18 Plants With Winter Interest Perfect for Pots

Cold-hardy Container Plants With Winter Interest

Potted plant 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 pots 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.

Warning

The following plants from the list below are toxic:

  • Boxwood: Toxic to pets
  • Japanese skimmia: Toxic to humans
  • Nadina: Toxic to pets
  • Japanese holly: Toxic to humans, toxic to pets
  • 01 of 18

    Winter Heath (Erica carnea)

    Winter heath

    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.

    • 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 (Gaultheria procumbens)

    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.

    • 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 (Buxus sinica var. insul. 'Winter Gem’)

    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.

    • 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 (Skimmia japonica)

    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.

    • 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’ (Loropetalum chinense ‘Ruby’)

    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.

    • 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 (Mahonia aquifolium ‘Compacta’)

    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.

    • 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 (Chamaerops humilis)

    European fan palm

    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.

    • 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’ (Pinus mugo ‘Mops’)

    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.

    • 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 (Picea pungens)

    Colorado Blue spruce ‘Glauca Globosa’

    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.

    • 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 (Acer palmatum ‘Fjellheim')

    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.

    • 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 (Ilex crenata 'Sky Pencil')

    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.

    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.

    • USDA Hardiness Zones: 5-9
    • Foliage color: Dark green
    • Light: Full sun
    • Mature Size: 6-8 ft. tall, 2-3 ft. wide
  • 12 of 18

    Bay laurel (Laurus nobilis)

    Bay laurel

    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.

    • 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 (Nandina domestica 'Firepower')

    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.

    • 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 (Aspidistra elatior)

    Cast iron plant

    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.

    • 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

    Hens-and-Chicks (Sempervivum tectorum)

    Hens-and-chicks

    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.

    • 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 (Carex buchananii)

     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.

    • 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 (Schizachyrium scoparium)

    Little bluestem

    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.

    • USDA Hardiness Zones: 3-9
    • Flower color: Purple
    • Light: Full sun
    • Mature Size: 2-5 ft. tall
  • 18 of 18

    Autumn Joy Stonecrop (Hylotelephium telephium ‘Autumn Joy’)

    Sedum

    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.

    • USDA Hardiness Zones: 3-9
    • Flower color: Pink, red
    • Light: Full sun
    • Mature Size: 1.5-2 ft. tall and wide

Learn more

After you've made your choices for plants with winter interest, find out about the different materials that pots and containers are made of, and how to choose the right garden planter, Then, to prepare your plants for winter, read about different methods of winterization.

Article Sources
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. Nandina. ASPCA.

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

  5. Holly. ASPCA.