Winter flowering plants: the most beautiful winter bloomers

Frederike
Frederike
Frederike
Frederike

I am a student of agricultural sciences and a real country kid. At home, I love tending my small vegetable garden and spending time out in nature. When not outdoors, I love to write. Beyond gardening and writing, however, I am particularly passionate about wildlife.

Favourite fruit: currants and raspberries
Favourite vegetables: salsify, savoy cabbage and potatoes

The garden is often dull and bare in winter − but not with these winter-flowering plants and shrubs! Find out which plants to grow to brighten up the gloomy winter months.

Icy branch with yellow flowers
Winter-flowering plants provide splashes of colour in the otherwise grey season [Photo: JIANG TIANMU/ Shutterstock.com]

In winter, the garden often looks dark and dreary. But you can bring life to your garden at this time of year with winter-flowering plants that bring a welcome touch of colour. In this article, we will introduce you to the most beautiful winter blooming plants for your garden.

What are winter flowering plants?

Winter flowering plants are those that flower between the end of November to the beginning of February. These include not only small plants, but trees and shrubs too. A common feature of many winter-flowering plants is their hardiness − most winter-flowering plants are tolerant of very low temperatures.

Tip: Although winter-flowering plants themselves are robust in the face of winter weather, their flowers can be quite delicate. For healthy blooms, put your plants in a spot that is as protected from the weather as possible.

Which flowers bloom in winter?

Flowers that bloom in winter? They do exist. They can be bright and colourful even in cold, snowy weather. Here are some of the most beautiful winter flowering plants.

1. Christmas rose (Helleborus niger)

The winter-flowering Christmas rose is a classic winter flower and a favourite in the garden. The Christmas rose often displays its snowy-white flowers in December, which is why it is loved as a Christmas plant. Although the winter-flowering perennial appears quite delicate, it proves to be surprisingly robust and often flowers even among ice and snow.

Two white Christmas rose flowers
Christmas roses often bloom as early as December [Photo: Natalia van D/ Shutterstock.com]

Finding the right location for the Christmas rose is very important. It prefers an alkaline to neutral, nutrient and humus rich soil that is neither too dry nor prone to waterlogging. On top of this, a spot in partial shade is best. If you can offer the Christmas rose this kind of location, it will enrich any garden with its beautiful flowers. And it is not only people who love the Christmas rose − its long and early flowering period, from December to March, makes this winter-flowering plant an important food source for bees.

2. Lenten rose (Helleborus orientalis)

Closely related to the Christmas rose, the lenten rose is also a classic winter bloomer for gardens. The Lenten rose begins flowering at the beginning of February (or earlier in mild weather). It is particularly beautiful to look at, and in addition to the classic white flowers, there are varieties with bright pink or dark red flowers. These colourful springtime roses don’t just look good, they also attract lots of beneficial insects, including bees. If you would like to plant lenten roses in your own garden, choose a well-draining, humus-rich, loamy soil with a slightly alkaline to neutral pH value. Lenten roses also prefer partial shade under deciduous trees or shrubs.

Purple double-flowered Lenten rose
Lenten roses come in a variety of colours [Photo: LesiChkalll27/ Shutterstock.com]

3. Alpine heath (Erica carnea)

Erica carnea, also known as alpine heath or winter heath, is known for its beautiful pink bell-shaped flowers. From as early as November, the colourful flower buds begin to appear on the plant. However, the main flowering period of this winter bloomer does not begin until February. The early and long flowering period of winter heath makes it an essential food source for insects. Alpine heath is also popular with people − being perfect for balconies, gardens or as ornamental cemetery plants in winter.

Pink snow-covered Erica carnea
Alpine heath is hardy in cold weather [Photo: Harald Schmidt/ Shutterstock.com]

For alpine heath to grow to its full potential, a location with full sun to partial shade and moderately dry, well-draining soil is recommended. It is especially important when growing winter heath in a container that there is good drainage as it is very sensitive to waterlogging.

4. Eastern cyclamen (Cyclamen coum)

The eastern cyclamen, also known as the eastern sowbread, is one of the most elegant winter-flowering perennials. With its delicate white, pink or crimson flowers, eastern cyclamen species are attractive to people as well as bees, offering a rich source of pollen and nectar. Depending on the weather, eastern sowbread can begin to display its delicate flowers as early as December, but its flowering period is usually from January to March. To ensure that this winter bloomer feels at home, the location is particularly important − well-draining and humus rich soil in a sheltered, partially shaded spot in the garden will keep the plant happy. In a sheltered location, it also fares well as a potted plant.

Lilac-coloured eastern sowbread flowers
The eastern cyclamen is a beautiful winter bloomer [Photo: francesco de marco/ Shutterstock.com]

5. Snowdrop (Galanthus)

Snowdrops are common in lots of gardens. But did you know that there are 20 different snowdrop species and almost 800 different varieties? Among them are not only early bloomers, like the common snowdrop (Galanthus nivalis), but also true winter flowering plants. Queen Olga’s snowdrop (Galanthus reginae-olgae), for example, displays its white flowers from October to January and is also winter-hardy to a certain extent. Another true winter bloomer is the giant snowdrop (Galanthus woronowii), which shows off its pretty flowers from January to April. As typical woodland plants, almost all snowdrop species prefer a sheltered spot under deciduous trees, where they are shaded in summer but receive enough light throughout winter and spring. These winter-flowering plants also prefer a loose, humus-rich soil that does not dry out in summer. If snowdrops are planted in the right location, they will be happy and hardy.

Galanthus in bloom among snow
The giant snowdrop blooms particularly early [Photo: Elena Koromyslova/ Shutterstock.com]

Which shrubs flower in winter?

Some trees and shrubs open their buds in winter and provide a splash of colour to the otherwise dreary scenery. No wonder, then, that winter-flowering shrubs and trees are so popular with gardeners. Here are some of the most beautiful winter-flowering shrubs for your garden.

1. Bodnant viburnum ‘Dawn’ (Viburnum x bodnantense ‘Dawn’)

With its light pink flowers and pleasant scent, the ‘Dawn’ cultivar of Bodnant viburnum is picturesque in the garden. As a winter flowering shrub, ‘Dawn’ dons its flowers from January to April. People and insects alike are drawn to its aromatic, pink-flowers. And, at up to two and half metres tall, the shrub makes a great statement plant for any garden. Just make sure to give it the right location – a sunny to partially shady spot that is sheltered from the wind is ideal for bodnant viburnum. Even though the Bodnant viburnum ‘Dawn’ is robust and adaptable, it does appreciate a well-draining, nutrient-rich soil.

Pink infloresence of bodnant viburnum
Bodnant viburnum ‘Dawn’ displays picturesque flowers [Photo: Ole Schoener/ Shutterstock.com]

2. Purpus honeysuckle (Lonicera x purpusii)

Purpus honeysuckle displays its cream-coloured flowers as early as January, creating a beautiful sight in the garden. But the winter-flowering honeysuckle is not only visually appealing − the flowers also give off an intense honey scent right through to April. Insects that are active early in the year, like bees and butterflies, are attracted by the sweet scent of the purpus honeysuckle, making it an important source of food. With a maximum height of two metres and compact growth, the purpus honeysuckle is also well suited to smaller gardens. This winter-flowering shrub feels most at home in a partially shady spot with loose, humus-rich soil.

Cream-coloured purpus honeysuckle flowers
The purpus honeysuckle displays lots of cream-coloured flowers [Photo: Rajko Simunovic/ Shutterstock.com]

3. Wintersweet (Chimonanthus praecox)

Wintersweet opens its radiant blossoms from January to March (in mild winters even as early as December). The yellow star-shaped flowers of this winter bloomer also produce a stunning aroma, filling the garden with a lovely scent of vanilla. Unlike many other winter-flowering shrubs, wintersweet is completely dependent on pollination and so provides an abundance of nectar and pollen for wild bees, bumblebees and butterflies in spring.

Bare branch with wintersweet flowers
The bright yellow flowers of wintersweet are enchanting [Photo: backpacking/ Shutterstock.com]

Wintersweet grows up to two metres tall and does particularly well in a sunny to partially shady location. As wintersweet can be sensitive to temperatures below -10 °C, the location should also be as sheltered as possible. As for the soil, a loose, sandy to loamy soil with a good moisture balance is best.

4. Sweet box (Sarcococca confusa)

As an evergreen winter-flowering plant, sweet box is sure to enrich any garden. The dainty, cream-coloured flowers bloom from mid-January to March and make the plant a wonderful sight in winter. With a growth height of only 50 to 150 cm, sweet box is particularly suitable for small gardens. Locations in partial or full shade are ideal for this plant. It also prefers an acidic to neutral soil that retains moisture, drains well and is rich in nutrients.

Dainty flowers on Sarcococca confusa
The delicate flowers of sweet box give off a very pleasant scent [Photo: Peter Turner Photography/ Shutterstock.com]

5. Mahonia ‘Winter Sun’ (Mahonia x media ‘Winter Sun’)

If you are looking for a burst of colour, go for the mahonia ‘Winter Sun’. The shrub lives up to its name and adorns itself with an abundance of flowerheads covered with bright yellow blooms from January to March. As well as their attractive appearance, the flowers also have a sweet honey scent and are considered a valuable source of food for bees. With a maximum height of 1.5 metres, the mahonia is also suitable for smaller gardens − and with evergreen foliage, it proves to be an attractive shrub in summer too.

Mahonia ‘Winter Sun’ flowerheads
Lots of clusters of yellow flowers adorn the mahonia ‘Winter Sun’ [Photo: Andrew Fletcher/ Shutterstock.com]

For the mahonia ‘Winter Sun’ to feel at home, it needs a spot with shelter from the wind, in partial or full shade, even in winter. As far as soil is concerned, ‘Winter Sun’ is very tolerant but does prefer nutrient and humus rich soil.

6. Winter-flowering cherry ‘Autumnalis’ (Prunus subhirtella ‘Autumnalis’)

For many gardeners, cherry blossoms are one of the most beautiful sights to behold. The winter cherry has a remarkably long flowering period. It opens its first buds as early as November and is in full bloom between March and April. Its many pink buds flourish into delicate white flowers, adorned with strikingly pink calyx tubes. Growing up to six metres tall and with a picturesque spreading crown, this winter flowering tree makes a wonderfully ornamental tree for the garden. In the right location, it is hardy and undemanding. A sunny spot with fresh, chalky loam soil is ideal for the winter cherry. This winter flowering plant is not just popular with people − insects also appreciate it as an early food source.

Bee among weeping cherry flowers
The blossoms of the winter flowering cherry provide plenty of food for insects [Photo: Katniss studio/ Shutterstock.com]

7. Japanese witch hazel (Hamamelis japonica)

Japanese witch hazel is one of the best-known winter-flowering shrubs. After all, the large, three metre tall shrub is a stunning sight with its thread-like, bright yellow flowers blooming from January to March. Insects are particularly fond of Japanese witch hazel, as it provides plenty of food in the barren winter months. If you want to plant Japanese witch hazel, it is important to place it in the right location − whether sunny or shady, a sheltered spot in the garden is ideal. Japanese witch hazel also prefers a fresh, nutrient-rich and well-draining soil with a slightly acidic to neutral pH value.

Yellow Japanese witch hazel flowers
Japanese witch hazel is a classic winter flower [Photo: billysfam/ Shutterstock.com]

As the flowering period for winter flowering plants comes to an end, it is time for spring to emerge. Take a look at our article on spring-flowering plants to discover some of our favourites.

Plantura's Garden-Mail Newsletter