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Winter flowers for outdoor garden boxes

Heather and other winter flowers in a a stone garden box

Tending to flowers in planters comes naturally in spring and summer, they’re perfect for dressing up our decks and balconies. But winter is also a season where flowers and colors abound! Discover our selection of winter flowers for planters and garden boxes.

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Blooming heather all winter long

Kramer's Red, or Kramer's Rote, a heather variety that cascades over potsWinter heather opens its first flowers at the end of all, and it’ll keep it up ’till the end of winter. It’s true: this sub-shrub displays white or pink flowers for months! Each upright stem is dotted with tiny bell-shaped flowers. The blooming nearly covers the entire plant, which makes it a wonderful spot of color. Here are two low-growing varieties that are ideal for planters and garden boxes.

  • Erica carnea ‘Springwood White’: white heather about 10 inches tall (25 cm), more of the ground cover type.
  • Erica x darleyensis ‘Kramer’s Red’: (shown in picture) a compact cultivar that grows into nice mounds about 14 inches tall (35 cm). It’s covered in bright pink flowers.

You can plant heather in garden boxes in either fall or spring, but take care not to plant when the weather is freezing. Feel free to combine several varieties to fill the garden box up. Try to leave around 1 foot between neighboring plants (30cm). Soak the root clumps in a pail of water before planting to make sure they’re properly hydrated. Prepare a well-draining growing substrate with a bed of clay pebbles. Proportions for the potting soil should be half heath soil, one fourth soil mix or garden soil, and one fourth perlite.

Cyclamen, dashes of color

Pink petals of a Persicum cyclamen flowerSome cyclamen species have the benefit of blooming when winter is coldest. The plant forms a rosette of deep green oval leaves. Some varieties even have white variegation on the leafage. From this cluster of leaves, taller green or purple stems stand upright. Each solitary flower counts 5 white or pink petals, rounded and flipped back upwards. Here is a selection of winter-blooming cyclamen.

  • Cyclamen coum: pink or white flowers atop violet stems. Reaches about 6 inches in height (15 cm) and is hardy down to -4°F (-20°C).
  • Cyclamen persicum (or Persian cyclamen): depending on the cultivar, flowers are pink, white, red or purple. This plant grows a little taller, from 6 to 12 inches (15 to 30 cm), but is only hardy to 23°F (-5°C).

Cyclamen flowers love well-draining substrate and shaded or partly shaded exposure. Set them up in a garden box filled with light soil mix, but set layer of drainage underneath first. Bury the tuber to a depth of half an inch (1 cm), with the tip facing upwards, between July and October. Water regularly so that the soil stays cool, but don’t let it get soggy during winter. During the blooming, remember to give the plant a little liquid fertilizer when you water. From spring to summer, slowly stop watering.

Hellebore, magnificent cupped flowers

The Christmas rose clearly deserves its name: it blooms from December all the way to March-April, depending on the variety. These flowers don’t let the cold stop them from sharing their elegant colors with us at the heart of winter. A clump of evergreen leaves forms a nice mound, from which taller stems arise. Each single cup-shaped flower has 5 tepals and long stamens. Colors vary from one variety to the next, and sometimes you can make surprising finds: green, black, pink, white… Tepals occasionally have colored rims, darker veins, and cute spots near the heart.

Pointy-tipped tepals of a potted winter helleboreAll the hellebores bloom in winter. Here is a selection of original cultivars.

  • Oriental hellebore ‘Double Green guttatus’: from February to April, its round, pistachio-green double flowers have purple dots at the base of its tepals.
  • ‘Slaty Blue’ oriental hellebore: from February to April, this variety stands out thanks to the nearly-black plum color of its down-facing cup flowers. The green-tinted cream-colored heart contrasts well with the dark tepals. Watch out! It’s among the more toxic species!
  • Hellebore ‘Walberton’s Rosemary’: from November to April, this hellebore unfurls wide open pink flowers with pointed tips.
  • To learn more, read: Hellebore in pot or planter: 5 keys to make sure it grows

Hellebore loves cool, deep and rich soil. Place them in a blend of soil mix and compost, and give them a large container. The best location for this planter is shade or part shade, because these flowers hate full sun. Remember to schedule a twice-yearly work session where you amend the soil with compost to keep it cool.

Image credits (edits Gaspard Lorthiois):
CC BY 2.0: Andrey Zharkikh
CC BY-SA 2.0: Jean-Etienne Minh-Duy Poirrier
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