Why is my Garden so Dull in Winter?

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It is not uncommon for gardens to loose their sparkle once the winter months arrive – but it doesn’t have to be this way! Just because summer and autumn are finished for another year it doesn’t mean that your garden has to be too.

Gardens can look dull in winter as the days are shorter and darker, and many plants and trees are in a dormant phase. You can counteract this by injecting some colour using winter flowering plants such as Violas, Pansies and Cyclamen along with evergreens like Skimmia. Throw in some garden lighting and a selection of zingy containers and ornaments and things will soon start to brighten up!

Carry on reading to learn more about how to transform your winter garden or patio! In this article we will look at three different ways of adding colour:

1. Add Winter Colour with Flowers
2. Add Winter Colour with Evergreens
3. The Finishing Touch : Brighten Things up Further with Garden Ornaments and Lighting

But First……. Borders or Containers?

You can add winter colour by planting directly into borders or using containers, or both!

Planting in Borders

Planting borders in autumn in preparation for winter means that you can take advantage of the generally moist soil which will still be retaining some of the summer heat. Whether it be a complete new scheme or if you simply need to plug gaps – the right mix of winter plants and evergreens can make a stunning impact.

Planting in Containers

Patio containers, window boxes and hanging baskets are good ways to add a few blooms during the colder months. One big advantage of containers over borders is that you can move them around throughout the winter to make the most your display, group them into specific areas where you want to concentrate colour for maximum effect, and arrange them based on which ones are doing best at any one time.

A variety of different sized and coloured containers will also help keep things interesting – and the containers themselves can be as bright as you want!

It is worth making sure that the containers you use are are frost proof to avoid any damage when the mercury drops, and it is good to try and use larger rather than smaller containers as the extra volume of soil they hold will help afford some additional protection against the cold.

Make sure that the containers you choose have good drainage – using free draining compost, placing crocks at the bottom of containers to keep drainage holes clear and raising the pots slightly off the ground using feet will all help. This will let you keep the soil moist and at the same time prevent plants being sat in standing water which can cause roots to rot.

1. Add Winter Colour With Flowers

So maybe you have a few empty spaces that need filling in existing borders? Or you may have a small patio area that you want to brighten up? Winter flowering plants are the answer! There are ranges of hardy flowering plants available that can withstand the lower temperatures of winter – perfect for recapturing some of the lost summer colour from your garden and enlivening what would otherwise be dull, plain spaces.

Bear in mind that the rate of growth that you will see from plants in winter will not match that of spring and summer. Although they will continue to flower through winter, from around October plants will pretty much stop growing. You can compensate for this lack of growth and maintain an impressive display by reducing spacing between plants.

Take a look below at some of the best flowering plants on offer for winter colour !

Winter Pansy

Flowering: Autumn – Spring

Winter Pansy

Although many varieties of pansies will not flower once conditions get too cold, special winter flowering pansy varieties which have been bred to flower from autumn all the way through to spring are available in an array of different colours such as white, blue and violet. If you are after maximum colour impact then you can’t go far wrong with winter pansies.

Care tips for pansies:
– Ideal for pots and containers.
– Deadhead weekly to encourage more abundant flowering.
– Prefer full sun or partial shade.
– Keep moist but do not overwater.

Winter Viola

Flowering: Autumn – Spring

Winter Viola

Along with pansies, winter violas will provide blooms through the coldest of the autumn and winter weather. Often with a sweet fragrance, violas are more compact plants than pansies and they tend to produce more plentiful, albeit smaller, flowers in comparison. Compared to pansies the smaller violas tend to be slightly hardier during periods of extreme winter weather.

Care tips for Violas:
– Ideal for pots and containers.
– Prefer partial shade.
– Deadhead weekly to encourage more abundant flowering.
– Keep moist but do not overwater.

Winter Flowering Primrose

Flowering: November – June

Winter flowering Primrose

Winter primroses are perennials and are characterised by their long leaves, uneven on the edges, with each flower having its own long, hairy stem. The flowers grow in the form of a rosette. Blooming from around November each year, flowers can be various colours such as yellow, white, red and blue to name but a few. A versatile plant, winter primroses are suited to beds, borders, window boxes and containers.

Care tips for winter primroses:
– Full sun or part shade.
– Keep moist but do not overwater.
– Deadhead flowers at the base of the stem to encourage more flowering.
– As a perennial plant, primroses can be divided once blooming is complete.

Hardy Cyclamen

Flowering: Autumn – Winter


There are numerous hardy cyclamen varieties that can tolerate and thrive in cold winter conditions. Flowers are vibrant range in colour from violet, red, pink and white and bloom all through the winter season. They are suitable for planting into pots and prefer a partially shady location. Great for ground cover, cyclamen self seed and spread year after year. They are typically found growing on the woodland floor under the shade of trees and shrubs, although their spreading nature also makes them ideal for use in rock gardens.

Winter care tips for hardy cyclamen:
– Partial shade.
– Cyclamens prefer a sheltered position.
– Deadhead flowers at the base of stalks to encourage more abundant flowering.
– Plant in well drained soil.
– Keep moist but do not overwater.


Flowering: Autumn – Winter


If you are using containers, bellis is also a good choice – it is a short yet compact perennial that produces plenty of daisy – like blooms from autumn and through winter with white, pink or red flowers.

Winter care tips for bellis:
– Ideal for pots and containers.
– Ensure soil is well drained.
– Deadhead regularly to prevent the plant self seeding and to encourage more flowers.

2. Add Winter Colour With Evergreens

When the leaves have fallen and branches are bare, evergreens come into their own by providing greenery all year round. Why not give these a try? They can either be grown in borders or can be used to add extra interest when incorporated into container planting schemes.

Take a look below at some of the best evergreens on offer for winter colour !

Bay Tree

Dormant during winter. Minimal growth November – March

Bay Tree

The height of a potted bay tree can add an extra dimension and centrepiece to your winter garden container display.

Winter care tips for bay trees:
– Position in full sun or partial shade.
– Best kept in a sheltered place away from the prevailing wind.
– Bay trees can tolerate temperatures down to approximately -5.
– Protect from frosts below -5.
– Bay trees need no feeding and only light watering during winter – just enough to ensure the roots do not dry out.

Winter Heather

Flowering: November – May

Erica – Winter Heather

Winter heather (erica) is a fully hardy, perennial low growing evergreen shrub which has the benefit of a long winter flowering period. Vibrant colours include violet, white and red. The flowers may be small but there are plenty of them! It has a spreading habit and will provide a carpet of colour over time when planted in borders. Likewise, winter Heather is equally suited to being part of a planted container display.

Winter care tips for heather:
– Suited to containers or borders.
– Prefers acid soil, but tolerates alkaline.
– Full sun.
– To help keep a shape to winter heathers, a light prune is needed around April each year after they have finished flowering. If you carry out a harder prune, be careful not to prune fully into the previous year’s wood as this can restrict new growth.
– Keep moist but do not overwater.

If you are looking for very high impact color, you may want to consider a painted heather.

Painted Heather

Painted heathers are most often varieties of the calluna vulgaris species. Usually summer flowering, it is increasingly common to see examples on sale at garden centres that have been painted, or dyed, to achieve a brighter colour and higher impact plant. Click here for more information on painted heather.


Growing phase: When temperatures exceed approximately 7 degrees.


Ivy looks great when added to container displays and hanging baskets. It can be used to great effect as a trailing plant for softening the hard edges of containers. A good ground cover plant, it will root in multiple places along it stems.

Winter care tips for ivy:
– Grows well in shady areas, aswell as full sun.
– Ensure soil does not become waterlogged.
– Prune back in spring if necessary.


Colourful Buds – November – March
Flowers – April – May
Berries – July onwards

Skimmia Japonica in bud

Skimmia is a shade loving, slow growing evergreen. Ideal for autumn and winter containers or the edge of borders, it develops attractive, colourful buds from November, which stay closed all through winter before flowering in April – May.

Most Skimmia are male or female. The female plant can produce red berries from July and through to winter after flowering as long as there is a male plant near, so if you want berries it is a good idea to grow two varieties – one male variety and one female.

For example, Skimmia Japonica “Rubella” is a male plant and Skimmia Japonica “Nymans” is a female plant. Skimmia Japonica “Nymans” can produce red berries if sited near to a male.

Skimmia Japonica – Female plant with berries

Winter care tips for Skimmia
– Ensure soil is well drained.
– Prefers partial to full shade.
– Slow growing – minimal pruning is needed. Any pruning should be done after flowering.

Viburnum Tinus

Flowering: Autumn, Winter and Spring

Viburnum Tinus

The evergreen viburnum, Viburnum Tinus, is a hardy evergreen shrub with bright green, oval leaves. It produces white winter flowers from November right through to March. Often used for hedging, these shrubs also work well sited at the back of shrub or mixed borders or as single shrubs in pots.

Care tips for Viburnum
– Full sun or partial shade.
– Ensure soil is moist and well drained.
– Pruning should be completed in the springtime, after flowering has finished.

3. The Finishing Touch: Brighten Things up Further with Garden Ornaments and Lighting

A mix of garden ornaments and lighting can be used to add the perfect finishing touch to your winter garden scheme.

It has never been easier to add external lighting and the advances made in solar technology now mean that there is a vast array of outside lighting available that you can install yourself – without having to call on the services of an electrician.

So when the nights draw in you will be looking out onto an attractive outdoor display of light instead of a sea darkness.

In Conclusion

By implementing these tips both you and your garden should now be able to look forward to a brighter and more colourful winter!

Although things are noticeably quieter through the winter period, there are still many important jobs that need to be completed if you want to make sure that your garden is prepared and ready for spring. To learn more, be sure to check out our article on the top 6 gardening jobs to be done over winter.

Happy gardening!