By Matt Gibson & Erin Marissa Russell
If you live in an icy cold northern region or the warmth of the south, or somewhere else entirely, not every plant in your garden is dormant from December to March. Even during the coldest period of the year, there are annual flowers, perennial flowers, and flowering shrubs that just don’t have the patience to wait until spring to start adding a wealth of color to the landscape.
So don’t pack away all of your gardening tools until warm weather arrives, as there is no reason to wait until spring to enjoy many of nature’s prettiest plants. Even in the dead of winter, there are a large group of flowers that will bloom in splendor. Some flower varieties even thrive in cold weather. And these aren’t just a handful of mediocre blooms, they are some of the prettiest flowers you can grow.
Daffodils are one of the first flowers to emerge at the first signs of spring, blooming as early as February in some locations. These cheerful yellow flowers grow from bulbs, with some yellow and white two-toned varieties and some that are pure white. Plant daffodil bulbs three weeks or more before your area’s first expected frost so they have plenty of time to develop a strong root system. Avoid areas with very heavy or overly moist soil, as daffodils prefer soil that’s sandy or just slightly on the heavy side.
Learn more in our article about how to grow daffodils.
The diminutive snowdrop grows on top of stems three to six inches tall. Each plant produces a single white flower, each bloom measuring an inch wide or less. These perennials tend to multiply on their own, spreading out as seasons pass. Plant at least 10 snowdrops since these flowers flourish in clumps. If you let them spread out as they tend to do, eventually you’ll have large fields of snowdrops bloom to greet the spring. Snowdrops grow well in the shadow of trees, and all true snowdrops can even be planted under a black walnut tree without suffering from the juglone toxicity that keeps many plants from thriving in these spots. Make sure your snowdrops have plenty of shade to protect the sleeping plants from the summer sun’s heat.
Learn more in our article about how to grow snowdrop.
Pussy willow plants are actually shrubs or small trees that can grow to reach heights between six and 36 feet tall and widths from four to 15 feet wide. These plants perform best in wet, low-lying areas such as ditches, marshes, or stream beds. The branches burst into fuzzy catkins at the end of winter or early spring before putting out green leaves. Male pussy willow plants will put out catkins earlier than female plants, so they tend to be more popular in the garden. While male pussy willows have gray catkins, female plants produce smaller green catkins.
Learn more in our article about how to grow pussy willow.
The family of violas is responsible for many popular winter blooms. These are among the first flowers to bloom each year, with pansies blooming throughout the winter. There are up to 500 species of flowers that fall under the umbrella of violas, including both annuals and perennials. Most violas are small, with blossoms that measure up to an inch and a half across. Those with blooms measuring two or more inches wide belong to the related family of pansies. Violas are even edible, so don’t hesitate to try snipping a few blooms to decorate a cake or adorn a salad.
Learn more in our article on how to grow violas.
These small bulbing plants are closely related to the squills, and they got their name for blooming so early that the flowers have been known to peek through the winter snow. Glory-of-the-snow can be grown by gardeners in USDA Hardiness Zones three through eight. The plant produces blue star-shaped blossoms with a white center. Certain varieties may bloom in pink or lavender instead of blue. Propagate through division or by allowing the plants to self-seed.
This is one of the first blooms to appear each year, often emerging in January. The butter-yellow blooms don’t have the scent of many jasmine flowers, but they’re quick to establish and easy to care for. Though not a true climber, winter jasmine is known to clamber over structures nearby. This plant prefers well drained soil and spots that offer full sun. Although soil quality is not a huge concern, winter jasmine will benefit from the addition of some compost.
This broadleaf evergreen prefers areas with rich, slightly acidic soil that offers moderate moisture and drains well. Full sun to part shade is appropriate for Japanese andromeda. The best spots to grow this plant offer protection from the wind and shade in the afternoon. The dense shrub can grow to between nine and 12 inches tall, producing flowers similar to the lily of the valley that bloom early in spring. Varieties are available that flower in white, pink, or deep rose. Try planting next to rhododendrons, since both plants flourish in acidic soil.
These gorgeous perennials should be planted in the late fall, and they bloom between Christmas and early spring. Although the blooms do resemble those of roses, hellebores are more closely related to ranunculus. The plants tolerate both frost and shade well, so don’t plant in spots that get more than partial sun.Take care not to bury hellebores too deep, or the plant may have trouble blooming.
Learn more in our article about how to grow hellebores.
Winter aconite plants are known for coming up through crusts of snow. In the north, they sometimes appear as early as March. The blooms resemble buttercups and don’t let a bit of frost keep them from opening. Winter aconite is known for blooming even sooner than crocuses. The winter aconite plant grows from tubers, which should be planted in the fall as you would a spring-flowering bulb. Make sure to plant the tubers at least five inches deep so they won’t be harmed by the chill of winter.
This beautiful iris flowers from the end of fall through the beginning of spring with lavender to deep purple blooms that can be between two and three inches wide. These evergreen perennials are often grown for cut flower gardens. They prefer soil that is dry, neutral to slightly alkaline, and well draining, and should be planted in full sun. These plants are drought tolerant but need moisture underground where their root systems can access it. The Algerian iris also resists deer and rabbits.
The Kaffir lily is often grown as a houseplant. These flowers are slightly toxic to both pets and children, however, so make sure to grow them in areas where children and pets do not play. They bloom between February and May in shades of yellow, orange, pink, red, and cream. Mature plants may bloom again in the summer or fall. This plant is best grown by experienced gardeners. It can be a challenge to meet the Kaffir lily’s somewhat picky maintenance needs as well as to encourage the plant to bloom.
There are 67 species of phlox flowers to choose from, in shades of blue, purple, white, pink, and red. Some varieties stretch up to three feet high, while others are smaller dwarf cultivars. The taller varieties of phlox are known for their sweet fragrance. Grow phlox in spots with full sun or just a bit of shade, and make sure their location offers plenty of air circulation to prevent disease. Provide with well draining soil that contains plenty of organic material, and water regularly and deeply to keep the soil moist. Make sure to water phlox (and all garden plants) at the base instead of from above to avoid spreading disease.
Learn more in our article about how to grow phlox.
This evergreen Japanese shrub is known for the beautiful blossoms it produces during cool weather. The plants are low maintenance, but they’ll really flourish if you fertilize and prune them at the appropriate times. There are more than 40,000 varieties of camellia to choose from, each with their own growing preferences and characteristics. The most cold hardy camellias can withstand temperatures down to -15 degrees Fahrenheit as long as they have protection from the wind and sun. Camellias grow best in USDA Hardiness Zones seven through 10, but some varieties are appropriate for zone six.
Learn more in our article about how to grow camellias.
Mahonia is an evergreen shrub that produces large sprays of tiny aromatic yellow flowers that cluster along long stems next to large brownish-green foliage. Mahonia blooms from late fall to early winter and has, over the years, become a dramatic focal point of many winter gardens. The blooms of the mahonia shrub contrast beautifully with its amber green foliage. Mahonia plants are also called sun holly or oregon grape holly.
Whereas many flowers go dormant in the winter and bloom in the summer, cyclamen does the exact opposite, going dormant during the summer and producing blooms throughout the winter months instead. Unlike florist’s cyclamen, which should only be grown outdoors in warm climate areas, hardy cyclamen will tolerate cold climate weather and even survive long freezes, bouncing back to life when warm weather comes back around again. One drawback to cyclamen however, is that it will not survive summers in areas where the weather is especially hot and arid. For this reason, many gardeners in warm climates plant their cyclamen in pots to take indoors during the summer so they can enjoy the plant’s vivid winter blooms year after year.
Learn more in our article about how to grow cyclamen.
Witch hazel is one of the rare plants that bloom from October to March each year. The plants have a very handsome form, produce a soft green foliage that changes colors, putting on a show in the fall, and then switches gears in the winter, popping up interesting looking, shaggy, spider-like blooms that start out yellow or green and fade to orange as the weather grows colder. The blooms appear in clusters, seeming to huddle together on bare branches to provide a bit of color in an otherwise dull white landscape. Witch hazel plants flower earlier and bloom longer than most any other plant. While most winter flowers bloom for approximately two weeks, witch hazel is known to bloom for as long as eight weeks, all in the coldest season of the year.
Learn more in our article about how to grow witch hazel.
Pansies not only bloom in winter, they thrive in it. In fact, these winter annuals are capable of surviving temperatures down into single digits, even freezing over completely, only to bounce back as good as new when the warm weather comes back around. Plant your pansies in borders or pots during September or early October in order to give them a chance to mature and develop full root systems before the cold weather hits. The residual warmth in the soil will help support quicker growth and will prepare your flowers for producing more vigorously over the winter. If you miss the early planting times, don’t worry, even pansies that are planted in late October through November should still be able to bloom throughout the winter and deep into the spring.
Learn more in our article about how to grow pansies.
Though most primrose varieties are spring bloomers, the English primrose is a perfect choice for winter blooms. Available in just about every imaginable color, the English primrose can beautify a drab winter landscape with ease. These low growing flowers appear in tight clusters of five-petaled flowers from mid winter on into early spring, brightening the atmosphere with various shades of blue, white, yellow, orange, pink, and red. English primrose flowers will thrive in full sun or partial shade locations and are perfect for planting along walkways or in beds and borders.
Crocus is a genus of flowering plants from the iris family with over 90 species of perennial flowers. The small, cup-like flowers that crocus produce sprout up in late winter through early spring. The snow crocus variety is the first crocus to bloom, and it can really make it feel like winter’s grasp has loosened when you see their blooms stick out amidst the otherwise bleak, icy landscape. Plant these perennial flowers in the fall for late winter and early spring color.
Winter heath is a small evergreen shrub that produces tons of tiny pink blossoms for weeks anytime between January and March. Native to the mountainous areas of central, eastern, and southern Europe, this cold hardy powerhouse can even produce blooms beneath the snow. There are many heath varieties, however, so if you are growing it for winter flowers, be sure to get the winter blooming variety, as many of the other varieties are summer bloomers.
Once you realize just how many lovely flowers can be grown during the winter, you might stop looking at it as an off month for gardeners. Many experienced gardeners continue cultivating their gardens during the winter and these flowers are a great reason why. If you were wanting a reason to turn gardening into a year-round hobby, look no further. With flowers like these, who needs a winter break?