Alan Titchmarsh shares his wisdom on container planting for winter colour

For blooms and colour in the coldest months, he knows what to do

winter container planting cyclamen
(Image credit: Leigh Clapp)

Garden colour is likely to be in short supply over the coming months. But never fear. Alan Titchmarsh is coming to the rescue. With Alan’s ideas for planting up containers for the winter months, our gardens can still delight with colour as the darkest days of the year descend.

The best thing about container displays? They’ll fit into the smallest garden or on to a tiny terrace. Position them for easy viewing from your home to enjoy the colours of blooms, foliage and stems without even venturing outside. 

Get ahead now, and when the beautiful shades of autumn foliage fade, your garden can still be cheery and interesting. Scroll down for Alan’s tips and, if you’re after more garden ideas and ways to decorate your outdoor space, find them on our dedicated page. 

How to plant containers for winter colour: Alan Titchmarsh’s top tips

1. Alan uses sizeable terracotta pots for his display. They need to be big to make an impact, he says. But there’s a practical reason, too. Winter winds could blow over a small pot, while large ones are going to be able to stay upright in the gales.

2. Alan’s pots are made from terracotta, and come with a drainage hole in the base. He uses crocks – broken flower pots – to cover the holes to stop the compost blocking them.

3. Which compost to use? Alan likes a mixture of two for his winter containers. First he adds a peat-free multipurpose compost, but then he mixes in John Innes No.3. The combination stops the pot getting too heavy or water-logged, he explains. Fill the containers to around 5 to 7.5cm from the rim to make room for the plants.

4. When it comes to the planting, Alan creates three different displays. In the smaller pot he plants winter-flowering pansies. These will make a colourful show through the winter. Alan advises that you can plant them close together to fill the pot as they won’t grow much. Why put them in the smaller pot? This way, you can look down on the colourful display.

5. For his second pot, Alan puts three skimmia in the centre. He surrounds them with hardy cyclamen. Although these won’t flower winter long, they have attractive ivy-like leaves, Alan explains, so the pot will still look fabulous when the blooms are gone.

6. In the third, and largest, pot Alan uses the dogwood Cornus alba ‘Sibirica’. The shrub flowers in May and June, but it’s generally grown for its amazing coral-red coloured stems. Alan puts this in the centre of the container, while round the edge he plants ophiopogons. With their black strap-shaped leaves, these create a fabulous contrast with the vivid red of the dogwood. 

There’s a finishing touch for this container. In between the black foliage, Alan adds Christmas roses. As Alan points out, these aren’t roses at all but early-flowering hellebores. Result? Beautiful blooms and an eye-catching colour combination.

5 more plants to use in winter containers

  • Winter-flowering heathers will create a feast of pink, purple and white. Team with ivy.
  • Ornamental cabbages offer brilliant colour and interesting leaf shapes.
  • Snowdrops might not be a flower you think of for containers, but they’re ideal in a pot.
  • Phormium can have brightly coloured or variegated leaves, and suit contemporary gardens.
  • Wintergreen Gaultheria procumbens has large red berries and glossy foliage that’s tinged red in winter.

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