Winter Garden Ideas: 25 Tips for a Stunning Wintertime Garden

The winter garden brings beauty and variation in a season of contrasts. Plant selection and placement go a long way in the winter landscape; winter blooms and fragrances bring delight. Garden professional Katherine Rowe explores ideas for nurturing a beautiful winter garden to enjoy all season.

Close-up of a snow-covered garden with trimmed Buxus bushes. These evergreen shrubs have dense, small, oval-shaped foliage and a rich green color.


Winter gardens offer ample opportunities to enjoy the season’s beauty. They highlight stark contrasts, allow us to observe natural nuances, and bring vibrant blooms and fruits that pop against an evergreen-framed backdrop at varying times of the season. Winter is a time of energy conservation for many plants, allowing soil, roots, and stems time to store energy and regenerate with the coming spring. Still, it is also a time when carefully selected plants can thrive. These winter garden ideas will surely spark some inspiration even when the weather is frigid.

The winter garden brings abundance, and while it varies depending on climate, it does not lack interest. Winter-blooming plants give bursts of color to the landscape and provide nectar to sustain pollinators throughout the season. A deciduous tree or shrub adds visual interest to the garden and offers places of shelter for wildlife. A plant in full fruit brightens the garden and brings forage for birds and other wildlife. Evergreen specimens anchor the landscape.

A beautiful winter garden relies on structure, planting arrangement, and highlighted features. Plant form, texture, color, and placement are cornerstone elements for winter garden design. Winter allows us to view what anchors our landscape. Here, we’ll explore 25 tips for a stunning winter garden.

Know Your Zone

Close-up of beautiful evergreen conifers covered with fluffy snow in a winter garden. Evergreen conifers are characterized by their needle-like or scale-like green leaves. In the blurred background there is a house with a red and yellow facade.
Utilize USDA hardiness zones to determine the survival rate of potted perennials during winter.

During winter, USDA hardiness zones are a valuable tool in determining which plants have the best survival rate in your climate zone. Hardiness zones can also be beneficial when deciding which perennials to overwinter in containers. Which potted plants should be brought inside? Which can remain outside? 

When overwintering perennials in containers outdoors, it’s a good rule of thumb to choose plants in one or two hardiness zones cooler than your zone. Live in USDA zone 7? Choose plants hardy to zone 5 for the best chances of survival in overwintering pots outside. Since pots aren’t in the ground, they lack insulation from the surrounding soil and are exposed to immediate air temperatures and winter conditions.

Prepare and Protect Plants to Overwinter

Close-up of a winter snow-covered garden with evergreen Thuja bushes, dry hydrangea inflorescences and an unknown bush covered with a white cloth to protect from frost. In the garden there are two wooden benches covered with snow.
Prepare for winter by moving tender plants indoors, cutting back hardy perennials, and protecting outdoor potted plants.

The first step in battening down the garden hatches for winter is to inventory and prepare plants for the cold season. Move tropicals and tender annuals indoors to overwinter, placing them in similar light conditions to their natural outdoor environment. Relocate tender perennials in containers to an unheated space like a basement, garage, or cold frame.

Cut back hardy perennials selectively as they go dormant for the season. Beware that some species should not be cut back too early, or it may trigger tender young growth to develop that will die in frosty weather. Wait a few weeks after the leaves drop and stems turn brown on woody perennials, then cut them back to 6-12” above the ground. A key component is to add mulch or leaves to protect the crown and roots as winter temperatures ensue.

Leave plants with attractive seed pods or bloom structures to add variety to the garden. They add aesthetic appeal and may also continue to provide food for wildlife.

If potted plants are to remain outside, place them in protected areas near a wall or hedge and out of winter winds. Huddle them together to increase insulation and cover them with frost cloth if prolonged freezing temperatures are a concern.

Prune for Plant Health

Winter grape pruning. Close-up of a gardener's hand with black and orange pruning shears pruning grape branches in a snowy garden.
Prune dead branches in fall or late winter for a healthier, tidier garden with sturdy perches for wildlife.

Pruning is an essential garden task, usually completed in fall and late winter/early spring. Prune any dead branches, stems, or limbs off woody shrubs and trees to prepare the winter garden. Pruning will help plant health in the long run by reducing the chances of cracking or breaking during winter freezes, which could damage healthy tissues beyond the dead wood.

Pruning also means less debris after winter winds or storms and ensures safe garden conditions. Keeping things tidy also increases the beauty of a winter garden when so much is viewed in contrast. 

Pruning dead wood means a more vigorous form and a cleaner look to the plant. Healthy branches also offer sturdy perches for wildlife. Just be sure not to prune too early in fall, which may accidentally stimulate new growth.

Consider Structure and Form

View of the delightful winter garden covered with light white frost. The garden is full of a variety of plants of different shapes and sizes, as well as decorative sculptures, arches and containers of evergreens. Plants such as hydrangea bushes, juniper, Thuja, heather and others grow in the garden.
In winter, diverse evergreens, deciduous trees, and hedges create structure and form, enhancing the garden’s appeal.

The winter garden thrives with variations of anchoring evergreens, branching deciduous trees and shrubs, and hedging. The bare branches of a vase-shaped witch hazel stand in contrast to the deep greens of juniper or cypress. An ivy-covered wall or mixed evergreen hedge provides definition and depth to the garden space, while perennials like ornamental grasses offer texture and movement.

Structure and form are vital components of any garden design. Winter is a prime time to look at them more closely when they are perhaps most evident. Are there trees and shrubs that define the garden space? Is there a mix of evergreen and deciduous plants with varying growth habits? Multi-trunked trees create unique bare-branching forms. Variations provide visual interest and enjoyment even when little is blooming.

Emphasize Plant Placement

Close-up of blooming Crocus in a snowy garden. The Crocus plant is a small, bulbous perennial with slender, grass-like leaves and cup-shaped flowers of a delicate purple color. The soil is mulched with dry leaves.
Strategically position winter plants for maximum impact, considering color, fragrance, and form.

Place plants where they can be seen and experienced to create the most significant impact. This includes plants selected for winter color, fragrance, wildlife value, branching form, etc. When choosing winter plants, consider where they will go to bring the greatest benefit.

Many winter-flowering plants like bulbs and annuals can be glorious if diminutive in stature. Petite growers like these could be planted in containers, along paths, in front garden borders, or where they can be seen through a window. Group winter-blooming plants together for a vibrant and more showy display.

Plant larger specimens like evergreen shrubs at a distance where they best reflect the scale of the garden. They can offer a boundary, distant visual interest, or become a prominent focal point based on garden location. When starting a garden from scratch, it is best to start with the larger specimens and then work down to smaller plantings and arrangements.

Select Plants with Multi-season Interest

Close-up of branches of a Redtwig Dogwood plant in a winter snow-covered garden against a blurred background of snow-covered fir trees. The Redtwig Dogwood (Cornus sericea) is a deciduous shrub producing vibrant red branches.
Plants with multi-season features shine year-round, especially in winter, with their unique shapes, bark, colors, or fragrances.

We love plants that shine throughout the year and can bring varying qualities through the different seasons. These garden showstoppers perform beyond a single bloom season. Even subtle nuances become more distinct in winter, and plants with multi-season interest bring continued richness to the garden.

In winter, plants with unique shapes, bark, colors, or fragrances are particularly impactful. Here are a few selections for year-round garden interest:

Common Name Scientific Name
Red Twig Dogwood Cornus sericea
Harry Lauder’s Walking Stick Corylus avellana ‘Contorta’
Mahonia Mahonia spp.
Pieris or Andromeda Pieris japonica
Witch Hazel Hamamelis spp.

Plant for Winter Color

Close-up of flowering Helleborus hybridus and Galanthus nivalis in the winter garden. Helleborus hybridus is an evergreen perennial valued for its low clump of large, serrated, dark green leaves and elegant, nodding flowers of delicate white and pink with burgundy freckles. Galanthus nivalis features narrow, grass-like leaves and followed by delicate, nodding, bell-shaped flowers with three outer petals and inner segments marked with a green "V."
Winter in cold climates accentuates plants that thrive in the cold, with many winter bloomers adding color intermittently.

While winter in colder climates can mean fewer flowers and colors, it also highlights those plants that stand out in cold months. 

There are plenty of winter-blooming plants to enrich the garden palette, many blooming at different winter intervals, from early-to-late season bloomers. Consider timing as you select plants for the winter garden, choosing varieties to ensure something interesting happens at any given garden moment.

Common Name Scientific Name
Camellia Camellia sasanqua, Camellia japonica
Cyclamen Cyclamen hederifolium
Hellebore Helleborus orientalis
Viburnum Viburnum bodnantense

Plant for Winter Fragrance

Close-up of a blooming Winter Daphne in a garden. Winter Daphne (Daphne odora) is a captivating evergreen shrub renowned for its fragrant and showy winter blooms. The plant boasts glossy, leathery leaves that are deep green and lance-shaped. The plant produces clusters of small, waxy, pink to white flowers emerge at the branch tips.
Enhance a bare winter landscape with fragrant winter-blooming plants, strategically placing them for optimal enjoyment.

In a stark landscape, vivid colors and scents become more pronounced. Several plants offer a delight in the winter garden via their flowery perfume and should be incorporated more often.

Remember to place these plants where their fragrance can be enjoyed, whether in a container, along a walkway, or as a foundation planting.

Common Name Scientific Name
Winter Daphne Daphne odora ‘Aureomarginata’
Fragrant Tea Olive Osmanthus fragrans
Sweetbox Sarcococca ruscifolia

Plant with Nature in Mind

Close-up of a gardener's hands in blue and black gloves removing a frozen layer of mulch from a raised bed in a conservatory. The garden is covered in frost. Mulch consists of dry grass and dry autumn leaves.
Create vital winter habitat for wildlife by mulching with leaves, leaving some perennials uncut, and maintaining bird feeders.

The winter garden brings the opportunity to provide critical habitat and forage for pollinating insects, birds, and other wildlife. Mulching with fall leaves and leaving some hardy perennials uncut (like ornamental grasses) provides shelter and nesting opportunities for wildlife to overwinter. Set aside a pile of sticks or logs to increase overwintering opportunities.

Growing winter-blooming plants provides nectar for pollinators, while plants that fruit provide much-needed food. If you keep a birdfeeder at other times of the year, consider keeping it full in winter, when natural food sources are less prevalent. Enjoy the hustle and bustle of winter feeders visiting the garden.

Embellish With Annuals

Close-up of Flowering Kale in the garden. Brassica oleracea, is a striking and decorative plant celebrated for its vibrant and intricate foliage. The plant forms large, loose rosettes of frilly leaves that range in color from deep purple and magenta to pink, white, and green. The outer leaves have a contrasting green color.
Enhance winter garden beauty with hardy annuals strategically placed for vibrant bursts of color.

In all seasons, annual plants allow us to add flourish to garden beds and containers. When little else is blooming, annuals give the pop of cheer we crave in winter. Without perennials and other plants to depend on, annuals can take centerstage in the winter landscape.

Hardy annuals like violas and pansies offer reliable bloom performance in many colors. Snapdragons, ornamental kale, calendula, poppies, and bachelor buttons are other cool-season blooming annuals that can provide either lasting winter color or a burst of blooms, depending on your climate zone.

As with other winter-blooming plants, consider placement when planting annuals. Plant them in masses, and concentrate them in visible garden locations and containers like window boxes to enjoy all season.

Common Name Scientific Name
Flowering Kale Brassica oleracea
Snapdragon Antirrhinum majus
Pansies & Violas Viola spp.

Create Focal Points

View of natural beauty of the evergreen garden. The garden has a well-groomed green lawn, in some places covered with dry autumn fallen leaves. Topiary boxwood bushes grow alongside tall, triangular-shaped thuja plants, several Christmas Trees and a tall, huge Pinus tree in the background grow in the garden.
Create winter focal points with evergreen trees or unique deciduous varieties, and utilize structures like arbors or sculptures.

Garden focal points draw the eye to a specific point of interest. They punctuate a garden bed, path, or view. The focal point can be an evergreen tree, striking in its green pyramidal form against a frosty landscape. Or a deciduous tree with novel bark and branching, like birch or aspen, creates beautiful winter interest.

Fabricated structures also become excellent focal points. An arbor or pergola, generally covered with flowering vines during the warm seasons, offers architectural elements even when bare in winter. A drained fountain or a garden sculpture serves the same all-season purpose to highlight in winter.

Rely on Containers

Close-up of a winter container arrangement of assorted plants in a vintage wooden barrel. In the center of the composition is a young Lemon cypress plant surrounded by Fern, flowering Skimmia Japonica Rubella, Pansy, and Heather.
Elevate your winter garden with curated containers featuring evergreens and vibrant annuals for color, fragrance, and form.

Containers add architectural elements to the garden that bring color, shape, and texture to the winter garden. With curated cool season plantings, winter containers brighten the landscape throughout the season.

Use containers to feature specimens for color, fragrance, and form – all adding interest to the winter season. Cold-hardy evergreens make excellent container centerpieces, surrounded by colorful annuals like pansies and violas. Consider placement, creating a single focal point or grouping, or placing in an area where plants can be seen and enjoyed near an entrance, walkway, or seating area.

Plant Flowering Bulbs

Close-up of female hands holding daffodil bulbs over a dug hole before planting. Daffodil bulbs are small, rounded structures, brown in color, with papery outer layers.
Create a vibrant winter landscape with staggered blooming bulbs planted in masses.

Winter-blooming bulbs add color to the landscape and can achieve staggered bloom intervals. Plant bulbs in fall for a winter display, and plant them in masses for impact. Check bulbs and varieties to determine early, mid, and late winter flowering habits. 

Bulbs can also be forced indoors for a quicker bloom time. 

Winter bulbs range in height from the petite two-inch crocus to two-foot daffodils. Consider heights when arranging bulbs, and plant low-growers nearest a bed edge, footpath, or in a container where they can be seen.

Let leaves persist after blooming until they turn yellow and die back with warmer weather. Leaving them lets the bulb absorb and store as much energy as possible for the next growing season. Leaves can decompose naturally or trim them at this point.

Winter flowering bulbs include:

Common Name Scientific Name
Daffodils Narcissus spp.
Glory of the Snow Chionodoxa luciliae
Snowdrops Galanthus spp.
Winter Aconite Eranthis hyemalis

Feature Topiaries and Plant Forms

View of a snow-covered garden with decorative spruce topiaries. These topiaries have various rounded shapes. Bushes with bare branches and small bright red berries grow next to them.
Highlight plant shapes and textures in winter with sculpted evergreens, topiaries, and metal forms for a striking landscape.

Winter is a prime time to show off exciting plant shapes, textures, and forms. Evergreens shaped in a spiral, pyramid, or rounds create a focal point and add interest to the garden. Without much plant competition, topiaries are striking in the winter landscape.

Metal topiary forms covered with ivy – or even as bare, stand-alone features – add architectural styling and variation to the landscape. Sheared hedges create a contemporary and clean look. Prune in fall when the active growing season slows to prevent winter burn from cold temperatures.

Use Mulch in Garden Beds

Close-up of a gardener pouring red bark shavings from a large clear bag as mulch in an evergreen garden. Young Thuja bushes are growing in the flowerbed. The gardener is wearing gray gloves, green boots and black trousers.
Winter mulch protects roots, insulates plantings, and defines garden beds.

In winter, mulch is a significant protector of plant roots and crowns. In cold temperatures, mulch and surrounding soil mass offer insulation to garden plantings. It also defines garden spaces in the winter landscape (until snow cover is persistent!). Use mulch to distinguish garden beds from the surrounding landscape and walkways.

Use fall leaves as mulch for added ecological benefits. Leaves are a renewable resource right from the garden. They also add sheltering habitat for insects, invertebrates, and mammals. As leaf litter breaks down throughout the season, it enriches the soil. 

Highlight Paths and Hardscapes

View of a snow-covered garden with a stone path in the center on both sides of which Azalea evergreen shrubs and ornamental grass grow. There is also a spaniel puppy running around in the garden. The Azalea plant is an evergreen shrub with glossy, elliptical leaves of a rich dark green color.
In winter, garden paths and hardscapes define movement and enhance visual appeal.

In winter, the “bones” of the garden become more evident. Paths and hardscaped areas like patios define movement through the landscape and can increase visual appeal. 

Detailed pavers or a garden wall increase interest when plants are dormant. Orient winter-interest plants around paths and hardscapes, or the most-visited garden spaces, for maximum enjoyment.

Light up the Garden

View of the decorated backyard with a woman sitting in the background. The garden is decorated with bright luminous string lights and a decorative luminous deer with a sleigh. In the garden there is a Christmas tree decorated with garlands. The patio has benches, container plants, and various boxes. A girl is resting on a bench, with a cup and phone in her hands. She is wearing a green sweater, beige pants and a white hat with a bubo.
Illuminate the winter garden with solar lanterns, string lights, and more, creating a festive and inviting atmosphere.

Bring light into the garden to warm up short days and chilly winter evenings. Consider solar lanterns or string lights to add a festive glow to winter garden spaces. Place uplights to highlight garden features and plant specimens and to give the area a soft, all-around glow. Lighting can be subtle and strategic, ensuring safe and inviting paths and entrances.

Consider a fire pit, chiminea, or outdoor heater to create cozy gathering areas and enliven winter days and nights. Outside time can be comfortable and invigorating, even in the winter garden.

Grow Winter Vegetables

Close-up of sprouts of winter garlic in the garden bed. Winter garlic sprouts emerge as slender green shoots from the soil, displaying a vibrant and fresh appearance. The leaves are green, elongated, narrow, hollow, with pointed tips.
Grow cold-hardy vegetables like garlic, onions, kale, and cabbage in suitable hardiness zones for a winter or spring harvest.

Gardeners can still get their hands in the dirt and produce nourishing garden bounty by growing cold-hardy vegetables. Some cool-season vegetables are planted in the fall for a winter harvest, while others are planted in late winter for a spring harvest.

Winter harvest vegetables include garlic, leeks, onions, carrots, parsnips, turnips, cabbage, kale, and more, depending on your hardiness zone. Check seed information for growing guidelines in your climate, and have fun trialing winter veggies. Frost cloth can come in handy to protect early shoots and leaves, and growing in a simple cold frame can increase the season’s yield.

Feature Winter Fruits and Berries

Frost-covered red viburnum berries on a blurred background of bare trees, in winter. The berries are round in shape, bright red in color, covered with frost and collected in hanging clusters.
Winter fruits and berries provide colorful interest and support wildlife during the season.

Fruits and berries offer ornamental interest and color in the winter landscape. They also support wildlife in a season where food sources may be less available. 

American beautyberry, viburnum, winterberry, and numerous other hollies bring vibrant berry clusters that persist all winter. These are striking in the garden against a snowy backdrop.

Leave Ornamental Grasses

View of a winter snow-covered garden with Ornamental dry grass. Miscanthus sinensis exhibits tall vertical stems with elegant, golden-hued panicles that stand tall above the dormant, straw-colored foliage. The slender, arching leaves, dry and rustling, create a delicate and textural backdrop.
Resist the urge to trim dormant ornamental grasses as their full form adds winter texture, movement, and wildlife shelter.

It can be tempting to cut back ornamental grasses as they brown and enter dormancy in cooler temperatures. Instead, leave them in full form, seed heads, plumes, blades, and all. 

Grasses add texture and movement to the winter garden, swaying in the breeze and contrasting evergreens, bare branches, and dormant perennials. They are gorgeous, covered in frost, and provide wildlife shelter areas.

Define Garden Spaces with Hedging

Close-up of a hedge of Boxwood bushes (Buxus semperviren) in a snow-covered garden. This evergreen shrub boasts dense, compact foliage composed of small, glossy, dark green leaves. The bushes are trimmed into oval shapes. The bushes are covered with a layer of white snow.
Depend on resilient evergreens such as boxwood, holly, and yew for defined borders and structure in winter gardens.

Evergreen hedges give structure and variation to the garden year-round and stand out in winter months when the form is more exposed. Rely on staple, hardy evergreens like boxwood, holly, and yew to create defined borders.

Evergreen hedges can be single species for a uniform look, often pruned in the fall to make a tidy row. Mixed evergreen borders bring a looser feel to the garden, with varied textures and colors.

Consider Garden Furnishings

View of garden furniture in a winter snow-covered garden among evergreen coniferous trees. The garden furniture includes four wooden chairs and one round table.
Garden furnishings add comfort and become focal points in winter gardens.

Like a chiminea on a frosty evening, garden furnishings contribute to the comfort of a space. They also become focal points in winter, even when not in use. Look for outdoor furniture to complement your garden zone year-round, or bring it to a protected area if not suited for winter elements.

As with hardscapes and paths, garden accessories can enhance the winter garden experience. Winter can be a good time to take care of tasks like maintaining or refreshing garden furniture.

Decorate with Natural Elements

View of window flower boxes decorated for Holiday Christmas season. the boxes contain various green pine branches, silver ornaments and red berries. They combine harmoniously with each other creating an incredible Christmas spirit.
Enhance outdoor spaces in winter with natural decorations like wreaths and arrangements.

Winter is the prime time to add flourish to outdoor spaces with natural decorations. Garner holiday inspiration or opt for all-season embellishments in wreaths, evergreen boughs, and container arrangement themes.

Use berries, birch branches, red twig dogwood stems, and evergreens to create garden adornments, inviting entryways, and cozy up winter spaces with lit arrangements. Change accessories on a focal piece to transition from holiday to winter motifs for versatility.

Keep Composting

Close-up of compost heap in snow. The compost heap is located in a wooden box outdoors. A compost pile consists of food scraps, vegetables, leaves and grass.
Sustain composting in winter by insulating the bin with leaves, minimizing additions, and delaying turning until spring.

Continue adding to the compost bin for a stunning garden beyond the winter. While decomposition slows as temperatures drop, it doesn’t stop, or at least not for long. If you have a large enough bin or pile, it will likely stay warm enough for decomposers like bacteria, fungi, and earthworms to survive the winter. They can start breaking down the matter as soon as temperatures warm.

Insulate the bin or pile with bagged or loose leaves. Reduce the greens and browns added to the mix, and wait to turn the compost until spring.

Bring the Garden Indoors

Close-up of different Coniferous plants in white pots on the balcony for overwintering. Coniferous plants have upright growth and needle-like or scale-like leaves that are blue-green or deep green depending on the species.
Provide proper care, avoiding drafts and ensuring hydration.

More time spent indoors in the winter means more time to enjoy the houseplant garden. Tender perennials and shrubs brought inside add to the interiorscape, and holiday plants gifted and received make excellent indoor garden additions, too.

Nurture the garden spirit by tending indoor plants. Ensure plants are sited away from heated vents, fireplaces, and drafts. Mist the plant if humidity is low and foliage shows signs of browning.

Don’t forget to water plants overwintering in unheated spaces (like basements and garages). While water needs are minimal, they require occasional watering to prevent drying out completely.

Final Thoughts

The winter garden is delightful, whether out basking in its glory or enjoying the view from a cozy spot inside. It provides a time for reflection, observation, and, most importantly, crafting plans for the ensuing spring garden! Following these tips for a stunning winter garden offers opportunities for plant delights. Even in winter, the garden always has something interesting to observe.

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