Preparing Container Plantings for Overwintering

Preparing Container Plantings for Overwintering
  • Posted October 24, 2014

Tucking in your container plants for a long winter’s rest is much easier than you may think. While you may be able to bring in a few of your prized geraniums, the perennials, shrubs and trees you have potted up require a cooler period of time to complete their natural cycle through the seasons. In a garden bed these plants would be protected by the soil, but that insulation is lost when your plants are container bound. Taking time to prepare your potted perennials for the winter will pay off in spring when you see them starting to peek through and wake up your outdoor living space. 

Figure out what you have to protect your plants by doing an inventory of your supplies, assessing the condition of the plants and their containers and surveying their location.

• Consider the elements of nature that may have an effect on your plants, such as wind or excessive moisture.  

Prior to preparing your containers, inspect your plants. 

• Make sure that you have removed any dead or diseased parts of the plants.

• Ensure that the containers and their location have proper drainage. Continue to keep your plants watered into autumn. 

• Allow the plants to naturally die back as they would if they were in the ground. Once they have started to shut down for the season, you can begin to prep them for the long winter ahead.

If you have room, you can transfer your potted plants into the ground for safe keeping over the winter. Heck, you can even plant the whole pot in there if you like! 

• A perfect place to do this would be in the vegetable garden, since it is or will be done producing crops soon.  If that is not an option, don’t fret. There are several more choices.

The simplest approach is to safeguard your containers by moving them to protected area, such as the garage, along a wall or eave of your home or near a row of established shrubs. 

• By relocating your containers, you can be sure that they are shielded from harsh storms and freezing temperatures.

You can add some insulation to your tucked away plants with what you have on hand.

• Successful over-winterers have used bubble wrap, foam packing peanuts, straw, leaves and compost to insulate the gaps between their packed away pots.  After the first frost, you can also drape a tarp over the top or add more “insulation” to the top.    

If you have some large containers that you can’t or don’t want to move, no problem. Follow the same ideas with using a tarp and insulating with various materials. 

• You can create a cocoon of sorts with chicken wire and fill up the space between the container and wire with straw or leaves from the trees. Once spring has sprung, just remove the wire and insulating materials and welcome your plant back with open arms!

When it comes to the containers themselves, some are more resilient than others.

• For example, an untreated terra cotta pot will absorb moisture and expand as temperatures drop, causing some serious cracking to occur. To defend against this, find a larger container, place your more delicate pot inside it and fill in the empty space with insulation.  

If you have ample space and many containers to protect, building a cold frame or a makeshift hoop house may be just the trick!

• These sturdy structures will allow your plants to experience the winter months without being exposed to all the harsh elements. Check out plans online or at your library before you start construction to get an idea of what you’re getting into. You will have to monitor your cold frame to be sure that you maintain proper temperatures through fall and winter.  

As you can see, there are a multitude of methods to prep your keeper container plants for the dreaded winter that will inevitably come too soon. Take the time to do it right and you’ll be happy you did come spring.

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Jenny Jurgensen
About the Author

Jenny Jurgensen is a roller derby skater, gardening enthusiast and horticulturist at MasterTag – a horticultural printing company.

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Preparing Container Plantings for Overwintering

Keys to Overwintering Pots

Shelter from wind

Prevention of excess moisture

Protection from temperature fluctuations