What to plant in autumn and winter containers

If your patio looks a little drab and uninteresting after a colourful summer, then plant up your containers with late-season interest plants to give you some cheery colour to look out at.

There are lots of great autumn and winter flowering plants to choose from that a great for containers and will then provide interest, colour and structure throughout the rest of the year.

1. Evergreens

All evergreen shrubs will provide a brilliant backdrop of colour throughout the year, but particularly in winter. Any evergreen can be grown in a container - as long as the container is large enough - and conifers are one of the obvious choices. Conifers are available in a huge range of colours, shapes and sizes – and you can even celebrate the festive season outdoors with a suitable potted Christmas tree adorned with outdoor lights! When looking for conifers, make sure you choose carefully, selecting varieties that won’t grow taller than you want. Growing them in containers will reduce their growth rate and their overall height. But, it's not only conifers, but you can also go for an evergreen shrub.

2. Winter-flowering shrubs

There are several late-flowering shrubs that will provide extra colour in your containers during the autumn and winter months. These include Hamamelis (witch hazel), Mahonia (evergreen), Sarcococca (winter box, evergreen), Viburnum x bodnantense, V. farreri and V. tinus (evergreen). These shrubs are also very highly scented (except, which has a mild scent), so make sure you grow them close to the house where you can benefit from their delicious smells whenever it's mild enough to open a window. You can also grow Jasminum nudiflorum (winter jasmine, right) and winter-flowering Clematis cirrhosa to decorate walls and fences.

3. Berries and stems

Don’t forget plants that have other interesting features during autumn and winter. There are numerous shrubs that have winter berries, such as Pyracantha (evergreen), Cotoneaster (some are evergreen) and, of course, the traditional Christmas Holly (evergreen). And make the most of colourful stems, such as Dogwoods and Rubus thibetanus, and shrubs with twisted and contorted stems, such as Corylus avellana ‘Contorta’ and Salix ‘Erythroflexuosa’.

4. Underplanting heathers

To make the most of your containers and to ensure maximum colour, you can underplant these shrubs with evergreen winter-flowering heathers, Ivy and Ajuga, which will also trail over the sides. Autumn, winter and spring bedding plants will also add extra colour and interest for many months.


As shrubs are long-term plants, it is far better to plant them in loam-based compost or a multi-purpose compost with added John Innes.

Composts containing loam are heavier than multi-purpose composts, so the containers are less likely to blow over in strong winds. They also hold more nutrients and are generally the best bet for all trees, shrubs and perennial plants.

What to plant in autumn and winter containers

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