What to Plant in Winter
Keep busy all winter long by tackling planting chores, no matter where you garden.
Find out what to plant in the winter in your neck of the gardening woods. No matter where you grow, you can be planting something over winter. In areas where the snow flies, the focus primarily shifts indoors, while in warmer regions winter gardens are in full swing. Learn options for what to plant in the winter.
Commonly grown in North America and Eastern Asia, Japanese yew is an excellent fit for porches all year round since it's drought tolerant and thrives in both full and partial sun settings. Known to survive exceptionally harsh winters, the Japanese yew is popularly used as groundcover; however, when grown as a tree, it can reach more than 50 feet in height.
Potted Blue Spruce
The Colorado blue spruce is one of the most iconic evergreens associated with holiday decorating. Commonly raised as Christmas trees, it must have full sunlight to thrive and also requires a great deal of watering. If used as a potted accent, add a hole for proper drainage. It's also recommended to lay a sponge directly over the drainage hole to help hold moisture.
Similar to boxwood hedge, potted cypress works well as topiary. For the best growth possible, place potted cypress in an area that receives morning sun and afternoon shade. As far as watering is concerned, cypress can rot easily if oversaturated, so it's best to water in the morning to allow for proper evaporation before the sun fades.
Known for its golden-yellow foliage, thread-branch cypress can add great texture to an outdoor space during the winter. In addition to its unique coloring, this sun-loving evergreen takes an interesting shape as its thread-like needles "weep" downward. When planted in the ground, thread-branch cypress can grow as big as six-by-eight-feet tall. Whether it's being used in a container or planted in the ground, this cypress will need full sun to thrive.
Winter Gem Boxwood
Perfectly fit for small hedges when planted in multiples, Winter Gem boxwood also works well potted in planters. During the winter, this evergreen will take on a golden bronze coloring, then change back to bright green in the spring. Winter Gem boxwood thrives in both partial and full sun settings.
Ligustrum is an evergreen native to Japan which is commonly grown for ornamental use in California, Texas and throughout the Southeastern United States. Popular with homeowners in urban and rural settings, Ligustrum thrives in full sun and partial shade and adapts to different types of soil.
A perfect fit for topiary and container gardening, English boxwood is a small evergreen shrub known for slow growth and yellow-green coloring on its leaves. At full maturity, this shrub will reach two feet in width and height. Like most shrubs, it simply requires watering twice a week and full sun exposure.
Wheeler's Dwarf Japanese Mock Orange
Best used as groundcover, Wheeler's Dwarf Japanese Mock Orange is known for producing small scented flowers with orange coloring. When grown in partial to full sun, the groundcover can reach three feet in height and five feet in width.
In coldest regions, winter planting in the landscape isn’t possible when soil is frozen. But you can tackle indoor growing, from seed starting to houseplants. One way you can shift your focus outdoors is with winter sowing. This ingenious, yet simple, seed starting method capitalizes on natural weather cycles to give seeds a jump-start on the growing season.
By sowing seeds in closed, but ventilated containers that sit outside through winter, you allow seeds to germinate on their own schedule, programmed into them by virtue of their genetics. When using this method, focus on seeds that are adapted to winter exposure. You can find these plants by looking for certain words and phrases on seed packets.
Plants described as reseeding, self-sowing, will colonize, or containing the word “weed” in the name (butterfly weed, joy-pye weed) are all good candidates. Seeds described as being hardy, able to be direct-sown early, or that say to plant them outdoors in early spring, late fall, or winter are also naturally adapted to winter sowing.
In cold regions, you can adapt winter sowing practices by scattering seeds in planting beds during winter thaws or in late spring during robin snows, when nights are still freezing. If you cannot cover these seeds with a little soil (and you don’t necessarily have to in order to succeed), you do risk losing a few to hungry critters, but you’ll still have some that germinate. Simply toss them into planting beds where you want them to come up.
In warmer zones, the winter planting window is wide open. You can sow seeds for winter vegetable crops, like salad greens, radishes, carrots, onions, Swiss chard, English peas and kale. Look for transplants of other cool-season vegetables, including Brussels sprouts, broccoli and cauliflower. Herb transplants also appear in garden centers during winter. Purchase thyme, sage, oregano, parsley, lavender and hardy rosemary for adding to containers and winter vegetable gardens.
You can also tuck winter annuals into soil during winter. Watch for frost-tolerant or hardy choices at your local garden centers. Pansies and violas are strong cold weather contenders, as are dusty miller and flowering cabbage or kale. Colorful mimulus, nemesia, diascia, painted tongue and snapdragon can also hold their own in containers or planting beds.
If you’re ready to tuck winter transplants in the garden, put the task on hold if a hard freeze is in the forecast. Hold plants in a protected location until the cold snap passes. Be prepared to cover newly-planted items if frost is predicted. Watering new additions to the garden is also important. Plants will likely need less water than during warmer weather, but they won’t grow if allowed to dry severely.