Winter flowering plants bring a blast of color to your yard and garden when you need it most – when the temperatures are really cold and not much is growing.
It’s cold outside for most of us in the USA, but that does not mean that we have to sit idly by and wait for spring to come before we can garden again. These winter flowering plants will brighten up your flower borders and patio planters with a splash of color.
I often turn to indoor plants during the winter to satisfy my need for gardening tasks, but some hardy winter plants will keep on growing, and even flowering right through the winter months.
Many of these varieties are even used as Christmas plants for decorating for the holidays.
Most of these outdoor winter plants do best in the southern part of the USA as well as California since it does not often freeze in these zones. Without freezing temps, you can have pretty winter flowers and foliage year round. Consider yourself lucky if you live in these zones.
Here in North Carolina, it’s touch and go each year with our weather. Some years, I have lots of color and others, when we get a lot of snow, not so much.
However, it is not just the Southern US where you can get color in winter. There are also some plants that are tucked into the list that will grow in other hardiness zones as well.
When to plant winter flowering plants
While the list of plants on this list is noted for their ability to bring color to the garden during the cool months, this does not mean that this is a good time to plant them.
All plants need acclimatizing to the temperatures, whether this is hot or cold and winter blooming plants are no exception. In most cases, plant these in late summer or through the fall months for best success.
This is particularly important for winter flowering bulbs like snowdrops which need a period of cold in order to bloom.
List of Winter Flowering Plants
Are you looking for some winter flowering plants and shrubs? Why not try one or two of these hardy plants to add color to your garden?
One of the earliest plants to flower (often in early January) is Winter Jasmine – jasminum nudiflorum. This pretty plant is a deciduous perennial that grows in zones 6-10.
The plant is a trailing, viny shrub that grows from a central crown. It is easy to grow and quite trouble free.
At the top of my list of flowering winter plants is camellia – camellia japonica. This beautiful, long blooming perennial plant comes in a great range of colors and loves the southern climate.
I live in North Carolina and I have some in full bloom and other plants that are just covered with buds that will bloom in a few weeks. Bloom color ranges from whites to all shades of pink and reds.
Most camellias prefer shade to light shade with some protection from winter winds that can be quite drying at times. They are cold hardy in zones 7-9.
Holly shrubs – ilex – are evergreen or deciduous plants that will add a lovely splash of color from their fruit, which is normally red.
This festive plant is associated with Christmas because of the colors and has waxy leaves and is very easy to grow and take care of. Check your hardiness zones on holly plants, since they can vary. Some are cold hardy down to zone 4 or lower.
It can be trimmed into a hedge, or left as a shrub. (shrubs will give more flowers since the growing tips will not be trimmed off like they will in a hedge.)
Unless you live in zones 11b and above, you’ll have to grow frosty fern indoors, but it is a delight to see those snowy white tips forming when the cool temperatures arrive.
Find how how to grow frosty fern here.
There is nothing quite like the sight of a lenten rose – hellebores – poking flowers up through the snow in mid winter.
Lenten rose plants will grace the garden with early-blooming flowers that are very long lasting, and striking dark, shiny green leaves.
They come in a variety of colors and are one of the few plants that my garden center offers in the winter. The plant has leathery evergreen leaves with rose like flowers that self sow readily.
See how to grow lenten rose here. The plants are cold hardy in zones 4-9
If you are looking for a leafy evergreen that you can depend of for a dazzling show of berries in the coldest days of winters, try growing cotoneaster.
Cotoneaster – Cotoneaster horizontalis – has a low growing habit that makes it an excellent ground cover. There are some varieties that also have an upright growing habit. It has deep green foliage and colorful berries that last right through the winter.
This perennial is cold hardy in zones 5 – 8.
The birds dropped seeds for nandinas – nandina domestica – in my yard a few years ago and I was delighted to discover the the plant has evergreen foliage and bright red berries in the winter.
Nandina likes mild winters and is very easy to grow. Place the plants in front of a solid backdrop if you can to show off the berries.
The plant has long been a favorite in Southern gardens. It tolerates full shun and partial shade, moist or dry soil and needs little pampering. It will grow in zones 6-9.
More winter flowering plants and shrubs
Still looking for more ideas for winter blooming plants? Here are a few more suggestions for cold weather color.
Don’t forget to plant some snowdrop bulbs for winter color. Snowdrops – Galanthus nivalis – grow from bulbs and will return year after year. Be sure to plant them in the fall to give them the chilling period that they need in order to bloom.
Snowdrops are one of the first of the spring flowers to bloom. Depending on where you live, they can appear in February or March, often while the snow is still on the ground – giving the plant its common name. They are hardy in zones 3-7.
With their giant rosettes of frilly leaves, flowering kale is a favorite in the winter garden. The heads have creamy yellow, white and rose colored centers that really pop.
The plants can tolerate the cold weather well and the plants will keep their color all the way from fall until spring. They are ideal for display in porch planters that won’t grow much else when the weather is so cold. They will grow up to 1-2 feet tall.
Flowering kale likes full sun or part shade and needs regular watering and fertilizing in winter. Like the ornamental cabbage below, the plants can take winters down to a minus 5° F as long as they are gradually acclimatized to the temperatures.
Like their cousin above, ornamental cabbage looks and grows very much like their relatives of edible cabbages and kale. The species has the same name – Brassica oleracea – but they aren’t as tasty and tender as the edible variety since the plants have been bred for their look, not their flavor.
The plants have a smooth leaf margin and lovely colors on the leaves. They are cool season plants that can take full sun or part shade and will grow all winter long.
Don’t forget annuals. Pansies are a low growing plant that is a top seller at garden centers in the cool weather for good reason. They bloom over a long period of time and come in a wide range of colors.
See my tips for growing pansies and some ideas for landscaping with them.
Many varieties will bloom right through the winter in the south and many areas of the western USA.
If you live where it rarely freezes, you’ll be greeted with winter flowers and the plant will overwinter to spring. In colder areas, they will die off in the fall but can be planted again in early spring.
Japanese Ornamental Quince
This woody shrub with thorny branches and cup shaped flowers will bloom in winter and very early spring. Japanese ornamental quince – chaenomeles – can be quite invasive, so growing it in a large planter might be a good option.
Also known as chaenomeles, this is a hardy woody shrub with thorny branches that bears cup-shaped flowers in winter and early spring.
The sweet fragrance of flowers and their fruit will attract birds, bees, and butterflies. The fruit is too hard to eat raw, but can be used to make jams and jellies. It is hardy in zone 5-9
The orange colored spidery blooms on this tree sprout in winter and add a colorful addition to an otherwise colorless yard. Witch hazel – hamamilis – will need room to grow, since the mature trees can reach 10-20 feet in size.
The tree is hardy in zone 3-8 and has fragrant flowers which will bloom from December to April depending on the variety. Some trees can take part shade but you’ll get better blooms with more sun exposure.
As the name suggests, the blooms of winter honeysuckle develop in the winter and have a lemony smell. Depending on your location, you can see flowers from November to April.
In moderate climates, winter honeysuckle needs very little protection from cold weather. The frost hardy species like Lonicera sempervirens can even withstand hard frosts and snow.
The plant is cold hardy in zones 4-8 and is quite low maintenance.
This cold hardy annual is grown not for its flowers but for the pretty light green foliage that really gives a pop of color to the landscape.
Dusty Miller – senecio cineraria can tolerate frost and is normally grown as an annual and then it is often discarded, but it’s January in my garden here in North Carolina and my plants are still going strong.
The plant is actually a herbaceous perennial in zones 8-10 and overwinters nicely.
Gardeners tend to think of Europe when the plant heather – Calluna vulgaris – is mentioned, since it is all but forgotten here in North American.
But this versatile plant provides color through each season and really makes an impact in a garden, so it’s worth a try.
If you have light snowfall, use mulch and pine branches to protect heather from the cold. Prune the plant in the winter, after blooming.
The plant is an evergreen branching shrub with flowers in many colors. It is cold hardy in zones 4-6 but there are some varieties that will grow in zones 3-10.
Winter flowering heather plants such as varieties of erica carnea are inexpensive, evergreen plants that provide color when the weather is the coldest.
Where to buy winter flowering plants
Many small local garden centers will close for the winter months, so it can be a challenge to get hardy varieties for your garden. Big box stores like Lowe’s and Home Depot will keep a range of plants in stock (I bought several lenten rose varieties there one winter.)
There are also many online nurseries who will ship when the conditions are right in your area, and I have had good luck purchasing this way.
Amazon also has a number of established garden centers who sell plants through the Amazon platform. Be sure to read reviews, particularly if you are buying seeds from Amazon.
Would you like a reminder of this post for winter flowering plants? Just pin this image to one of your gardening boards on Pinterest so that you can easily find it later.
- Winter Jasmine - Zones 6-10
- Camelia japonica - Zones 7-9
- Holly bush - Zones 4-9
- Lenten Rose - Zones 4-9
- Cotoneaster - Zones 5-8
- Nandina - Zones 6-9
- Snowdrops (bulb) - Zones 3-7 (Plant in fall)
- Flowering Kale and Ornamental Cabbage - Zones 3-7
- Pansies (annual) - Zones 9-10
- Japanese Quince - Zones 5-9
- Witch hazel trees - Zones 3-8 (varies with variety)
- Winter honeysuckle - Zones 4-8
- Dusty Miller (annual) - Zones 8-10
- Heather - Zones 4-6
Take this shopping list with you when you head to the garden center to give tips for which plants to buy for winter color for your hardiness zone.
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