Gardening Tips

Winterizing Containers and Their Plants

When it comes to container gardening, what you use as the container is limited only by your imagination. There are your standard garden pots, barrels and baskets, and your not-so-standard kitchen pots and pans, tires, wheelbarrows, old sinks and bathtubs, even shoes! Most reusable commercial containers are made of plastic, terra cotta, stone, wood, metal or wire. All containers, regardless of material, require winter-storage preparations.

Bringing Containers Inside

Remove any weeds and dead plant material and empty the soil into the garden (unless you plan to reuse it — opinions vary as to whether or not you should). Rinse the pot to remove large dirt clumps. Using a 10% bleach solution (to kill any possible disease or insect organisms from this year’s plantings), hot water and a stiff brush, scrub the pot to remove any remaining dirt. Rinse and stack when dry.

Plastic pots can be left outside but they're less likely to be damaged in a garage or shed. Terra cotta and stone containers may crack if exposed to winter elements. They should be stored in a garage or shed, turned upside down to prevent them from filling with water, which will freeze, expand and may crack the pots.

Preparing Outside Containers

This is a delicate but manageable practice that is mainly restricted to plastic or stone containers. As stated above, terra cotta containers shouldn't be left outside in winter; however, if they're too large to bring inside, remove the soil and turn the pot upside down (if possible). If the pot is too heavy to turn over, wrap it with heavy plastic to guard against water entering and freezing. If soil is left in the container, ensure its bone dry and covered.Plastic or stone perennial-plant-filled containers can be left out over winter, if you follow a few simple procedures. First, remove all weeds and dead-plant material. Prune perennials to about 4" (10 cm) when 70% of the leaves turn brown. Let the soil dehydrate to where the top few inches are completely dry. (If the soil is holding too much moisture, it will freeze, expand and cause the pot to crack.) Slide the containers into a large garbage bag (one that's not clear) and secure the end to discourage winter visits from squirrels and voles. Move the covered containers into a sheltered area.

Alternatively, you can store perennial-plant-filled containers in an unheated garage or shed. Remove weeds and prune no more than 30% of the plants.

Occasionally, water lightly so that they don't totally dry out. Place them outside in the spring when the frost danger has passed.

Relocating Container Plants Indoors

Follow these simple practices when moving smaller tropical plants or tender perennials inside

Relocating Container Plants Indoors

Follow these simple practices when moving smaller tropical plants or tender perennials inside.

  1. Determine if the plant is worth bringing inside. Tender annuals, such as geraniums and marigolds are often so reasonably priced that it may not be worth the effort to save them or have them take up valuable indoor plant space. If you plan to save them, tender plants such as herbs should be brought indoors for the winter.
  2. Research whether or not the plant will adapt to an indoor environment. Some can't adjust to the lower levels of natural light and the drier environment.
  3. Inspect the plant to ensure it's healthy enough (and insect free) to be moved inside. Remove all weeds and plant debris and trim any yellowing leaves if you do not plan to repot.
  4. Determine if it needs repotting, as this would be the easiest time to do it. Prune about 1/3 of the plant and roots, and use a container at least 2" larger than the original.
  5. As a precaution against pest infestation, mix 2-1/2 tablespoons (37 ml) of dish detergent in 1 gallon (3.8 l) of water. Drench the soil with the solution, allowing it to run out the drain holes. Fill a spray bottle with the solution and spray both sides of the leaves. (Alternatively, you can immerse the plant in the soapy solution for five minutes and remove any insects that come to the surface.) Wait 10 to 15 minutes and mist the treated leaves with cool water to remove soap scum. Drench the soil again with fresh water and move the pot inside as soon as it has stopped draining.
  6. Place newly relocated containers in indoor areas with adequate lighting for each specific plant. Follow a regular watering and fertilizing schedule. Note that indoor plants don't need as much water.

Container gardening is a wonderful way to display plants and dress up a home's exterior. Preparing these plants and their containers for winter ensures they will last for many years.

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