Our patio pots and baskets for winter and spring have to work extra hard as there are fewer flowers in the garden as a whole. Choosing the right plants is the key to success of your displays, so Which? Gardening magazine trialled several different types to see which really flowered the best.
A classic choice for winter bedding.
The best variety on test was 'Cool Wave Mixed', which was one of the first varieties to bloom, producing mid-sized flowers, with distinct 'whiskers', in a wide range of colours. The flowers were smaller than some, but our plants were very healthy with no pest or disease problems, and they were consistently covered in flowers all through winter – giving one of the best displays in the trial.
We'd also recommend 'Universal Mixed', 'Plentifall' and 'Karma Blue Butterfly'.
Caption: Pansy 'Cool Wave Mixed'
Very similar to pansies but with small flowers.
The best varieties in our trial were 'Teardrops' and 'Avalanche'.
'Teardrops' is great for hanging baskets as it is trailing. Although the flowers were fairly small, they regularly displayed the best winter flowering of all the violas we tried and continued to flower strongly into spring and beyond.
'Avalanche' was one of the best violas we tried, with deeply coloured flowers that were lit up by a bright-yellow flash and pronounced whiskers. The plants were early to come into flower and continued brilliantly all through the winter, and were particularly profuse in spring.
Caption: Viola 'Teardrops'
Closely related to the edible types, these are grown for their colourful leaves.
We recommend 'Northern Lights' and 'Coral Queen'. Both of these stayed colourful until spring in our trial and weren't attacked by pigeons or other pests.
Caption: Kale 'Northern Lights'
Primroses and polyanthus
These don't usually flower during December, but many will start to flower well from late
winter onwards. They are particularly tough, have great weather resistance.
'Firecracker' and 'Bellarina' did particularly well for us. 'Firecracker' started flowering in January and 'Bellarin'a followed in April. Both then carried on blooming until April.
Caption: Polyanthus 'Firecracker'
Plants to avoid
We didn’t find any varieties that we'd recommend, as most didn't flower for very long. If they’re kept
well, you will be able to get a month or so of good flowering out of them, but we found they often peter out
quickly and need shelter from the worst of the weather.
Unfortunately, we are unable to recommend any of the daisies we tested as we found that they were reluctant to flower until the weather warmed up in spring. And almost all of the plants were badly affected
at some point by infections of rust on their leaves and damage by snails.
Caption: Unfortunately bellis don't flower much in winter
Tips for planting winter containers
- Always use a Which? Best Buy compost for containers.
- Plants don't grow much in winter so plant them closer together than you would for a summer pot.
- Check the surface of the compost regularly and water when it feels dry.
Caption: Touch the compost and water only if it feels dry
- If bad weather is forecast, move the containers to a more sheltered spot, such as under the porch, if possible.
- Remove dead flowers to encourage the plants to produce more.
Caption: Deadheading will encourage the plants to bloom for longer