How to Plant and Care for a Winter Window Box

Bulk up your planters with this cold-hardy combo. Then, give the look a festive spin in minutes.

Winter Window Box
Winter Window Box. Photo: Joseph De Sciose

It's finally cold, and now containers that were filled with voluminous summer flowers are fading away or dying off. But winter is equally stellar for window boxes when you know what to plant: hardy evergreens, flowers that bloom in cooler months, and sturdy vines. Some of these plants can even stay year-round—just update the window box by tucking in seasonal flowers for spring, summer, and fall. Adapt these tips to your winter containers for a great look that's easy to accomplish, and learn how to keep them looking fresh all winter long.

Create a Focal Point

You've heard this before: Begin with a focal point, the one element that draws attention. In our window box, a tall pyramid-shaped boxwood serves as the anchor plant. To each side, a small, round boxwood repeats the texture and fills the container with substantial foliage. Between the shrubs, the paperwhites bring additional height and texture to the back of the box.

Fill the front of the box with color and texture. Center green-and-white flowering cabbages (in 4-inch pots) in front of the tall boxwood to emphasize the focal point. Silvery dusty miller and white violas continue the color scheme, while two (6-inch) pots of variegated ivy trail over the front.

Create a Color Scheme

Let the house and trim palette dictate the shades in your window box. Deep green shrubs act as a neutral backdrop. Flowers and vibrant foliage make the mix interesting, whether casual or formal. Sticking to a white-and-silver scheme, as we have here, creates a dressy appearance. For the holidays, adding red nandina berries delivers an extra punch with little effort. Center the clusters of flowers below the focal point toward the front of the window box for the most dynamic effect.

How to Plant Window Boxes

Choose healthy, small plants for your window box, which you will plant more tightly than you would in a flower garden. Make certain your plants have similiar cultural requirements (sun or shade and moist or dry soil). A successful window box starts with high-quality potting soil, which will provide good drainage, moisture retention, and aeration (make certain that your container has adequate drainage holes as well). Fill the window box about halfway with potting soil. Space your plants 4 to 6 inches apart, then fill in around the plants with potting soil. Water thoroughly.

How to Grow Paperwhites

Paperwhites can be purchased as plants or as loose bulbs. If you live in a frost-free area, you can plant the bulbs directly in the soil in your container. Place the bulbs in clusters of three or more, making sure to keep the tips of the bulbs above the soil line. Paperwhites take about four to six weeks to bloom after planting. Consider purchasing extra bulbs so that you can plant on a staggered schedule and enjoy flowers all winter long.

If you buy plants that are already growing, a 6-inch pot of paperwhites can be separated into several clumps and placed at the same depth they are growing in the pot.

How to Care for Window Boxes in Winter

Cold weather dehydrates plants and soil. Water window boxes when they begin to dry, especially before a hard freeze. Check the dampness of the soil at least weekly, and remember: If your box is sheltered by an eave, rain may not reach it. Many plants require less water in the winter, but it's possible you may have to water more than once a week

Cold-Hardy Plants for Window Boxes

We're fortunate to have so many choices for winter containers in the South, from cold-weather bloomers to beautiful evergreen foliage. Here are a few plants that can be grown in a winter window box:


  • Boxwood
  • Dwarf Alberta spruce
  • Leyland cypress
  • 'Chattanooga' Colorado blue spruce
  • 'Lemon Lime' Nandina


  • Flowering cabbage
  • Flowering kale
  • Dusty miller (lasts until frost)
  • English ivy
  • Variegated ivy
  • Monkey grass
  • Heuchera (evergreen in USDA Zones 7 to 9)

Herbs and Vegetables

  • Ornamental peppers (lasts until frost)
  • Parsley
  • Rosemary


  • Pansies
  • Violas
  • Paperwhites (frost-free climates)
  • Cyclamen
  • Snapdragons (bloom until frost)
  • Primroses (can go dormant after a deep freeze)
  • Snowdrops (plant bulbs in fall for blooms in February)
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