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  • Waterwise Gardening | David Salman

Fall and Winter Care of Container Gardens

It’s time to think about what to do with our flowering container gardens. A container garden is typically grown in a pot, whiskey barrel, or planter box. Container gardening has and continues to be a very popular way to enjoy growing flowering and foliage plants. But with fall in full swing and winter on its way, now is the time to decide what to do with these plantings.

Potted Annuals/Tender Perennials

If you’ve planted annuals (marigolds, cosmos, petunias, etc.) and cold tender perennials (like geraniums, Felicia daisies and many others), you can wait after hard frost has killed the plants to empty the pots and store them. Some gardeners elect to save the potting soil in some buckets of plastic bags for use next year. Otherwise, just dig it into your garden.

A ceramic container full of soil and dead plants left outdoors over the winter, will likely frost-crack. Or you can transplant the tender perennials like geraniums into smaller pots to bring indoors. The geraniums will continue to bloom through the winter to provide colorful windowsills.

Potted Cold Hardy Perennials

Many gardeners have discovered the enjoyment of growing perennial plants in containers. There are two basic options for overwintering perennials in pots. You can transplant these perennials into your garden beds. Having grown the perennials in your containers over the summer months, you’ll have large, robust plants with good roots to transplant into your ground beds. Or you can keep the containers intact and enjoy them the following growing season.

Roots are more sensitive to cold than above-ground stems. So it’s important to protect your perennial container gardens from cold winter temperatures by insulating the pots. I have found bubble wrap to be a perfect insulating blanket to wrap around the pot. Then place the containers in a spot protected from the wind and afternoon sun. An east-facing wall or walled patio are two good overwintering locations.

Be sure to provide winter watering. It’s very easy for plants to dry out over our arid NM winters. Make sure your containers are well watered going into early November. Then on warm winter days (daytime temperatures are above 50° F.) moisten the soil with a glassful or two of water every couple of weeks. Once temperatures begin to warm in mid-February, larger volumes of water can be applied once every 2 to 3 weeks.

By the end of March/start of April, you can unwrap the pots, store the bubble wrap for next winter, and move the pots into their summer locations around your house. It’s advisable to up-pot the container into a larger one. By adding fresh soil-less potting mix in the larger container, gives the roots much more room to grow so as to support a larger plant with more flowers than the previous growing season.

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