Winter container gardening

When planning your container display, think of foliage, colour and shape and anticipate the extra glamour given by frost to stems and foliage. Scent can also be incorporated.

When choosing your container, the important factors are that it should have adequate drainage with plenty of holes in the bottom and be clean and free from last year’s pests and diseases. Pots can be sterilized using “Jeyes Fluid” or “Natures Disinfectant” which is an organic alternative.

The first ingredient into the container is the drainage material. This is required to prevent the drainage holes being clogged by the compost. Traditionally, this would have been crocks – broken clay pots. An alternative to this could be small pieces of polystyrene. Use a 25mm (1 inch) deep layer at the base of your pot. Raising the container off the ground with the aid of “pot feet” will also help with drainage.

We would not recommend using soil dug from the garden for use in containers as it contains bugs, weed seeds and all sorts of other undesirables such as fungal spores. We use a sterile multi-purpose compost including John Innes that will contain the correct balance of food nutrients and trace elements to ensure sturdy growth. A range of compost is available here at Dunscar Garden Centre.

Where possible keep pots in sheltered spots in the garden to protect them from cold, drying winds which could damage the plants.

Careful watering of your winter containers is necessary. Overwater and your plants roots may rot. Remember too that bright sunshine and windy days will cause your containers to dry out.

So how can you tell if your container needs water?  There are a few signs to look out for:-

  • Has the compost changed colour on the surface? As it dries, the compost goes lighter. Be careful though, it may only be dry on the surface and if so, leave alone.
  • Has the compost shrunk away from the edge of the pot? This happens as the compost dries.
  • If your container is ceramic, tap the pot with a stick. If dry, it will sound hollow.
  • If you are still unsure of when to water your container, invest in a moisture meter. This will indicate when the compost is dry.

Plants for winter containers

A well-placed container close to a doorway, windows or path can really make an impact, especially when winter has pared the garden back to basics. We have a splendid range of evergreens or winter pansies for a slapsh of colour, as well as a fine choice of containers. We can help you put a unique and bespoke collection together and will even plant up a container for you at no extra cost.

There are many plants that can thrive in containers. Below are a few ideas:


  • Chamaecyparis lawsoniana ‘Ellwood’s Gold’
  • Chamaecyparis obtusa ‘Nana Aurea’
  • Juniperus squamata ‘Blue Star’
  • Juniperus communis ‘Compressa’
  • Thuja occidentalis ‘Rheingold’
  • Taxus baccata ‘Standishii’


  • Euonymus
  • Rosemary Dwarf Rhododendrons and Azaleas
  • Hedera (Ivy)
  • Rosemary
  • Thyme
  • Vinca

Winter Bedding

  • Pansies
  • Violas
  • Primulas
  • Wallflowers


  • Sedums
  • Thymes
  • Phlox
  • Aubretia
  • Sempervivums