18 Plants With Winter Interest Perfect for Pots

Cold-hardy Container Plants With Winter Interest

Potted plant in the snow with small animal footprints in the snow

Anders Hedberg Magnusson / EyeEm / Getty Images

Plants with winter interest in pots get to shine during the time when there is not much greenery to please the eye (unless you live in a tropical climate). There are conifer trees, evergreen shrubs, deciduous trees with an attractive bark, and even dormant perennials such as grasses that don’t require a yard but can be grown in pretty planters or containers on a patio, balcony, or porch, and even in window boxes.

Here are suggestions for plants with winter interest across a wide range of hardiness zones.

  • 01 of 18

    Winter Heath

    Winter heath pink flowers growing in snow

    Volha Halkouskaya / Getty Images

    This low-growing evergreen shrub or groundcover with small, bell- or urn-shaped flowers in pink or white is ideal for containers because it needs excellent drainage. It is native to Europe and blooms between early winter and early spring depending on the variety. The cultivar ‘December Red’, as the name indicates, is an early bloomer. Other popular cultivars are ‘Springwood White’ and ‘Springwood Pink’.

    To make sure that the plant forms the desired dense mat, winter heath should be pruned right after flowering.

    • Name: Winter heath (Erica carnea)
    • USDA Hardiness Zones: 5-7
    • Flower Color: Pink, white
    • Light: Full sun, partial shade
    • Mature Size: 6-9 in. tall, 1-2 ft. wide
  • 02 of 18

    Creeping Wintergreen

    close up of Creeping wintergreen

    seven75 / Getty Images

    In the winter, the glossy green foliage of creeping winter green turns reddish-bronze. This, together with the bright red berries, makes it an attractive low-growing container plant. Creeping wintergreen is a hardy plant native to eastern North America. It grows very slowly, only a couple of inches per year, so you don’t need to worry that its rhizomes will outgrow their container soon.

    • Name: Creeping wintergreen (Gaultheria procumbens)
    • USDA Hardiness Zones: 3-7
    • Flower Color: White, pale pink
    • Light: Partial shade
    • Mature Size: 4-8 in. tall, 6-12 in. wide
  • 03 of 18

    Winter Gem Boxwood

    Winter gem boxwood shrub branches with small circular yellow-green leaves

    The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

    A dwarf boxwood is a good choice for a container plant with a compact growth habit if you don’t mind giving it some extra care to protect it from pests and diseases, and the fact that boxwoods are toxic to humans and pets isn’t an issue for you. ‘Winter Gem’ is especially attractive because its leaves develop gold and bronze tinges in the winter, and it is one of the first boxwoods to turn green again in spring. Boxwood is toxic to pets.

    • Name: Winter gem boxwood (Buxus sinica var. insul. 'Winter Gem’)
    • USDA Hardiness Zones: 5-9
    • Leaf Color: Green, golden-bronze in the winter
    • Light: Full sun, partial shade
    • Mature Size: 2-4 ft. tall, 2-4 ft. wide
  • 04 of 18

    Japanese Skimmia

    close up of Japanese skimmia

    Jacky Parker Photography / Getty Images

    What makes Japanese skimmia an eye-catcher during the cold season are its bright red berries. This small shrub is dioecious and in order to get berries from the fragrant yellow to white flowers that appear in the summer, you need a male and a female plant. Otherwise, the slow-growing plant, which is native to Japan, China, and south-east Asia, does not require much maintenance. Japanese skimmia is toxic to people, so be careful with planting when kids are around.

    • Name: Japanese skimmia (Skimmia japonica)
    • USDA Hardiness Zones: 6-8
    • Leaf Color/Flower Color: Yellow, white
    • Light: Partial shade, shade
    • Mature Size: 3-4 ft. tall, 5 ft. wide
    Continue to 5 of 18 below.
  • 05 of 18

    Chinese Fringe Flower ‘Ruby’

    close up of Chinese fringe flower

    Daniela Duncan / Getty Images

    This plant certainly adds a splash of color to dreary grey winter days. It is a compact, rounded dwarf cultivar of the Chinese fringe flower, an evergreen in the witch hazel family. It has clusters of fringe-shaped pink flowers in the spring. The foliage of ‘Ruby’ starts off as ruby-red in the spring and darkens to deep burgundy by autumn. It is considered low-maintenance but should be protected from winter winds at the lower end of its zone range.

    • Name: Chinese fringe flower ‘Ruby’ (Loropetalum chinense ‘Ruby’)
    • USDA Hardiness Zones: 7-10
    • Flower Color: Pink
    • Light: Full sun, partial shade
    • Mature Size: 4 ft. tall, 4 ft. wide
  • 06 of 18

    Compact Oregon Grape

    close up of Compact Oregon grape

    Jacky Parker Photography / Getty Images

    The name of this broadleaf evergreen shrub is misleading, it is not a grape but a member of the barberry family. In the spring, the foliage is reddish. The yellow in April and May turn into purplish-blue fruit resembling grapes. In the winter, it has deep burgundy foliage. The species grows much taller, up to 10 feet so make sure to select the cultivar ‘Compacta’ for container planting.

    • Name: Compact Oregon grape (Mahonia aquifolium ‘Compacta’)
    • USDA Hardiness Zones: 5-9
    • Leaf Color/Flower Color: Yellow
    • Light: Partial shade, full shade
    • Mature Size: 2-3-ft. tall, 2-5 ft. wide
  • 07 of 18

    European Fan Palm

    European fan palm in brown pot

    ArtesiaWells / Getty Images

    In warm climates, the European fan palm with its light blue-green to silver-green, fan-shaped fronds adds a tropical look to a patio. But unlike other palm trees, this is an especially cold-hardy palm species. European fan palm can be grown either as a shrub with multiple trunks, or as a small tree with a single trunk. What makes this species especially suitable for container growing is that it has a slow growth rate; it only grows five inches per year, and even less in partial shade.

    • Name: European fan palm (Chamaerops humilis)
    • USDA Hardiness Zones: 8-11
    • Flower Color: Yellow
    • Light: Full sun, partial shade
    • Mature Size: 6-15 ft. tall, 6-20 ft. wide
  • 08 of 18

    Dwarf Mugo Pine ‘Mops’

    close up of Dwarf mugo pine 'Mops'

    Nahhan / Getty Images

    If you are looking for a container plant that can double as a privacy screen, this popular dwarf conifer with its dark green needles and dense branches is a good choice. It grows wider than it grows tall. The tree grows slowly and reaches it mature size in about 10 years. Being a pine, it is a very hardy tree that is adapted to subzero winters. However, it is important to insulate the container so the roots won’t get damaged in freezing temperatures.

    • Name: Dwarf mugo pine ‘Mops’ (Pinus mugo ‘Mops’) 
    • USDA Hardiness Zones: 2-7
    • Leaf Color: Dark green
    • Light: Full sun, partial shade
    • Mature Size: 3-5 ft. tall, 3-5 ft. wide
    Continue to 9 of 18 below.
  • 09 of 18

    Colorado Blue Spruce

    close up of Colorado Blue spruce

    Mkovalevskaya / Getty Images

    The Colorado blue spruce variety Glauca Globosa’ is a coniferous evergreen that can also have a double purpose—the mound-shaped, compact, densely branched tree is attractive as is with its blue-green needles. Given that Colorado blue spruce is one of the most popular Christmas trees because of its narrow, pyramidal shape, you can also decorate it with outdoor lights during the holiday season.

    It is a slow grower that reaches it mature size in about a decade. Although this is a very hardy tree, when grown in a climate with cold winters, the roots can suffer cold-damage so make sure to winterize the container.

    • Name: Colorado blue spruce (Picea pungens)
    • USDA Hardiness Zones: 3-7
    • Leaf Color: Silvery blue
    • Light: Full sun, partial shade
    • Mature Size: 3-5 ft. tall, 5-6 ft. wide
  • 10 of 18

    Coral Bark Japanese Maple

    Japanese maple

    The Spruce / Adrienne Legault

    Japanese maples are the most spectacular in the fall when their foliage turns gold, yellow, or red. Coral bark Japanese maple is one that also has special winter interest. The slow-growing dwarf cultivar 'Fjellheim' has a bushy, upright growth habit. Its stems and branches are coral red in the winter. In spring, the lime green leaves form a striking contrast with the coral-red bark.

    • Name: Coral bark Japanese maple (Acer palmatum ‘Fjellheim')
    • USDA Hardiness Zones: 5-8
    • Leaf Color: Lime green
    • Light: Full sun, partial shade
    • Mature Size: 6-8 ft. tall, 4-6 ft. wide
  • 11 of 18

    Sky Pencil Japanese Holly

    Japanese holly shrub branches with small rounded and glossy leaves

    The Spruce / Leticia Almeida

    This narrow, columnar holly has dark green foliage that remains attractive year-round. This is a dioicous plants so if you also want the small, purple berries, you need a female plant and a male plant. Japanese holly is toxic to people and toxic to pets.

    Unlike other holly varieties, the leaves of this variety do not have sharp points, which makes it especially suitable for a patio or a deck.

    • Name: Sky pencil Japanese holly (Ilex crenata 'Sky Pencil') 
    • USDA Hardiness Zones: 5-9
    • Leaf Color: Dark green
    • Light: Full sun
    • Mature Size: 6-8 ft. tall, 2-3 ft. wide
  • 12 of 18

    Bay Laurel

    Bay laurel in cement pots

    Michel VIARD / Getty Images

    If you live in a warm climate, a bay laurel is not only attractive and fragrant, it also lets you harvest the much sought-after fresh bay leaves for cooking, The tree has a slender, conical form and green, highly aromatic foliage. You can shape it into a topiary, but it is just as attractive when you let it grow in its natural form. Bay laurel is a slow grower that only adds a few inches per year.

    • Name: Bay laurel (Laurus nobilis)
    • USDA Hardiness Zones: 8-10
    • Leaf Color: Green
    • Light: Full sun, partial sun
    • Mature Size: 4-8 ft. tall and wide
    Continue to 13 of 18 below.
  • 13 of 18

    Firepower Nandina

    close up of Firepower nandina

    yhelfman / Getty Images

    In USDA zone 8 and 9, this dwarf cultivar of heavenly bamboo offers beautiful foliage in all four seasons. In the spring, this perennial is lime-green with tinges of red. In the summer, it is light-green, and in the fall, it turns bright red and keeps that brilliant color all winter long. The plant requires little maintenance and no pruning. Nadina plants are toxic to pets.

    • Name: Firepower nandina (Nandina domestica 'Firepower')
    • USDA Hardiness Zones: 6-9
    • Leaf Color: Lime-green, red in the winter
    • Light: Full sun, partial shade
    • Mature Size: 2 ft. tall, 2 ft. wide
  • 14 of 18

    Cast Iron Plant

    Cast iron plant leaves

    skymoon13 / Getty Images

    In warm climates, cast iron plant, which has the reputation of being a hard-to-kill houseplant, can also be grown outdoors in shady or partial shady locations as it requires very little sunlight. It is a lush, leafy evergreen with dark green foliage that needs only basic maintenance other than watering and fertilizing. And it’s a slow grower so it won’t need repotting for at least three years.

    • Name: Cast iron plant (Aspidistra elatior
    • USDA Hardiness Zones: 8-10
    • Leaf Color/Flower Color: White, purple
    • Light: Partial shade, shade
    • Mature Size: 2–3 ft. tall, 1–2 ft. wide
  • 15 of 18


    close up of hens and chicks covered in frost

    Marija Peter / Getty Images

    For small outdoor spaces, you cannot beat hens and chicks. These rosette-shaped, low-growing succulents remain evergreen throughout the year, even in cold climates. In fact, they are even better off if you leave them outside during the winter instead of bringing them indoors, as this will induce their dormancy stage. The only thing to consider is root protection, as the roots of container plants, unlike in garden soil, are vulnerable to frost injury so make sure to winterize the containers.

    • Name: Hens-and-Chicks (Sempervivum tectorum)
    • USDA Hardiness Zones: 3-8
    • Flower Color: Pale pink, purple
    • Light: Full sun
    • Mature Size: 3-6 in. tall, 6-12 in. wide
  • 16 of 18

    Leatherleaf Sedge

     Leatherleaf sedge

    seven75 / Getty Images

    This perennial evergreen sedge, which is native to New Zealand, has copper-bronze, narrow, fine, upright leaves. While it can grow in partial shade, the more sun it gets during the growing season, the deeper the color, which means more winter interest. For even more color, look for the cultivar 'Red Rooster’ which adds a reddish hue to the copper foliage.

    • Name: Leatherleaf sedge (Carex buchananii)
    • USDA Hardiness Zones: 6-9
    • Leaf Color: Bronze
    • Light: Full sun, partial shade
    • Mature Size: 2-3 ft. tall, 1-2 ft. wide
    Continue to 17 of 18 below.
  • 17 of 18

    Little Bluestem

    Little bluestem with frost

    AlpamayoPhoto / Getty Images

    Native grasses aren’t only great for a natural-looking landscape; some shorter, compact species, such as little bluestem, can also be grown in containers. In the fall, the seed heads, stems, and foliage of this North American prairie grass turn from purplish to copper yellow, which makes it an attractive ornamental grass during the winter months. Growing it in containers is also a good way to control its spread as little bluestem tends to self-seed freely.

    • Name: Little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium)
    • USDA Hardiness Zones: 3-9
    • Flower Color: Purple
    • Light: Full sun
    • Mature Size: 2-5 ft. tall
  • 18 of 18

    Autumn Joy Stonecrop

    Sedum with snow dusting

    taken by Richard Radford / Getty Images

    All sedums are small enough to be grown in containers because they have shallow roots and a moderate growth rate. Varieties with tall, sturdy flower stalks such as ‘Autumn Joy’ provide winter interest because they remain upright on the plant even after the foliage has died back and the plant has entered dormancy.

    • Name: Autumn joy stonecrop (Hylotelephium telephium ‘Autumn Joy’)
    • USDA Hardiness Zones: 3-9
    • Flower Color: Pink, red
    • Light: Full sun
    • Mature Size: 1.5-2 ft. tall and wide

Learn More

Once you've filled your containers for the winter, consider how you can prepare other areas of your yard and garden to look their best during the colder months.

The Spruce uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Boxwood. ASPCA.

  2. Skimmia japonica. Oregon State University.

  3. Ilex crenata. North Carolina State University Cooperative Extension.

  4. Holly. ASPCA.

  5. Nandina. ASPCA.