During the fall and winter, your potted plants will need some extra TLC to survive, especially if they are left outdoors. Most plants do best in the ground during the cold winter months. Your most tender container plants should be taken indoors to overwinter. However, we know this isn’t always an option. Here are a few tips and tricks to help your containers survive the colder months outdoors.
1. A Temporary Move
This step works decently well for container plants that aren’t too tender and fragile, and are hardy enough to stay outside with some extra protection. If possible, find a small spot in the garden or yard to relocate your plants temporarily for the winter. Plant them directly in the ground. You can even bury them, pot and all.
After you put them in the ground, add a nice, thick layer of mulch for extra insulation. When choosing a spot for planting, you may want to select an area where cold wind isn’t as much of a problem, such as near the side of a house or shed, or by a porch where the plants may get a little extra cover.
2. Gardens, Sheds, Basements…Oh My!
More tender container plants can be moved into an unheated location, such as a garage, shed or basement, or other place where temperatures stay above freezing but don’t get too hot. Just make sure the plants have a sunny window, door or spot where they can get enough filtered light to survive. Be sure to check your soil regularly and water as needed, but please don’t overwater. Tender plants die in the winter due to soggy, cold roots more than anything else!
If you don’t have an indoor location to move your containers to, you can try relocating them to a back porch or try putting them up against the side of the house for a little extra protection from the elements. Huddle your plants together (there is safety in numbers!) and surround them with bags of leaves for added insulation, if you live in a particularly cold climate.
I’ll admit, this isn’t the best method, but it will just have to do in a pinch. What do you have to lose? Your plant might die, but it might survive. And if you threw it out, it was gone anyway!
3. A Cracked Pot
The repetitious cycle of freeze-thaw-freeze-thaw is not just hard on your plants, it’s also hard on your containers and pots. Plastic containers will crack, clay pots will shatter, and so on. Foam-lined containers have a bit more insulation but they will also crack and split over time. Check your pots regularly and replace or repair as needed. It may mean the difference in winter survival for your plant.
4. Don’t Deep Freeze
We know that too much water is a bad thing. In the winter, already cold roots can’t tolerate being wet and soggy for too long. However, that’s not the only water problem you need to watch for. Too much water on top of the soil can also be a bad thing, as it can freeze and damage your plant.
Make sure your containers drain well, and please … do not over water them! Only water as necessary in the winter, when the soil is completely dry. Remember, many plants go dormant in the cooler months and do not need as much water to survive.
5. Wrap It Up
What do humans do in the wintertime when we go outside in the cold? We put on a coat, right? Do the same for your container plants. Adding a layer of protection can mean all the difference. You can use blankets, old towels, quilts, burlap, bubble wrap, foam, plastic or even fiberglass insulation to help protect your outdoor containers in the cold months ahead. And that’s just a small list – many household items can be used for this purpose. Just look around and use what you’ve got on hand. Secure your wrap with string or duct tape.
If you live in extremely cold climates, say up north or in Alaska, you may want to double or even triple your layers of protection. As warmer temperatures arrive near spring, make sure you remove the wraps as necessary to avoid overheating your plants.
6. Plants to Protect Indoors
Generally, exotic plants from warm and tropical climates need the most winter protection you can offer. They might make it outdoors in a really mild and dry winter … and they might not. It’s as much luck as it is anything. If you have any tropical or exotic plants, the best thing you can do is to bring them inside, if at all possible.
Each winter, my bathroom is filled with my pots of exotic plants, like aloe vera and bougainvillea. They soak up the light from the large window above the bathtub, but even better, the warm moisture from the shower keeps them happy until I can move them back outside again in the late spring.