Horticulture Magazine

Ideal Plants To Grow In Winter Window Boxes

close up of a window box with purple, white and tellow coloured pansies

Window boxes can brighten up your life – not just in summer but also during the winter months.

But choosing the right plants to grow in winter window boxes is key. It is important to think about the size of a particular window box, and where exactly it is positioned. A window box in a sunnier spot will be suitable to certain plants, while one in a more shaded position will be suitable for others.

With the right plant choices, you can enjoy attractive displays all through the coldest months. And may even be able to continue growing edibles in a window box all winter long. To help you find the right plant combinations for your winter window boxes, here are our top suggestions for plants which you should grow:

Growing Edibles in Winter Window Boxes

decorative cabbage in wooden boxes
Edible crops in a window box

As a sustainable gardener, growing at least some of your own food is always a great thing to do. You do not have to choose between edible, useful plants and aesthetics either. Many edible plants which can survive outdoors over winter across much of the UK in a sunny and relatively sheltered spot can also be attractive ornamentals.

Some of my top picks for a winter window box are in the Brassica (cabbage) family. There are a number of kales, cabbages and Asian greens which can survive cold temperatures and provide you with a source of food throughout the winter months. Kales and cabbages can be beautiful too – with their different types of foliage in greens, and also deep purple hues.

You can also consider adding some alliums (overwintering onions, or perennial onions, for example to your window box, to provide food the following year.

Overwintering broad beans or peas could also be an option in some window boxes in some areas. And with a little protection, a range of other leafy crops, root crops  and micro-greens could be grown.

Though you will likely leave them unharvested during the winter months, many evergreen herbs can also be good choices for a winter window box. Rosemary, thyme etc. can often overwinter successfully in a window box in the right spot – and in certain circumstances should remain green throughout the winter months.

Pansies and violas are common winter bedding plants. But you might not realise that these are also edible flowers, which can be added to a winter salad. What you might not realise, however, is that buying in bedding plants is not usually the most eco-friendly choice.

With hugely detrimental peat compost, and plastic plugs or pots, bedding plants are generally best avoided if you are trying to garden in a sustainable and eco-friendly way. Instead, consider sowing these plants from seed yourself at home. Plan ahead for winter in late spring and early summer to make sure you limit your negative impact on people and planet.

Dwarf Conifers for Winter Window Boxes

If you would rather not go to the trouble of growing edibles year round, and simply want a long-lasting and attractive winter display, conifers can be a low-maintenance choice. Junipers, for example,with dwarf or prostrate forms can be ideal choices for winter window boxes. There are a number of conifers with small and restricted forms which can look beautiful in a window box over the winter months.

Small Evergreen Shrubs for Winter Window Boxes

There are also plenty of small evergreen shrubs and sub-shrubs that can look wonderful in winter window boxes, providing plenty of visual interest and appeal over the coldest months.

Gaultheria procumbens, for example, is one option to consider. Plant a small potted plant of this species into a window box, and when winter is done, it might even be suitable to replant, and grow on elsewhere in your garden.

Skimmia japonica and Skimmia japonica subsp. Reevsiana are other interesting small shrubs to consider. Again, there are examples which are rather diminutive in size, and which will provide winter interest in a window box before, potentially, being planted out elsewhere.

Many Daphnes are also ideal for window boxes, some providing blooms in the winter months. For colour and interest over the winter months, Daphnes can be hard to beat.

There are also plenty of other small evergreen shrubs and subshrubs to consider growing in a window box over the winter months. But the above are all great choices to maximise interest and visual appeal over the coldest part of the year.

Ivy For Winter Window Boxes

ferns and ivy in a grey window box outside a home
Ferns and ivy window box

While some Hedera (ivy) is extremely vigorous, and will quickly take over, many ivy varieties are perfect for winter window boxes. These spill down over the front of a window box, creating a beautiful effect. Ivy trailing from a window box can give a sense of abundance and lushness. And it can look good alongside a wide range of other plants.

Heathers for Winter Window Boxes

heather and ivy overflowing from a window
Heather and ivy window box

Winter flowering heathers such as Erica carnea and Erica darleyensis are also top picks for a winter window box. They can look good alongside some herb shrubs like rosemary etc, or alongside a range of evergreen alpine plants. There are numerous evergreen alpines which can look wonderful throughout the year, and which can thrive in a well-drained window box in the right spot.

Other Winter Flowering Perennials for Window Boxes

Helleborus x hybridus (Hybrid Hellebores) and Helleborus niger (The Christmas Rose) are great choices for a winter window box, blooming as they do during the coldest months.

Cyclamen coum is a perennial bulb that you could also consider growing in winter window boxes for some of the earliest blooms of the year.

Evergreen Ferns in a Shady Spot

In a shady spot, you may find it more difficult to find plants which will thrive in a winter window box. But some of the plants above – such as conifers and ivy, should still do fine. And you can also consider adding a range of interesting evergreen ferns. Creating a small window box fernery can provide a lot more interest than you might think. There are ferns which come in a wide range of foliage types, forms and shades.

Snowdrops, and other late-winter/early spring bulbs could also be considered for a window box in a shaded location.

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