Frost And Winter Flower Gardening: The Ultimate Guide

If you want to enjoy your garden for as much of the year as possible, even when it’s icy cold outside, you’re going to have to think about using frost tolerant plants in your garden.

A beautiful winter garden is a wonderful thing to behold, especially when everything else is looking a bit drab and dreary. A burst of color at that time of year can lift the spirits and have you looking forward to spring when you can really get stuck into the garden.

The way to achieve this is with winter bedding plants. These are annuals you can have in your garden in winter that provide your garden with various textures and colors during winter. You can combine them with good effect with shrubs, ground covers, perennials and bulbs to make the winter garden still-lovely.

You may be surprised that some of the beautiful winter bedding plants would cope so well with harsh. In fact, many of them come from alpine areas and are able to cope with winters quite well. A good example is the pansy. A cool party trick to show the kids is to cut a frozen pansy flower early in the morning and watch it shatter when you drop it on a hard surface. Meanwhile, the flowers on the plant you cut it from when frozen will thaw out during the day and continue to display their colorful loveliness as if it was all perfectly normal to be frozen solid at night. Very impressive indeed.

What about when things get serious though, and there is a black frost coming? Very few plants can survive one of those nasty affairs so if you’re tracking the weather report and you know one is coming, you should cover your plants with a frost cover. You can pick one up at any good garden center or on Amazon (affiliate link).

During winter, it is best not to water late in the afternoon because that is just asking for trouble if you do have a particularly severe frost. So it’s best to water your garden in the morning so that their leaves can dry out during the day.

In regard to fertilizing, because everything becomes very sluggish at the soil zone due to the cold, it is best to foliar feed your winter bedding plants through the leaves. This keeps them thriving despite the cold.


Winter bedding plants do well in flowerbeds as well as containers, hanging baskets and window boxes. Just put them where you want some bright colors around the house and yard. You can use dwarf plants as edging at the front of flowerbeds while putting taller varieties in the center of the bed. Many of them are also suited to growing in rockeries. Just make sure the soil is well-drained.

For those plants that can only tolerate a light frost, choose a more sheltered position for them such as along a wall that faces the winter sun.


Most winter bedding plants have shallow roots. This makes them ideal for growing in containers. The good thing about containers is that you can move them around to spots you’d most like brightened up. Choose plants with different heights, textures and colors to make your winter container efforts interesting.

Hardy Winter Annuals Flowering Plant List

You can find many winter hardy annuals at any good garden center. Here are a few ideas to get you started.

Heavy Frost

  • Alyssum
  • Antirrinum
  • Calendula
  • Dianthus
  • Island Poppy
  • Ornamental Kale
  • Mesembryanthemum: Also known as Fig marigold. Will grow as a winter-hardy annual in zones 2 to 8.
  • Nemesia: These will act as perennials in hardiness zones 9 and 10. Otherwise, they are hardy winter annuals.
  • Pansy: What is cool about this one is that you can also eat it. As mentioned above, it is very hardy. It will survive winters up to zone 4.
  • Phlox: Actually a perennial that is best in zones 4 to 9 and are winter hardy up to zone 8.
  • Stock
  • Verbena
  • Violas: These little beauties are also very tough. They are part of the violet family and their purple, yellow, blue, white colors add a wonderful spark of brightness to the dreary winter landscape. They can survive freezing snow, and tend to bounce back well from very heavy rain as well.

Light frost

  • Lobelia
  • Mimulus
  • Nicotiana
  • Petunia (they won’t flower all winter)
  • Schizanthus
  • Snapdragons: These are actually pretty frost tender, but if you can put them somewhere where they won’t get snow or frost on them, they will flower beautifully throughout winter.

High Shade Areas

  • Bellis perennis (English daisy)
  • Cineraria (will survive frost in winter, but not early spring)
  • Foxglove
  • Primula.
  • Lily of the Valley.

Hardy Perrenials Winter Flowering Plant List

  • Holly Bush: Everyone loves some holly at Christmas. If you want the lovely red berries, make sure you get a female version because the males don’t have these.
  • Dogwood Trees: While you don’t get the lovely white or pink flowers in winter (they are splendid in spring), in winter you still get the little clusters of red fruit.
  • Agave: This hardy desert perennial will do fine in winter as long as the soil is dry – so best for pots where you can control the amount of water they have.
  • Juniper Tree: You may not know that there are some more winter-hardy versions of Juniper. While they are not for their flowering per se, they create a lovely blue hue contrast in the garden, especially in winter. When the tree is young, you will need to protect it from frost and wind with a burlap surround until it is more established – then it will be fine for the typical winter extremes.
  • Pointsettia: These need to be kept frost-free, but they make lovely winter color if you put them in a pot by your doorstep or other protected place.

Additional Frost Survival Tips

  • Start off with healthy seedlings. Give them the best start you can.
  • Before transplanting, water the seedlings then wait a few hours before planting.
  • Move the same varieties around to different parts of the garden each winter to reduce the risk of disease.
  • Make sure you prepare the planting area well by digging in compost and a sprinkle of good general slow-release fertilizer.
  • Treat the seedling gently while planting them. Try not to pull them out by their leaves or stems. Instead, push out the root ball from below.
  • When planting the seedlings, make sure you plant them at the same depth they were in their seedling container. Lightly firm the soil around the rootball.
  • Give the newly planted seedling a good initial watering and keep the soil moist until they are established. Once they are off and away in their new location, water deeply and infrequently to encourage strong root growth. Don’t water lightly and frequently.
  • Continually remove old flowers (deadheading) to keep them flowering for as long as possible. Check out this more detailed article on deadheading flowers.

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