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7 Ways to Get Your Container Garden Ready for Winter

Wednesday, November 18, 2020   /   by Frank Hornstein

7 Ways to Get Your Container Garden Ready for Winter

7 Ways to Get Your Container Garden Ready for Winter

Summer and fall containers probably are winding down as winter approaches, but that doesn’t mean you need to put your container gardens away for winter. Some plants will need to be removed, while others, like evergreens and hardy shrubs, may just need a boost to keep on looking good through the winter.

Here’s what to you need to know about preparing your container gardens for winter. We’ve also included some of our favorite winter container arrangements created by landscape designers on Houzz.

The JCRD Group

Getting Started

Your first step in prepping your container gardens for winter is to assess the plants you have growing. What you’ll keep in the container, transplant into garden beds or toss will largely depend on your winter climate.

Here’s a quick guide for handling common types of container plants over winter.

  • Evergreens: Keep them in their containers.

  • Trees and shrubs: Keep hardy trees and shrubs in containers; move tender plants to a greenhouse or sunny spot indoors for the season.

  • Perennials: Some perennials can be kept in containers and some should be planted out into garden beds.

  • Warm-season annuals: Toss. You can place these plants in the compost pile, if you have one, or toss them in the green bin. (Fall is a great time to start composting.)

  • Ornamental grasses: Keep grasses in their containers until they finish their fall display. Then, cut them back to about 4 inches tall or plant them in garden beds.

  • Vines: Keep hardy vines in containers outside; move tender ones indoors.

  • Succulents: Keep succulents outside in their containers in mild climates; move them indoors to overwinter in cold climates.

    Let’s see how several containers created by designers on Houzz put these ideas into practice.

J. Montgomery Designs

1. Keep the Evergreens and Lose the Warm-Season Annuals
With an existing container design that features an evergreen or cold-hardy shrub, and a warm-season annual (plants that generally live for one year), like this container design by J. Montgomery Designs, remove the annuals but keep the evergreen in the container. If the result looks bare, you can give the container a boost for the winter season by planting smaller hardy shrubs around the base or adding cut pine branches around the edge of the pot.

Choose an evergreen when planting a new container — like a conifer, boxwood, privet or yew — that will hold its needles or leaves over winter.

Find a landscape designer on Houzz to help with your container garden

Sweet Dirt Designs

2. Double Down on Conifers

Potted conifers — like pine, cypress, juniper, spruce or fir — will need little extra care to look good through winter. If the plant has been in a container for a while, consider rotating it to keep its shape or doing a bit of pruning to keep the size in check. Fill in around the base with decorative pine cones or other smaller cascading conifers, as was done in this container by Sweet Dirt Designs.

If you’re starting with an empty container, use a conifer to anchor the arrangement through winter. Keep in mind that most conifers are winter-hardy, but some may require protection. Popular ‘Wilma Goldcrest’ Monterey cypress (Cupressus macrocarpa ‘Wilma Goldcrest’) is only hardy to 0 degrees Fahrenheit, or minus 17.8 degrees Celsius, for example.

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Olander Garden Design

This container arrangement by Olander Garden Design features fall-blooming coneflowers.

3. Leave Perennials in Containers or Plant Them in Garden Beds

Containers featuring a mix of warm-season perennials (plants that come back year after year), give you a few choices, depending on your climate and the health of the plants. In cold-winter regions, many potted perennials are treated as annuals and tossed out at the end of the season. You can consider planting them in garden beds instead, as long as the soil is still workable. Or, you can relocate the container of perennials into a greenhouse for the winter.

In mild-winter regions, perennials can live in their containers through the winter or be planted in garden beds. The latter is the better option if a plant has been growing in a container for multiple years already. If you’re planning on leaving perennials in a container, cut them back post-bloom and move the container to the back of the border, as it will remain fairly unremarkable-looking until spring.

Le jardinet

4. Fill Bare Spots With Cool-Season Annuals and Hardy Shrubs

If you’ve removed annuals or planted perennials in garden beds, you’ll likely be left with holes in your container arrangement. Fill in the gaps or plant empty containers with cool-season annuals like pansies and violas, which will bloom up until frost, or winter-blooming heather, a hardy shrub that blooms through snow. This arrangement by Le jardinet features both plant types.

Lauren Liess Interiors

5. Move Citrus and Other Tender Potted Trees, Shrubs and Vines Indoors

Provide shelter for potted citrus and other frost-tender trees, shrubs and vines by relocating them to a greenhouse or a sunny spot indoors. Keep an eye on their soil moisture and remember to water through the winter. Potted plants in dry, heated homes can dry out more quickly than those outside or in greenhouses.

For gardeners in mild-winter climates, keep potted trees, tender shrubs and vines in their containers outdoors over winter, providing protection during light frosts.

Bliss Garden Design, LLC

Glazed pottery in a garden by Bliss Garden Design sits empty as a garden accent piece.

6. Empty and Store Ceramic and Terra-Cotta Pots in Cold Climates

In cold-winter climates, ceramic and terra-cotta containers are at risk of freezing and cracking. In regions where that is a possibility, it’s best to relocate planted containers to a greenhouse for the season. Otherwise, empty containers, clean and dry them out completely and place them in a shed or garage until spring.

Spring-blooming bulbs planted in ceramic containers should be moved into a cool, dry spot like the garage for safekeeping until spring.

Stone, metal and thick concrete pots generally have a lower risk of cracking in cold climates and can be left outside, ideally covered or under roof eaves to protect from rain and snow.

Scott Byron & Co., Inc.

7. Fill Empty Containers With Evergreen Foliage

If you’re left with a handful of empty containers after a fall cleanup, consider filling one or two with evergreen foliage, dried branches or preserved berries, as was done in this design by Scott Byron & Co. The wintery arrangements don’t require any water and will cheer up your doorstep or yard.

Tip: In cold-winter climates, choose thicker containers, or those made from stone, metal or concrete, for this purpose and keep them sheltered under a porch.

Sweet Dirt Designs

Tell us: How do you style your container gardens for winter? Show us your best photos in the Comments.

More on Houzz
Discover more ways to garden with containers
Work with a landscape designer near you
Shop for more outdoor pots and planters

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