are very easy to maintain and are suitable for shady gardens or areas with dappled shade. Only minimal pruning is required, and Skimmias are often categorised as “easy care” plants.
As all Skimmias prefer slightly acidic soil, grow either in containers or test your soil with one of our recommended soil testing kits and then top up with acidic (ericaceous) soil if needed.
Known in China as “The Shrub That Welcomes Spring”, Winter Jasmine is a deciduous climbing shrub that produces star-shaped, fragrant yellow flowers from January to March.
Often grown up against a wall or fence, Winter Jasmine prefers a sunny or part-shaded spot in the garden and performs best in well-drained soil of any type.
Regular pruning will help this shrub keep its shape, otherwise, expect bare patches and voids to form.
Summer interest is mostly green leaves on green stems, and while this shrub loses its leaves in winter, the flowers form on the leggy stems and add volumes of much-needed colour during the colder months of the year.
Considered by many to be another “easy care” shrub, you can grow Winter Jasmine in any soil, but we do recommend yearly pruning.
If you plan on growing this shrub to a height above 0.5 metres, you’ll need to train in along wires or a metal frame, hence why gardeners often grow Winter Jasmine up walls.
Prune hard and every year in the spring, you can grow this shrub as a bonsai or even as ground cover.
Dogwood is often chosen by gardeners for its brightly coloured stems, in this case, a bright red which certainly adds punch to any garden.
Plant as a standalone shrub in a sunny spot, place in front of evergreens for a fiery distraction or mix in with hedges for winter colour.
Red Dogwood performs well in most soil types but as the most colourful stems are the newest wood, prune back hard each year after the third year.
If left unpruned, Dogwood will grow up to 8 metres, making it a great mixed hedge shrub.
Prune regularly if you want to form a neat, well-framed shrub.
Expect fast growth with Dogwoods, up to 60cm is common for this shrub if planted in a sunny spot. We included this in our list of fast-growing shrubs.
Stachyurus Praecox is a small shrub-like tree that grows no taller than 3.5 metres.
Praecox is Latin for early or very early, in other words, this shrub flowers early in the season, usually in mid to late winter.
Stachyurus are deciduous, so they lose their leaves in the autumn, and new leaves grow in the spring. During the winter, pearls of small yellow flowers form from hanging stems.
Each flower is around 10mm wide and each stem typically holds 30-50 flowers.
Grow Early Stachyurus as a standalone shrub or take advantage of its spreading nature by training along a frame or wires.
This shrub is best suited to a sunny or part-shaded spot, perfect for growing along walls where winter colour is needed. (Photo by Lotus Leo)
3) Grasses For Winter Colour
While border hedges and freestanding shrubs can add year-round colour, grasses shouldn’t be overlooked.
While most tall grasses produce colour in the summer and autumn, many will turn a soft yellow, beige or even a light pink into the winter.
Pheasant’s Tail Grass
Tall grasses often sway gently in the wind, adding subtle movement and interest to otherwise rigid gardens.
Pheasant’s Tail goes a step further and while it flowers from June to September, the grass retains much of its colour through the cold winter months.
The foliage starts green but through autumn and into winter gradually turns a soft yellow with spots and irregular streaks of orange and even red.
Expect growth of up to a metre but prune back every two years to encourage new growth.
Pheasant’s Tail is often found in ornamental gardens but wouldn’t look out of place in any UK yard. (Image by Hortilus)
Japanese Sedge “Evergold”
The grass-like arching stems from this sedge provide year-round interest, from subtle movement in the wind to the winter colours of green, cream and soft yellow.
Sedges are an excellent choice for those of you looking to add winter colour to your garden. Place in borders to add texture to bare winter sections or grow in containers to add extra height to this low-growing grass-like sedge.
Expect growth of up to half a metre which takes around four years.
Are you looking for more colour? New Zealand Bronze Hair Sedge turns bronze, brown with a hint of red during the winter. It’s hardy enough for most parts of the UK expect Scotland and exposed areas.
4) Winter Heather
Heathers are perfect as ground cover plants; they can add tons of interest to borders, flowerbeds and rockeries.
Winter flowering varieties produce colour throughout all of the winter months.
Heathers are low-growing, spreading shrubs found natively in mountainous regions.
Often grown as ground cover in ornamental gardens, there are two varieties that will flower during the winter in the UK and Erica Carnea is one of them.
There are hundreds of cultivars of Erica Carnea and most flower from late winter into early spring.
Choose from dozens of colour combinations, Erica Carnea can be found in many garden centres and is sold via several specialist websites too.
Erica Carnea typically grows well in neutral or slightly alkaline soil, unlike many other Heathers which prefer acidic soil. Locate in full sunlight or partial shade.
Image by H.Zell.
Erica × darleyensis
Another heather worth considering for winter colour is Erica x darleyensis which is a hybrid.
Choose this heather for ground cover in flowerbeds, under trees or hedges or around rocks.
Erica x darleyensis prefers a sunny spot and produces vibrant flowers when grown in full sun.
You can expect winter and spring colour with any cultivars of this heather. During the summer and autumn, this heather produces green foliage that covers the ground and adds low-level interest.
Late winter and early spring are when this heather shines though, expect an abundance of small bell-shaped or tubular flowers.
Image by Jerzy.
5) Flowering Winter Bulbs
Gardeners often cultivate crocuses for their winter colour; most will start to form shoots in mid-winter and may even begin to flower from late winter.
Expect plenty of colourful ground cover from mid-winter through to mid-spring.
Crocuses are one of the earliest flowering plants, often well ahead of daffodils and tulips.
If you experience a mild winter, you might be lucky enough to see crocuses flowering as early as mid-February.
Known by gardeners as “early” or “snow” crocuses, this cultivar is one of the earliest to flower.
Place the corms (bulbs) in well-drained soil as Tommies are unlikely to survive if planted in boggy, waterlogged ground soil.
While Tommies are more likely to flower if grown in a sunny spot, do remember that during the winter months many trees and shrubs lose their leaves, allowing more sunlight through to ground level.
You can plant Tommies under deciduous hedges, bushes and trees as they usually perform very well here.
You can expect to see silver/purple outer petals along with a soft yellow inner flower and several seeds, all which develop from February through to mid-spring.
We also love Snowdrops, a perennial grown from bulbs that self-propagate if planted in moist soil located in a shady part of the garden.
Each tilting head has three outer and three inner petals in white with some green evident.
Grow in batches of 10-20 in flowerbeds, in borders or along paths. Snowdrops also look lovely in containers and make for pleasant cut plants too.
Typically flowering from January through to March, Snowdrops prefer a cooler winter garden and may not sprout at all after a warm, dry winter.
Top tip: Buy bulbs that are “green” as old dried bulbs are unlikely to grow. Snowdrops usually fail if left to dry out so plant the bulbs soon after purchase.
There are plenty of climbing plants that produce interest through the winter months.
Flowering clematis is a very popular vigorous climber and English Ivy can be trained as ground cover or up vertical structures such as walls and fences.
Perfect as ground cover in almost any part of the garden, English Ivy is a fast-growing ivy that can also be trained along walls and fences. It’s so versatile that it can also be grown as a topiary or even as a houseplant.
This ivy provides evergreen foliage, and from late autumn small flowers also appear. Moving into winter, you can expect to see colourful berries that will ripen and persist into spring.
We recommend planting English Ivy as an evergreen cover to mask bare patches of ground or unsightly walls, fences or structures.
The flowers provide plenty of food in late autumn, perfect for insects and late-season bees.
Pro tip: Be prepared for yearly pruning, ivy can spread far and wide.
Clematis “Freckles” is our favourite winter climber. It’s delicate yet colourful and productive.
From late autumn through winter and into early spring, this clematis produces soft flowers, often purple or lilac in colour.
Flowers typically form on the previous year’s growth so prune carefully if at all. Foliage is evergreen, so this climber offers year-round interest and coverage.
Expect growth of up to 4 metres, which make this climber perfect for quickly covering trellis, walls and fences.
Grow in full sun but away from exposed locations, up against a south-facing wall or fence would be ideal.
More details about this beautiful winter flowering clematis can be found at Taylors Clematis.
Considered by many gardeners to be one of the most scented plants you can buy, Winter Honeysuckle offers a distinctive sweet aroma that you can smell from many metres away.
Honeysuckle also produces plenty of winter visual interest with yellow and white flowers on leggy stems.
Honeysuckle is either deciduous or evergreen and is typically grown by gardeners as a bush. By training along fences, walls or wires, Honeysuckle can easily be grown as a climber.
Star Jasmine is a climbing evergreen perfect for growing along trellis, fences or wires.
In summer expect deep green foliage and an abundance of clustering white flowers.
Winter, however, is the season where this climber shines. From late autumn through to late winter, the deep green leaves turn a delightful bright red.
Photo from Garden Mentor.
7) Winter Flowering Bedding Plants
Bedding plants are typically short-lived perennials that survive between one and three years.
Use winter bedding plants in pots, containers, hanging baskets or to fill gaps in the flowerbeds.
These plants are the easiest way to add colour to any garden.
Pro tip: Don’t overwater winter plants and make sure the soil is well-drained. Place the plants close together as they won’t grow much during the winter.
Our list of winter flowering plants wouldn’t be complete without winter pansies which out-flower any other plant during the winter months.
Look for cultivars which have sturdy, thick stems as these have been specially grown to withstand the winter storms.
Thomson & Morgan’s Matrix Pansy Mix is an excellent place to start.
Flowering from mid-winter onwards, Primrose produces colourful rosettes of flowers that would look lovely in containers, hanging baskets or flowerbeds.
As with pansies, keep the soil well-drained and plant close together as they won’t grow much when it’s cold.
Start with this colourful winter mix from Thompson and Morgan.
Bulb Blooming Chart
Need more winter inspiration?
We really liked this bulb flowering chart published by Longfield Gardens and as you can see, there are plenty of bulbs that flower into early winter or start growing in late winter/early spring.
(click to expand)
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