What to Do with Potted Plants at End of Season?

Container planting is a great way to enhance your deck, patio, balcony or front porch, but inevitably, as the weather gets colder and the days grow shorter, your potted plants are going to start to lose their good looks, and it’s time to prepare for winter. Whether you grow annuals or perennials, or a combination of both, you need a strategy to deal with them at the end of the season.

Do Potted Plants Begin to Die in Winter?

In winter, annuals left in their containers will die as the cold weather settles in, but depending on the size of the pot and the species you’re growing, perennials may make it through the winter in their pots.

What are Annuals and Perennials?

Annuals are plants that live for one season, flower and set seed, and then die. Perennials can live for many years. Some plants that we usually grow as annuals are actually tender perennials that will not survive through cold northern winters without protection.

Read more about the differences and how to tell them apart in my detailed guide: How Can You Tell If A Plant Is An Annual Or A Perennial?

What is a Hardy Plant?

Hardy plants are resistant to cold, as opposed to those that will be killed by even a slight touch of frost. Hardy perennials die back to the soil surface in winter and then put forth fresh growth in spring. Hardy annuals will survive frosts before succumbing to winter freezes.

Do Hardiness Zones Matter?

It’s really important to know your plant hardiness zone, as well as checking for the recommended zones for any perennials that you want to purchase. Different plants have different degrees of cold tolerance. For instance, rosemary plants are usually hardy from zones 7 to 12, so if you live in zone 5 you will not be able to overwinter them outside.

Do Hardiness Zones Matter

Can You Keep Perennials in Pots Over the Winter Season?

You can keep perennials in pots over the winter season if you keep a few key factors in mind.

First, any perennials that you want to keep outside should be suited to your hardiness zone. While a clump of chives can make it through even bitterly cold winters and put out fresh spikes in spring, a lavender plant that is rated for zone 7 won’t survive a zone 2 winter.

Next, the bigger the pot, the better the survival rate. If the roots are well-insulated on all sides with lots of dirt, they will get through the cold months much more successfully.

You can move the pots to a sheltered spot to protect your hardy perennials from cold winter winds. An unheated garage or shed will work fine.  Group them together and mulch them with leaves or straw.

They will not need any watering or fertilizer until spring, as they will be dormant and not actively growing.

Can You Keep Annuals in Pots Over the Winter Season?

True annuals won’t last long enough to be potted up for winter; once they’ve set seed and started to wither, their life cycle is completed. However, tender perennials that we grow as annuals can be kept in pots indoors over the winter.

What to Do with Potted Annual Plants in the Winter?

If you have plants that you would like to bring inside for the winter, replant them in small pots in early fall. Once they’ve recovered from the stress of transplanting, you can bring them inside to a sunny windowsill or plant stand for the winter.

What to Do with Dead Potted Plants at the End of the Season?

Many annuals will die in fall when their growing cycle is complete, and clearing them out of your containers before the soil freezes will keep things looking neat. Simply pull them out by the roots, and throw them onto your compost pile, where they will rot down and give you fertile soil to add to your containers in the future.

What to Do with Dead Potted Plants at the End of the Season

Why Should You Empty and Store Planters and Pots?

While it may be tempting to skip the heavy work involved in emptying and storing planters and pots, you may find yourself wishing you had done it when it’s the middle of winter and you’re trying to clear snow off your deck or patio, only to have to detour around a collection of pots.

In addition, starting every spring with fresh soil in your pots is a good way to prevent the build-up of weeds and disease.

Finally, clay or ceramic pots left filled with soil over the winter may end up getting cracked after a series of freeze/thaw cycles. For the most part, storing empty planters and pots is a good habit to get into.

What are the Best Ways to Store Empty Planters and Pots?

Start by pulling out any dead plants and adding them to your compost pile.

Then, dig out and pot up any plants that you want to overwinter. Hardy plants can be kept in an solar greenhouse, or stored in an unheated shed. Tender perennials and annuals need to be moved into a heated building for the winter.

You can dump this year’s soil into vegetable or flower garden beds before things freeze up.

Then, turn the pots upside down and store them out of the way. Under a deck or in a shed or garage is ideal. Place them on old pallets to protect the rims from chipping, and if they’re exposed to the elements, cover them with a tarp.

Read our related guide How to Keep Annuals Alive Through Winter?

Final Thoughts

Your annual fall garden clean-up should also include preparing your plant containers for winter. While pots full of blooming flowers are a joy to behold in summer, there’s little pleasure to be derived from snow-covered mounds that can interfere with snow removal in the depths of winter. Finding alternate homes for plants that can return in spring, and then storing the pots properly, will extend the life of your containers and the plants that grow in them.

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