Which Plants Will Survive Winter in a Container?

As the cold winds howl and the snow begins to fall, many gardeners wonder which plants will survive the harsh winter in a container. Fear not, dear gardener, for there are several hardy plants that can thrive in pots during the winter months. In this article, we will explore some of the best plants for overwintering in containers, from evergreen shrubs to hardy herbs. With a little care and attention, you can enjoy a beautiful, green oasis in your garden even during the coldest winter days. So, let’s dive in and discover which plants will brave the winter chill in a container!

Quick Answer:
Plants that are commonly known to survive winter in a container include evergreen shrubs such as boxwood and holly, as well as plants that can be brought indoors such as potted citrus trees and succulents. It is important to ensure that the container is well-draining and has adequate drainage holes, and to protect the plant from extreme temperatures and wind by placing it in a sheltered location or covering it with a blanket or mulch. Additionally, it’s important to water the plant correctly and make sure it is getting enough sunlight.

Selecting the Right Plants for Winter Containers

Factors to Consider

When selecting plants for winter containers, there are several factors to consider to ensure their survival throughout the cold months.

  • USDA Hardiness Zone: The USDA hardiness zone system classifies geographic regions based on average low temperatures. Knowing the hardiness zone of your area can help you choose plants that are well-suited to withstand the coldest temperatures in your region.
  • Sunlight Requirements: Different plants have varying sunlight requirements. Some plants need full sun, while others prefer partial shade. It’s important to choose plants that can tolerate the amount of sunlight your container will receive during the winter months.
  • Soil Type and Drainage: The type of soil and drainage in your container can also impact the survival of your plants. It’s important to choose plants that can tolerate the soil type and drainage of your container. Well-draining soil is particularly important in winter, as wet soil can cause root rot.
  • Size and Growth Habit: The size and growth habit of the plant can also play a role in its ability to survive winter in a container. Smaller plants may be more suitable for containers, as they may be less likely to become pot-bound and experience stress during the winter months. Plants with a trailing or cascading growth habit may also be well-suited to containers, as they can be easily protected from wind and cold temperatures.

Suggested Plant Species

  • Evergreen Shrubs such as Ilex and Boxwood are excellent choices for winter containers. These plants retain their foliage and color throughout the winter, providing a visually appealing contrast to the snowy landscape. They also offer a nice structure and form to the container, which can be further enhanced by incorporating other plants or elements such as decorative stones or evergreen branches.
  • Perennials like Hosta and Daylily are also suitable for winter containers. These plants have a strong root system that allows them to survive the harsh winter conditions, and many varieties offer interesting textures and colors that can add visual interest to the container. Additionally, they are generally low maintenance and can be easily divided to propagate, making them a cost-effective option for winter containers.
  • Bulbs such as Daffodil and Crocus are another great option for winter containers. These plants are known for their ability to bloom in the early spring, adding a pop of color to the winter landscape. They can be planted in the fall and will naturally go dormant during the winter months, making them a low maintenance option for winter containers. Additionally, they can be easily replaced each year, allowing for endless possibilities in terms of design and color.
  • Annuals like Petunia and Marigold are also suitable for winter containers. These plants are known for their ability to thrive in cold weather and can provide a burst of color during the winter months. They are generally low maintenance and can be easily replaced each year, making them a cost-effective option for winter containers. Additionally, they can be used to create a wide range of designs and color schemes, making them a versatile option for winter containers.

Preparing Containers for Winter

Key takeaway: When selecting plants for winter containers, consider their hardiness zone, sunlight requirements, soil type and drainage, and growth habit. Suggested plant species include evergreen shrubs, perennials, bulbs, and annuals. Proper preparation of containers involves choosing the right size and type of container, using a well-draining potting mix, adjusting the pH of the soil, and adding mulch or topdressing with bark or straw. To maintain winter interest in outdoor spaces, incorporate plants with interesting textures, forms, bark, stems, and foliage. Winter maintenance for container plants includes monitoring for pests and diseases, pruning as needed, and watching for winter burn. Continue to water appropriately, adjust fertilization schedule, and provide adequate light. In spring, prepare plants for the upcoming growing season by checking their health, assessing winter damage, and evaluating plant size and placement.

Steps to Take

Choose the Right Size and Type of Container

When selecting a container for winter, it’s important to choose one that is large enough to accommodate the roots of the plant and provide adequate space for root growth. The container should also have drainage holes to prevent waterlogging.

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Use a Well-Drained Potting Mix

A well-draining potting mix is crucial for winter container gardening. This mix should be composed of equal parts of peat moss, perlite, and vermiculite. It is also essential to add sand or grit to the mix to improve drainage.

Adjust the pH of the Soil

The pH of the soil in the container should be adjusted to the appropriate level for the plants you plan to grow. Most plants prefer a slightly acidic soil, with a pH of around 6.0 to 6.5. You can test the pH of your soil using a soil test kit and adjust it using soil amendments such as lime to raise the pH or sulfur to lower it.

Add Mulch or Topdress with Bark or Straw

Mulching is an effective way to insulate the soil and protect the roots of the plants from extreme temperatures. You can use bark, straw, or other organic materials as mulch. This will also help to retain moisture in the soil and reduce water loss through evaporation.

Best Practices

  1. Water Wisely
    • During the autumn months, containers should be watered sparingly to prevent the soil from becoming waterlogged.
    • Allow the top layer of soil to dry out between waterings, but avoid letting the container become bone dry.
    • Watering should be reduced even further during periods of cold weather.
  2. Overwinter in a Protected Location
    • Container plants should be moved to a protected location, such as a garage or shed, during the winter months.
    • This will help to shield the plants from extreme temperatures and wind.
    • It is also advisable to insulate the container with bubble wrap or other insulating materials to provide extra protection.
  3. Consider Winter Interest
    • Some plants have attractive foliage, berries, or seedheads that provide winter interest.
    • These plants can be used to add visual interest to the garden during the colder months.
    • Examples of plants with winter interest include boxwood, holly, and cotoneaster.

Winterizing Outdoor Spaces

Designing for Winter Interest

Designing for winter interest in outdoor spaces involves selecting plants that will provide visual appeal during the colder months. Here are some tips for achieving this:

  • Texture and Form: Incorporate plants with interesting textures and forms, such as grasses, shrubs, and trees with unusual branching patterns. These can add interest to the landscape even when the leaves have fallen.
  • Bark and Stems: Many plants have interesting bark and stems that can be showcased during the winter. Consider adding plants like dogwoods, cherry trees, and crape myrtles to your container garden.
  • Foliage and Fruit: Some plants, such as boxwoods and hollies, retain their foliage throughout the winter, providing visual interest and texture. Others, like crabapples and ornamental kale, produce fruit or colorful foliage that can add interest to your container garden.

By incorporating plants with interesting textures, forms, bark, stems, foliage, and fruit, you can create a beautiful and interesting winter landscape in your container garden.

Tips for Winter Interest

When it comes to creating a visually appealing outdoor space during the winter months, incorporating plants that add interest and texture is key. Here are some tips for creating winter interest in your outdoor container garden:

  • Use Contrasting Plants: Consider incorporating plants with contrasting foliage or bloom times. For example, pairing evergreen shrubs with deciduous perennials can create a visually striking contrast.
  • Incorporate Evergreen Shrubs and Trees: Evergreen shrubs and trees can provide structure and interest throughout the winter months. Examples include boxwood, holly, and juniper.
  • Create Focal Points: Consider using larger plants or container arrangements as focal points in your outdoor space. This can help draw the eye and create visual interest, even when other plants are dormant.

Remember, when selecting plants for your container garden, it’s important to consider their hardiness zone and ability to tolerate the cold temperatures and potential frost or snow. Some plants may need to be brought indoors or protected with blankets or mulch to ensure they survive the winter.

Winter Maintenance for Container Plants

Tips for Healthy Plants

Maintaining your container plants during the winter months is crucial to ensure their survival. Here are some tips to keep your plants healthy and thriving even during the coldest weather:

Monitor for Pests and Diseases

One of the most important things to do during the winter is to monitor your plants for pests and diseases. Cold weather can slow down the growth of pests, but it doesn’t necessarily kill them. Many pests, such as aphids and spider mites, can survive the winter in the soil or on the plant itself. Regularly inspecting your plants can help you catch any problems early on and prevent them from spreading.

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Prune as Needed

Pruning is an important part of winter maintenance for container plants. Pruning helps to remove any dead or damaged branches, which can become a breeding ground for pests and diseases. It also helps to encourage new growth and improve the overall health of the plant. Be sure to prune carefully, taking care not to damage the plant’s main structure.

Watch for Winter Burn

Winter burn is a common problem for container plants, especially those that are not well-suited to the cold weather. It can be caused by a variety of factors, including overwatering, underwatering, and exposure to wind and sun. Symptoms of winter burn include brown or yellow leaves, wilting, and dieback. To prevent winter burn, be sure to water your plants properly and protect them from extreme temperatures and weather conditions.

Overall, by following these tips for healthy plants, you can help your container plants survive the winter and thrive in the following spring and summer.

Additional Considerations

Continue to Water Appropriately

One of the most critical factors in ensuring the survival of plants in containers during winter is proper watering. While it may be tempting to reduce watering during the colder months, it is essential to continue to provide adequate moisture to the soil. Over-wintering plants in containers are more susceptible to drying out, as the cold weather can cause the soil to retain less moisture.

It is recommended to water the plants in the morning, as this will allow the soil to dry out before nightfall, reducing the risk of root rot. It is also essential to use a well-draining soil mix, as poor drainage can lead to the accumulation of excess water in the soil, which can be detrimental to the plant’s health.

Adjust Fertilization Schedule

Fertilizing container plants during the winter months can be a bit more complicated than during the growing season. Over-wintering plants typically require less fertilizer, as they are not actively growing. However, it is still important to provide some nutrients to the plants to support their health and survival.

A good rule of thumb is to reduce the frequency of fertilization during the winter months, but maintain the same level of nutrients. This can be achieved by using a slow-release fertilizer, which will provide the necessary nutrients over an extended period of time. Alternatively, it is possible to continue fertilizing the plants on a reduced schedule, adjusting the amount of fertilizer used to account for the reduced growth rate of the plants.

Provide Adequate Light

Light is a crucial factor in the survival of container plants during the winter months. While the reduced level of sunlight during the winter may not be sufficient for the growth of many plants, it is still essential to provide adequate light to support their health and survival.

Container plants should be placed in a location where they receive indirect sunlight, such as near a south-facing window. It is also possible to use grow lights to supplement the light provided by natural sunlight, particularly during the shorter days of winter. The use of grow lights can also help to regulate the light levels, ensuring that the plants receive the appropriate amount of light for their needs.

Spring Awakening: Bringing Containers Back to Life

Preparing for Spring

Check the Plant’s Health

As the winter season comes to an end, it’s time to check the health of your plants. Look for signs of stress, such as yellowing leaves, wilting, or browning. Check the soil moisture levels and make sure they are not too dry or too wet. Also, check for any pests or diseases that may have affected the plant during the winter months.

Assess Winter Damage

Assess any damage that may have occurred during the winter months. Check for any broken branches, leaves that have fallen off, or any other visible damage. It’s important to address any damage as soon as possible to prevent further harm to the plant.

Evaluate Plant Size and Placement

Evaluate the size of your plant and its placement in the container. Make sure that the plant is not too big for the container and that it’s not taking up too much space. If necessary, repot the plant into a larger container or divide it into multiple plants. Also, consider the placement of the plant in the container. Make sure that it’s getting enough sunlight and that it’s not in a location that’s too exposed to the elements.

Re-Emerging Plants


Bulbs are a popular choice for containers as they are cold-hardy and can survive the harsh winter temperatures. Some examples of bulbs that can survive in containers include:

  • Daffodils: Daffodils are a popular choice for winter containers. They are easy to grow and can withstand temperatures as low as -10°F.
  • Crocus: Crocus is another cold-hardy bulb that can survive in containers. They are a great choice for early spring color and can withstand temperatures as low as -20°F.
  • Tulips: Tulips are a beautiful addition to any winter container. They come in a variety of colors and can withstand temperatures as low as -10°F.
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Perennials are plants that come back year after year, and they are a great choice for winter containers. Some examples of perennials that can survive in containers include:

  • Evergreen: Evergreen plants are a great choice for winter containers as they retain their leaves and provide year-round interest. Examples include Boxwood, Holly, and Pine.
  • Iris: Iris is a hardy perennial that can survive in containers. They come in a variety of colors and can withstand temperatures as low as -20°F.
  • Hosta: Hosta is another hardy perennial that can survive in containers. They are a great choice for shady areas and can withstand temperatures as low as -20°F.


Annuals are plants that complete their life cycle in one year, and they are a great choice for winter containers. Some examples of annuals that can survive in containers include:

  • Pansies: Pansies are a popular choice for winter containers. They come in a variety of colors and can withstand temperatures as low as -10°F.
  • Violas: Violas are another cold-hardy annual that can survive in containers. They are a great choice for early spring color and can withstand temperatures as low as -20°F.
  • Calendula: Calendula is a hardy annual that can survive in containers. They are a great choice for adding color to winter containers and can withstand temperatures as low as -10°F.

Caring for Plants in Spring

Gradually Increase Watering

As the weather starts to warm up, it’s important to gradually increase the amount of water you give your plants. After a long winter, the soil in your container may have become compacted, so it’s important to make sure that you’re not overwatering your plants. To avoid this, it’s a good idea to check the soil before watering. If the soil is dry, then it’s time to water your plants. However, if the soil is still damp, then it’s best to wait a little longer before watering.

Monitor Temperature and Wind

In the spring, the temperature can fluctuate quite a bit, so it’s important to monitor the temperature and wind conditions. If the temperature drops below freezing, it can damage your plants, so it’s important to bring them indoors or provide some protection. Additionally, if the wind is strong, it can dry out the soil quickly, so it’s important to water your plants regularly.

Adjust Fertilization and Pruning

As the weather warms up, it’s a good idea to adjust your fertilization and pruning practices. In the spring, plants are growing rapidly, so they’ll need more nutrients to support their growth. However, it’s important to be careful not to over-fertilize, as this can damage your plants. Additionally, as your plants start to grow, it’s important to prune them to encourage healthy growth and prevent them from becoming too leggy.


1. What plants can survive winter in a container?

There are several plants that can survive winter in a container, including:
* Evergreen shrubs such as boxwood, holly, and yew
* Conifers such as pine, spruce, and fir
* Herbs such as rosemary, thyme, and oregano
* Vegetables such as kale, spinach, and broccoli
* Flowering plants such as pansies, violas, and primroses

2. How should I prepare my container plants for winter?

To prepare your container plants for winter, you should:
* Move your containers to a sheltered location to protect them from wind and snow
* Water your plants sparingly to prevent them from becoming waterlogged
* Apply a thick layer of mulch around the base of the plant to insulate the roots
* Prune your plants to remove any dead or damaged branches
* Apply a winter fertilizer to promote healthy growth in the spring

3. Can I leave my container plants outside during winter?

It depends on your local climate and the specific plants you are growing. In general, it is best to bring your container plants inside during the winter months to protect them from extreme temperatures and weather conditions. However, if you live in a mild climate and your plants are well-suited to the conditions, you may be able to leave them outside.

4. How should I overwinter my container plants indoors?

To overwinter your container plants indoors, you should:
* Choose a location with bright, indirect light
* Water your plants sparingly, allowing the soil to dry out between waterings
* Keep your plants away from heat sources such as radiators or vents
* Rotate your plants every few weeks to promote even growth
* Repot your plants as needed to ensure they have enough space to grow

5. What should I do if my container plants don’t survive the winter?

If your container plants do not survive the winter, it is best to assess the situation and make any necessary changes for the following year. This may include choosing hardier plants, providing better protection for your containers, or making adjustments to your watering and fertilizing regimen. Don’t be discouraged – with a little trial and error, you can find the perfect combination of plants and techniques to thrive in your winter container garden.

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