How to Grow Winter Aconites

Written by Hannah Miller. Reviewed and Fact Checked by Elizabeth Smith. Published to Spring Plants. Updated: 17th February 2023.

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When your garden borders are looking a little bare in the winter, there’s one plant guaranteed to beat all others to the early season punch – winter aconites.

This member of the buttercup family even blooms before crocus, which is often considered the earliest flowering plant.

Plant key details:

  • One of the earliest flowering plants.
  • Blooms in late winter, and I’ve seen it shine into early spring too.
  • Grow from tubers or buy “in the green” ready-to-plant specimens.
  • I believe that they blend beautifully with other early-season bulbs and plants.
  • Perfect for shaded borders and under tree canopy.
  • I’ve never had issues with pests.

Size

Height: Up to 10cm (4in)

Spread: Up to 10cm (4in) 

Location

Borders, beds, under tree canopy, under large shrubs, cottage garden

Sunlight

Full sun (w/caveats), partial shade, dappled shade

Hardiness

US zone 4-9 and hardy in all parts of the UK

Water & Feed

Moist but well-drained soil, rich soil

Companions

Crocus, snowdrops and other early flowering plants

Planting

Plant tubers in autumn or “in the green” varieties in the spring

Flowering

Late January, February and occasionally into early March

How to Grow Winter Aconites in the UK

I asked experienced and qualified horticulturist Elizabeth Smith to answer questions about winter aconites:

How Do Winter Aconite Plants Arrive?

I’ve purchased winter aconites as tubers that I planted in Autumn and also as “in the green” ready-to-plant specimens for the spring.

In my opinion and based on my experience, the tubers aren’t the most reliable way to grow winter aconites and should only be purchased if you need to cover a large area; otherwise, it’s best to purchase “in the green” plants, which I’ve found are far more reliable.

Where is the best location for winter aconites?

Winter aconites are at home under tree canopy and in woodland so based on my experience, they should thrive anywhere that mimics this environment. I’ve seen winter aconites struggle in full sun so I would suggest growing them in a shade or dappled sun.

Are winter aconites perennials or annuals? Are they winter hardy?

Winter aconites are perennials and should naturalise if placed in a suitable location. They are rarely grown as annuals but if left in dry soil, they may die off within a year or two.

Do winter aconites need a lot of sunlight?

Under tree canopy is best for winter aconites so when the trees are bare in the winter, plenty of sunlight will reach the plants while in the summer, the tree canopy will shield the soil and prevent it from drying out.

What soil conditions are best for winter aconites?

Soil that’s rich in organic matter and reliably moist, especially in the summer.

Consider adding specialist bulb fibre compost to potted winter aconites.

When and how should winter aconites be planted in the UK?

The tubers, which look like small bulbs, should be planted in the autumn to a depth of three times the height of the tuber.

“in the green” plants should be planted in early spring, making sure the roots are completely buried.

I’ve had more success with “in the green” plants, but they cost more and aren’t practical for large areas.

Winter aconite pests and diseases

I’ve never seen pests cause damage to winter aconites but they are prone to fungal disease (smut).

When do winter aconites flower and how long for?

Winter aconites flower from late January into February and occasionally, I’ve seen them thrive into early March.

Are there any water and fertiliser requirements?

There’s no need to fertilise winter aconites but they prefer a soil rich in organic matter.

The soil should be reliably moist, meaning they may suffer if the soil dries out in the summer hence why they are best suited to locations under tree canopy or under larger plants such as shrubs.

Are winter aconites toxic or harmful?

Winter aconites are toxic and may cause a stomach upset if ingested. They are also a skin irritant, so gloves should be worn when handling them, this is something to remember if you buy “in the green” plants.

I had a slight rash on the inside of my forearm from winter aconites, but it went away quickly.

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How to Care For Winter Aconites After They’ve Finished Flowering

Winter aconite tubers replenish their energy after the plant has bloomed, so the foliage should be left to die back naturally. If grown in lawns, the first spring cut may need to be delayed.

The soil should be moist all year round, so if planted in pots or dry flower beds, water will need to be provided regularly.

I’ve found that the biggest issue with winter aconites is getting them going; once they are established, they take on a life of their own and rarely require intervention.

Companion Plants For Winter Aconites

Through years of testing and experimenting, I’ve found that these six spring-flowering plants go well with winter aconites:

Elizabeth Smith’s 7 Growing Tips:

Our content reviewer, Elizabeth Smith, added these 7 pro tips:

  • Tubers, planted in the autumn, are best for large areas but aren’t reliable so either choose “in the green” plants for spring planting or soak the tubers in a bowl of water for 24 hours before planting.
  • “in the green” plants can be expensive so shop around, I’ve found that the best deals are usually online and offered for bulk purchases.
  • In my experience, you’ll need to plant around 50 winter aconites per square metre to achieve a dense carpet.
  • Winter aconites hate dry soil – I’ve seen plenty die off due to dry conditions. They’re best suited to locations under tree canopies or shrubs.
  • Leave the foliage to die back naturally so it can feed energy to the tuber for the next year’s growth.
  • Winter aconites are best grown in drifts where they can naturalise and spread at will. While hardy in all parts of the UK, the tubers should be planted a little deeper if you live in colder parts of the UK.
  • If an area becomes overcrowded; lift, separate and replant after flowering in the spring.

Elizabeth Smith – qualified horticulturist

Interesting Fact

Winter aconites and aconites are two completely different plants from different families.

Winter aconites belong to the Ranunculaceae family which also includes:

and several more.

Our Expertise: Backed by a Qualified Horticulturist

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This guide was reviewed and fact-checked by qualified horticulturist Elizabeth Smith.

Explore: Elizabeth's profile and qualifications.

Meet The Author: Hannah Miller

Hannah is a keen gardener who grows organic fruit and vegetables in her Surrey garden and is moving towards a more sustainable lifestyle. 

She is also the proud grower of a dahlia and herb garden.

Hannah worked for the NHS for 12 years but also has a level 3 qualification in horticulture and is currently studying for her level 4.

More About Hannah Miller

Hannah Miller

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This winter aconites growing guide was published by DIY Gardening

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