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6 Plants That Look Good in Winter

Diana was a Member of the Royal Horticultural Society. She & her family all love gardening. She enjoys photographing & painting plants too.


Some Plants Flourish in Cooler Weather

By the time winter draws in, most garden flowers and shrubs are past their best. However, it is still possible to have an attractive garden with a few plants which produce flowers or colourful leaves when the weather and ground are cold. I like to plan my garden so that there is always something colourful and interesting—maybe not as spectacular as spring, summer and autumn, but evergreens are still enjoyable.

6 Plants That Do Well in Winter

Here's a list of the plants I grow in my own garden for winter appeal. Each of them will be described more fully, showing photographs, lower down this page:

  1. Primula
  2. Fatsia
  3. Mahonia
  4. Phormium
  5. Viburnum
  6. Sedum
Primula (Polyanthus)

Primula (Polyanthus)

1. Polyanthus and Primroses (Primula)

Several varieties of primula bloom towards the end of winter, when the weather is cold and not much else is flowering; they tolerate snow and don't need to be protected.

There are a wide variety of vivid colours and they will brighten up your garden if you plant them at the front of borders where they are visible, or beneath shrubs and trees. They are low-growing, just 6 to 20 ins. tall (15.24 to 50.8 cm.) and 8 to 20 ins. wide (20.32 to 50.8 cm.),depending on the species. As woodland plants, these easy-care primulas need part shade to full shade and prefer rich, moist, slightly acidic soil enriched with mulch. This enables the soil to drain well, as the roots of most species, whilst needing moisture, do not like to sit in very wet soil. They need regular watering. They also grow well in pots, but remember that these should drain well so that the soil is damp but not waterlogged.

Feed hybrid primroses with a half-strength liquid fertilizer. Species types need less feeding and can be given just a single spring feed.

They are mildly toxic to humans and skin contact may cause rashes, hives, and other allergic reactions (I have never personally experienced this). If animals eat the plants they might experience mild vomiting.

Fatsia Japonica

Fatsia Japonica

2. Fatsia Japonica (Castor Oil Plant)

This is an exotic evergreen shrub with large shiny dark green palmate leaves about 18 ins. (45 cm.) in width. It produces clusters of small white flowers in late autumn or early winter followed by small black fruit in spring. It is winter hardy and grows best in semi shade to full shade in a sheltered position. It can also be grown in pots indoors or outdoors. If grown inside, it is effective in removing gaseous formaldehyde from indoor air.

Fatsia grows to a height of 8 to 10 ft. (2 to 3 m.) Older plants may grow to a height of 15 feet (5 m.) and an ultimate spread of 7 to 13ft. (2 to 4 m.) reaching its ultimate height in 10 to 20 years.

Plant in soil which can be chalk, clay, loam or sand in a moist but well-drained position. The plants should have sufficient water keep the soil permanently moist. Fertilize in spring after danger of frost has passed, using a tree and shrub fertilizer.

Prune fatsia annually to maintain a bushy growth and healthy leaves. In late winter the whole plant can be trimmed down to the ground, just before new growth begins, or one third of the oldest stems can be cut back annually.

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The sticky sap may cause dermatitis in some people.



3. Mahonia

They are evergreen shrubs and tolerate very cold weather. The more common varieties grow to a height and spread of 6ft. (2m.) though some varieties are smaller. They bear small yellow flowers from November to February, March or even April, followed by black berries. Mine are still in full flower in mid-April.

Being woodland plants, they like full or part shade, growing well in clay, chalk and sandy soil. They are easy care and need only minimal pruning. Feed in April with a handful of blood, fish and bone gently worked into the ground and mulch in autumn. Once established, they only need to be watered in very dry conditions. They are unsuitable for containers.

Prune at any time of the year by cutting back some of the older stems to about 6ins. (15cm.) from the central trunk.

Because their leaves are spikey and sharp like holly, they are useful to plant along the boundaries of a garden, to deter intruders.



4. Phormium

They are a family of evergreen tall grasses which grow in a variety of colours from yellowy-green stripes to a rich dark purple like the one above. Phormiums are perennials and originated in New Zealand.

Their brightly coloured or variegated leaves have a height range from 3ft. 3ins. (1 m.) to 7 ft. 10ins. (2.4 m.). They grow best in full sun in a sheltered spot and are frost hardy and drought tolerant once established.

Preferring light sandy soil, they are ideal for sunny borders, gravel gardens or containers. They can be planted in spring to early autumn but if planted in summer or autumn they are more likely to be damaged by winter cold and dampness, as they prefer evenly moist soil which should not stay wet over winter. Add some garden compost or manure based soil conditioner and water new plants during first year during dry spells. Thereafter they cope well with drought, but If in containers they are more vulnerable.

Apply a general fertilizer in spring to newer plants. Mature plants do not need regular feeding.

In spring remove old dead leaves and flower stems, pulling or cutting them off close to the base. Do not hard prune. Also in spring they can be divided to propagate them.



5. Viburnum

There are about 150-175 species of the flowering plant genus viburnum, some evergreen, some deciduous (i.e. losing their leaves during winter). They are vigorous, hardy and easy-care shrubs, flowering in spring or summer.

Their average height is 5ft. (1.5​m) to 10ft. (3m.) but there are some dwarf and giant species as well. The width varies, depending on the variety. Viburnum should be planted at least 3ft. (1m.) apart.

When choosing the variety, it is important to check the description carefully, to make sure you are getting one that suits your requirements.

They need full sun or part shade and moist but well-drained, moderately fertile, slightly acidic soil. They make beautiful hedges and can also be grown in containers.

In autumn place a 2 in.(5cm.) layer of mulch around the base of the plant to conserve moisture and keep the soil temperature even.

When pruning viburnums to restrain or shape their growth, remember that the flowers bloom on old wood, forming new flower buds in summer which open in the following spring. Therefore the best time to prune is right after flowering, to avoid cutting off any new flower buds.

Sedum Palmeri

Sedum Palmeri

Sedum (Stonecrop)

Sedum (Stonecrop)

6. Sedum (Stonecrop)

There are about 400 to 500 varieties of the Sedum species. They are easy-care succulents which grow well in full sun in dry conditions.

Sedum varieties vary in height from about 3ins.(8 cm.) tall up to 3 ft. (1 m.). The majority are shorter and are often used as ground cover, especially in rock gardens.

It will grow in virtually any soil, as long as it is well drained as it is susceptible to rot when too damp. They only need rain or watering about once every two weeks. Keep fertilizing to a minimum, as plants will become leggy if the soil is overly rich.

The succulent leaves retain moisture within them, and the plants maintain their shape over winter as the leaves don't drop.

The taller plants flower from autumn to early winter, when the flowers turn brown, but still retain their architectural interest. I usually let them be until very late winter, when I prune any parts which are brown. Then in mid-spring they can be cut back almost to the ground, where new growth will be showing.

RHS Encyclopedia of Plants and Flowers

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2021 Diana Grant


Mark Tulin from Palm Springs, California on April 09, 2021:

Love your thoughts on gardening.

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